Last winter the Obama administration announced a review of Burma policy. I hope it will reconsider the United States' long-standing reliance on sanctions. It's not just that they don't work, but that they've been hugely counterproductive, taking away the one big force -- American soft power -- that could have played a role in reshaping the landscape.
Asia has experienced many successful democratic transitions, and none came about because of the sanctions and lectures that Western powers and advocacy groups seem to think will work in Burma. Generals don't negotiate away their power in the face of threats. You have to change the ground beneath them.
Engagement is not just about talking -- it's about dealing with the powers that be enough to get a foot in the door and create new facts on the ground, especially through economic contacts with the Burmese people. Nor is it based on the notion that economic development will automatically produce democracy, but that we must tackle simultaneously Burma's political and economic ills.
Many in America and worldwide are again outraged by goings-on in Burma. But without new thinking, 20 more years will pass and the dream of a prosperous, democratic Burma will be more distant still.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Senator Jim Webb seems to be following Thant Myint-U's advice in yesterday's Washington Post: