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Sat Nov 10, 2012, 11:11 AM

Why Obama’s trip to Burma is such a big deal (Max Fisher, WaPo)


This week, the White House announced that President Obama will visit Burma (also known as Myanmar), long an international pariah that has just recently begun to reform, later this month. He will be the first president to do so, moving with astonishing speed on building ties with this strategically located nation long seen as one of the world’s worst dictatorships.

How fast, exactly? Let’s put it in context, comparing it with three of the most famous cases of U.S. rapprochement since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. has tended to move slowly when it comes to rapprochement with rogue states. First the country opens, rolling back the nasty dictatorship and aggressive foreign policy that got it isolated in the first place, then there are a few years of overtures. Finally, if the rogue state becomes sufficiently friendly, the U.S. signals its renewed ties with a visit from the secretary of state or even the president.


What about Burma? The country’s reform began with a bang in March 2011, when the rulers dissolved the half-century-old military junta and transitioned to a civilian government. Burma has gradually democratized (though its commitment to free elections remains largely untested), freed hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed restrictions and, perhaps most significantly for Washington, moved away from China, its longtime patron. Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to meet with President Thein Sein and others that November, making her the second secretary of state to go, and Obama will become the first sitting president to ever go. The U.S. has lifted crippling sanctions, allowing foreign investment to flood in. Time from Burma’s opening to secretary of state visit: eight months. Time to presidential visit: 20 months.

That might be a land-speed record for post-Cold War rapprochement. Some during and immediately after the Cold War were faster, but the coups and counter-coups and shifting alliances were unique to that bipolar era.

But what’s driving Obama administration’s remarkable enthusiasm for opening Burma right now? It seems largely to be part of the administration’s mission to earnestly “pivot” to Asia; the president, on this trip, will also become the first to visit Cambodia. One big part of this strategy that doesn’t get discussed much is the effort to integrate Southeast Asian countries, which are not thrilled about China’s rising influence but need some help uniting against the neighboring giant. Perhaps the administration sees an opening to assert regional leadership now, while China’s diplomatic outreaches remain clumsy and unconvincing.

But there’s another message that the rapid U.S. detente with Burma sends, whether deliberately or not: rogue states that open up might be able to expect rewards from the Americans, and quickly. The administration’s willingness to let bygones be bygones with Burma, to work with the ruling regime instead of pushing its top figures into international criminal courts, and to reward its reforms “action for action,” as the diplomats put it, would seem to establish some very tempting incentives for other rogue states.


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Reply Why Obama’s trip to Burma is such a big deal (Max Fisher, WaPo) (Original post)
highplainsdem Nov 2012 OP
flamingdem Nov 2012 #1

Response to highplainsdem (Original post)

Sat Nov 10, 2012, 11:21 AM

1. Oh but they can't stomach a trip to Cuba

hypocrits, the election is over can we stop appeasing the extreme right wing in Florida?

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