February 3rd, 2011

MYANMAR/BURMA — For an editorial in a major American newspaper, the Washington Post’s:The right way to help Burma’s democracy movement seems pretty weak to me, but then, the Post’s writer is taking a snapshot on Ground Hog day at a decades old problem half the world away, so maybe I’m overly sensitive.

I did like the final paragraphs

Which brings us to the failing policy of the Obama administration, ostensibly a marriage of engagement and targeted sanctions. In practice, engagement has been half-hearted and fruitless – the regime seems uninterested – and sanctions have been allowed to languish. The administration hasn’t added a single name to the Treasury Department’s Burma sanctions list or cracked down on a single bank doing business with the regime – even as the generals sign multibillion-dollar development deals with companies in China, Thailand and elsewhere.

There’s an honest debate to be had about whether sanctions hurt ordinary people more than their rulers. But a focused effort to target the regime and its cronies might leave more room to expand humanitarian aid to the population. Right now, the administration has the worst of all worlds. It’s not influencing events, it’s not helping the people and it’s positioning itself to be blamed nonetheless.

A less honest debate would be one that blames the administration’s lassitude on Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, or argues that sanctions should await a clear pronouncement from her. Though she was recently freed from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is not in an easy position; if she did call forthrightly for enhanced sanctions, she would be vilified in the poisonous state-controlled press.

The biggest help the West could give the democracy movement would be to freeze the bank accounts of the nation’s rulers and their relatives, to keep them from stealing more of their nation’s patrimony, and let Aung San Suu Kyi call for relaxation when and if events merit. The opening of a Potemkin parliament wouldn’t qualify as one such event.

We can’t be everywhere at once. Just because I’ve chosen to pick up this particular starfish doesn’t mean that anyone who tries to save a different starfish is bad, just different.

Do what you can to make this a good morning, Myanmar.

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