Hillary’s Hopes for Burma

A poster of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi<ahref="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7752651@N05/3790837664/">sabeth718<a/>/Flickr

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This past month, I was on a sort of sneaky assignment and then out of the country, and in my absence there have been some huge developments in US-Burma relations. For the first time in 50 years, an American secretary of state dropped in on the nation that generally receives little more high-level American acknowledgment beyond passing negs about tyranny in presidential speeches. As Mother Jonesresident Burmaphile, I got an email from one of the editors last week asking the all-important question about Hillary Clinton’s making nice and supposedly making headway with the intractable regime: “Is this for real?”

If Washington is assuming that Burma’s recent (bullshit) elections and the release of its most famous political prisoner means that we can lead the country into a future awash in democracy and rainbows, that would be a little too lovely to be believed. But that the Obama administration is cautiously optimistic, or that it senses wee little steps toward progress, and that there’s an opportunity for the United States to get involved and nudge it along? Yeah. Maybe.

For decades, our policy has been to sanction Burma and wag our finger at it. I’ve long been a proponent of more engagement with the country. Though nobody wants to look like they’re befriending bad guys, and there’s no proof that getting more involved with Burma will work, there is proof of one thing: That the policy we’ve been pursuing so far does not work. Our sanctions are meaningless, because a) lots of other countries are happy to buy the Burmese resources we won’t; b) the goods we sanction can still make it to us via roads like smuggling; and c) there are loopholes in our sanctions that still allow Chevron to operate there and make the regime big money.

We’re not lifting the sanctions yet—and, for the aforementioned reasons, I kind of doubt Burma really cares—but we are starting assistance to programs that deliver health care, microlending, English instruction, and help for land mine victims. Regardless of whether you’re of the school of thought that aid to corrupt/underdeveloped nations is enabling/infantilizing, this aid at least has the possibility of creating leverage, like the kind the United States and Germany wielded against Uganda when it proposed killing gay people. It’s a long, long road to reconciling of Burma’s problems, like, say, the systematic government-perpetrated rape and torture and ethnic cleansing going on its borderlands, issues Clinton says she “raised directly with the government” on her trip. That mention over lunch is unlikely to save lives. But what past administrations have said to Burma is, “Hey, not that there’s any reason for you to listen, because we give you/cooperate with you on absolutely nothing, and you’re dead to us. But: In our opinion, you should stop slaughtering people.” Moving forward, the conversation might be a little more compelling when it sounds like, “Hey, stop slaughtering people. We give you money.”

Burma has long been run by assholes. It remains to be seen whether the president and parliamentarians put in power by the elections are as big of assholes as the assholes who led before them. And at the very least, the Burmese people will be getting the chance for more medicine and education and microloans. It can’t hurt for trying to befriend Burma and empower the population. The former has a shot, and let’s definitely hear it for the latter. I’m not necessarily given to bouts of optimism, even the cautious kind, but if there’s anything we were reminded of this year, it’s that an empowered population is the the best tool of all against repressive regimes.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate