Engage With Burma

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The March 15 editorial "Burma's Bullies" called for caution in negotiating with the authoritarian regime in Burma, a country for which even the name (it's also known as Myanmar) is in dispute in the United States. Caution is required, but the Obama administration's interest in a dialogue is the most welcome U.S. approach toward that country in 18 years. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's comment that neither isolation nor engagement has worked was partly accurate. The United States has tried isolation, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tried constructive engagement (a euphemism for economic advantage), but this country has not tried engagement.

All of us want to see all political prisoners released, human rights honored, media censorship lifted, the independence of a now-subservient judiciary restored, and the economic conditions of desperately poor people improved. But to describe, as The Post did, the brave Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as the country's "rightful ruler" is both inaccurate and an approach that ensures that dialogue will fail.

The opposition victory in the May 1990 elections was indeed complete, but those elections, tragically denied by the state, were not (contrary to popular belief) for a new government, but for a constitutional convention.

The Post editorial stipulated that "U.S. engagement must be conditional." That is a recipe for failure; it implies subservience to which the Burmese will not agree. Engagement should be unconditional, but agreement on improving relations should indeed be conditional.



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