By Anonymous (not verified) on November 17, 2012

President Obama should reconsider his upcoming trip to Myanmar. While the ruling junta appears to be making reforms, there is less there than meets the eye.

President Thein Sein’s government has opened up the political process, freeing longtime political prisoner Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and even allowing her and dozens of her fellow party members to serve in Parliament. He has also loosened up some of the state control of the economy.

As a result, he has erased the country’s international pariah status and half a century of isolation, both self-imposed and externally maintained. The military has ruled since 1962. But despite their firm grip on power, the generals have always felt they are riding on the back of angry and wounded tiger.

“We do not want to end up like the Arab dictators,” Shwe Mann, once the third most powerful general in the junta, told reporters last December after meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “One day, they were very powerful. The next day, they died ignoble deaths.”

But don’t be fooled: The ex-military officers and their active-duty brethren retain complete monopoly control over all aspects of reforms. In the new era of “democratic transition,” these men continue to hold all levers of state power. And it is these “men on horseback,” not collaborating dissidents or developmental technocrats, who determine the reforms’ nature, scope, priorities and pace.

Still today, the Burmese army brutally represses ethnic minorities, and army-owned mining and commercial agricultural companies boot ordinary farmers off their ancestral lands. It is the ethnic minority regions that are being designated as the sites of virtually all mega-development initiatives, resource extractions, special economic zones and industrial agricultural schemes worth billions of dollars.

But we don’t hear about any of that in Washington, where the emphasis is on the new strategy of “pivoting” back to Asia. This pivot has made it possible for the generals to come out of their bunkers. The Americans want the Burmese to walk away from Beijing’s embrace. The Burmese people, for their part, are grateful to Washington in helping wean them off of China’s international protection in exchange for dropping the U.S. demand for regime change in Myanmar (the name that the ruling clique has given to the country historically known as Burma). This is a classic geostrategic symbiosis that is looking increasingly promising for the junta and the Pentagon.

The generals are pursuing reforms largely for the wrong reasons — for their own long-term survival, politically and economically. Motives do matter. As a direct consequence, they remain wholly unprepared to do what is necessary to promote public welfare and advance the cause of freedom, human rights and democracy. So, the generals talk the talk of peace, but do not walk the walk.

Myanmar’s reforms are, upon closer look, more about the interests and longevity of the country’s military than about interethnic peace, public welfare or democracy.

These are reasons enough for Obama to stay away.

Maung Zarni (maungzarni.com) is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and founding director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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