Thursday, August 13, 2009

Webb Walks Into a Tangled Web in Burma

Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb is planning to visit Burma to meet with the military junta.

I suppose if the Obama Administration is going to have engagement with Iran then why not Burma?

During the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deemed the Burmese military junta was considered "an outpost of tyranny." However, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the release Aung San Suu Kyi "would open up opportunities at least for my country to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma."

Burma is like North Korea only without a nuclear weapon. The only way Suu Kyi is going to be released is if the military junta gets money beforehand not after the fact. It would essentially be little more than a ransom and a handsome one at that. Even if Suu Kyi were to be released don't think for a moment that it would stop the military junta from jailing her again. Remember she was released from house arrest in May 2002 only to be re-arrested a year later.

The Times article notes:

Opponents of sanctions point out that decades of isolation and denunciation by the West have brought about no obvious improvement to the lives of ordinary Burmese, and may arguably have deprived them of opportunities for employment and education afforded by foreign investment.

Yet it is worth noting the comments of Burton Levin, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Burma from 1987 to 1990. In fact, Levin was Ambassador when the 1990 general election took place that saw Suu Kyi elected President only for the military junta to nullify the results. In 1995, Levin said, "Foreign investment in most countries acts as a catalyst for change, but the (Burmese) regime is so single-minded that whatever money they obtain from foreign sources, they pour straight into the army."

During the 1990s there was an international boycott of Pepsico because of its ongoing relationship with the Burmese military junta. Pepsico would eventually cease operations there in 1997. It is also worth noting that when Levi Strauss opted to cease operations in Burma it stated "under current circumstances, it is impossible to do business in (Burma) without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights."

So if the U.S. government and by extension U.S. businesses engage Burma today how would anything be different than it was in the 1990s?

Senator Webb, and perhaps the Obama Administration, are walking into a tangled web if they choose to engage Burma's military junta.

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