FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Appeasement Complex

Several years ago, I wrote an article about Burmese cooking. My editor at the magazine inserted a sentence at the end of the piece that read something like this: “And there has never been a better time to visit Burma and sample its delicious cuisine.”

I immediately called up the editor and explained that, yes, Burmese cuisine is delicious, but it was probably one of the worst times to visit the country. I told her about the sanctions against the Burmese government and the tourism boycott favored by opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. I managed ultimately to persuade the editor to remove the offending sentence, but it wasn’t easy. Editors: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

Burmese food is still delicious. But the tourism ban is largely a thing of the past. Last fall, the Burmese government released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. She reciprocated by endorsing small-scale tourism, a policy shift that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) adopted last May. And last week, the most important tourist of all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arrived in Rangoon to tour the famous golden pagoda, among other things. This first visit to Burma by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 50 years heralds a possible breakthrough in U.S.-Burma relations, shines a light on an ongoing transformation in Burmese society, and has generated the predictable pushback from those who suffer from the political disease known as the appeasement complex.

Back in 2008 when the Burmese military junta announced a new constitution as a step toward civilian rule, the international community responded with considerable skepticism. The military didn’t look as though it intended to give up any real power. When Thein Sein won election as president earlier this year, The New York Times described it as “a move that cements the military’s control of a new political system.” The new president was widely considered a puppet of the top military general Than Shwe.

Sometimes, though, puppets manage to take on a life of their own. Burma has not exactly become a democracy overnight. But the changes initiated by Thein Sein are significant nonetheless. “The Burmese government has recently released more than 6,000 political prisoners,” writes Iqbal Ahmed in Is Burma Really Changing? “In an uncharacteristic move, former army general Thein Sein, who came to power in March, thwarted the Chinese-funded $3.6-billion Myitsone dam project in the state of Kachin, relenting to continuous pressure from the Burmese citizens in that region.”

The government has passed some significant laws legalizing peaceful protest and union strikes. The head of the censorship bureau, essentially calling for his own early retirement, told Radio Free Asia that “press censorship is non-existent in most other countries as well as among our neighbors and as it is not in harmony with democratic practices, press censorship should be abolished in the near future.” After holding talks with the government, Aung San Suu Kyi plans to run for parliament in upcoming by-elections.

Government mediators are even pursuing agreements with rebels who have been fighting, in some cases for decades, against the military. The first agreement, with Shan rebels, was negotiated a couple days ago. According to one civil society observer, mediators have reached out to Karen, Karenni, Chin, and Kachin rebels as well.

“It’s Burma rebooted,” the NLD’s second-in-command U Tin Oo told Newsweek. “Everything is happening with a speed we couldn’t even foresee.”

When President Obama announced at the end of his Asia tour last month that Secretary of State Clinton would visit Burma, The Washington Post editorialized that the administration was giving the government there “undeserved validation” because the generals had yet to create a “peaceable democracy.” Clinton, who doesn’t represent a peaceable democracy either and perhaps knows something about unreasonable expectations, went anyway. There she sat down with Aung San Suu Kyi, parlayed with Thein Sein, and promised U.S. support in step with democratic changes.

It’s a great irony that Hillary Clinton, who criticized Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election for being “naïve” in offering to meet with the leaders of “rogue” nations, is the one extending an open hand to Burma. But the Obama-Clinton initiative is far from naïve. It borders on the devious. In addition to ushering in U.S. businesses to compete for Burma’s considerable natural resources, the opening to Burma is part of a much larger effort to reduce China’s sway in its traditional sphere of influence.

China has been heavily invested in Burma. And the Burmese are starting to worry about becoming too dependent on their big brother in Beijing. “Concerns about this Chinese-led development and its many inherent risks are a heated topic in Burma today,” writes FPIF contributor Dan Beaker in Burma’s Big Brother. “Discontent can be heard in the rallies and public statements of opposition armed forces in the border areas, in cabinet and parliamentary meetings in Napyidaw, in the teashop natter of academics in Yangon, and in the day-long councils of elders in swidden and fishing communities across the rural hinterlands. Conducting research in central Burma earlier this year, I often heard talk of ‘the Chinese invasion,’ referring to the investment drive, and of the use of ‘Chinese agents dressed as investors’ in a recent privatization of government assets.”

The imminent détente with Burma has continued to generate criticism from those who suffer from the appeasement complex, a syndrome that causes politicians to conflate diplomacy with selling out and negotiating with kowtowing. Unfortunately, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has an advanced case of this syndrome. “Secretary Clinton’s visit represents a monumental overture to an outlaw regime whose DNA remains fundamentally brutal,” shechastised the Obama administration.

The Republican presidential candidates have yet to get behind Ros-Lehtinen. Perhaps some of them are still scrambling to find Burma on the map (hint: some people call it Myanmar). But never doubt that Gingrich, Romney, Perry, and Santorum suffer from their own appeasement complexes. My favorite example comes from Michele Bachmann, who is always good for a laugh. After Iranian students stormed the British embassy and London pulled out its diplomatic staff, Bachmann told supporters in Iowa, “That’s exactly what I would do [if I were president]. We wouldn’t have an embassy in Iran. I wouldn’t allow that to be there.”

The United States hasn’t had an embassy in Iran since 1979. The Bachmann team tried to clarify that she was speaking hypothetically about a time when the United States might have an embassy in Iran. But that, frankly, is worse. According to the first interpretation, Bachmann simply made a gaffe. According to the clarification, she was stating a policy. We wouldn’t have an embassy in Iran – or Burma – because…because they’re bad people. And we don’t talk to bad people, ever. And yet Bachmann continues to share the stage with Rick Santorum. Go figure.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column, and will be publishing a book on Islamophobia with City Lights Press in 2012.

More articles by:

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
CounterPunch News Service
Critic of Wildlife Department Removed Day Before Scheduled Meetings on Revisions to Wolf-killing Protocols
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail