Clinton the Cowboy?
By KYAW ZWA MOE Wednesday, November 30, 2011


There's no denying that today's visit to Burma by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is something special. It's not just that she is the first person in her position to visit the country in more than 50 years. It's more that her trip revives a cherished hope among ordinary Burmese that the US is finally ready to ride to their rescue.

No, the Burmese people are not so naive as to believe that Uncle Sam will march in to solve all their problems, like a cowboy in a Western movie. They know that Washington has its own agenda, and that in any case it's up to them to find their own solutions. But to the extent that they believe they know what Burma needs—democracy and equality among its many peoples—they feel that a renewed US presence could tip the balance in favor of the forces of good.

For as complex as Burma's political realities may be, there is still an underlying sense that the fundamental issues are basically matters of right and wrong—of the strong oppressing the weak, and the weak needing a powerful friend to come to their assistance.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

It's hard to imagine anyone in Burma being very excited by a visit by a leading Chinese dignitary. Why? Because China is seen as acting only in its own self-interest—while also appealing to the self-interest of their partners in whatever sort of government they're dealing with—whereas the US still makes standing up for the underdog part of its global agenda.

Nobody is expecting Clinton to arrive in Burma with both guns a-blazin', but there is some hope that she will come prepared to practice a kinder and gentler version of Bush-style “cowboy diplomacy.”

What this means is that even as she eschews a simplistic, shoot from the hip approach, she should keep in mind that there is more at stake here than US ambitions to reestablish itself as a key player in the Asia-Pacific region after a decade of neglecting its role in the region: There is also the half-century-old struggle of the Burmese people to restore their rights and dignity as a nation. 

So far, the signs are good that the Obama administration understands both the complexity of Burmese politics and the core issues that matter most to ordinary Burmese. This is in large part because it has spoken to both the government and the democratic opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

On Nov 17, the night before he announced his plans to send Clinton to Burma, President Barack Obama spoke with Suu Kyi over the phone to confirm that she supported US efforts to move the engagement process forward. She said that she did, and the next day, Obama delivered a major diplomatic coup to Burmese President Thein Sein in Bali, where both leaders were attending the US-Asean meeting.

Coming quickly on the heels of a decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to grant Burma the bloc's chairmanship in 2014, Obama's announcement served not only to boost Thein Sein's political stature, but also to strengthen perceptions that the US is “back in Asia,” where its allies are seeking Washington's more active involvement in regional affairs to offset Beijing's growing dominance.

But a “win-win” arrangement is not enough: In Burma, most such deals with the government usually produce more losers than winners (the Myitsone dam and other foreign-financed mega-projects are cases in point). That's why Clinton has been careful to frame her trip as a sort of fact-finding mission, to ensure that recent reforms are for real.

“One of the reasons that I’m going is to test what the true intentions are and whether there is a commitment to both economic and political reform,” Clinton said in a recent interview with CNN.

She has good reason to question the Thein Sein government's “true intentions,” given the fact that Burma still has hundreds of political prisoners behind bars and the Burmese army is still waging an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that targets local civilians as much as armed combatants.

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Erik Wrote:
Wonderful! The Idiot's back! What words of wisdom did you share with Obama through your secret channels? Funny, I don't recall hearing about any plans to restore the monarchy. You think they forgot that part?

Norman Hla Wrote:
(Thein Sein's remarks in Bali that the army could wipe out the KIA in a day if it chose to do so was a particularly chilling reminder of the mindset that still prevails in Naypyidaw.)

Thein sein begins to be arrogant after receiving DASSK's supported ASEAN 2014 chair and meeting with Obama in Bali so he says so above. Ugly bama military has child soldiers to be five hundred thousand, low moral , low ethical and low pay ones but thein sein praises his rapist soldiers. Thein sein should sincerely answer why he does not dare(choose) to wipe out KIA. Why does thein sein not dare to attack Wa army? Thein sein might answer he wants to show H Clinton(visit) how to rape the Kachin women for not being chosen to wipe out KIA in one day.Why is thein sein called puppet of than shwe?

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Well, well, well, Washington got several messages of ours and they began to understand the true nature of Burma crisis: 1886-1988.

Readers are advised to read The Twenty Years' Crisis': 1919-1939 is a book on international relations written by Edward Hallett Carr (usually known as E. H. Carr).

Look it up man, look it up.
It iwll be very good for you all.

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bullet Turning Burma into Next Asian Tiger No Simple Task

bullet With Suu Kyi On Board, Is Burma Finally Moving Toward Real Change?

bullet The ‘Rule of Law’ in Burma

bullet New Doors are Opening in Burma

bullet A Good Beginning to the New Year

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