On trip to Myanmar, Obama may set record for rapprochement
President Obama is leaving on Saturday for a visit to Myanmar (once known as Burma), long an international pariah that has just recently begun to reform. He will be the first president to do so, moving with astonishing speed on building ties with this strategically located nation long seen as one of the worst dictatorships.
The country's reform began with a bang in March 2011, when rulers dissolved the half-century-old military junta and transitioned to a civilian government. Myanmar has gradually democratized (though its commitment to free elections remains largely untested), freed hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed restrictions and, perhaps most significantly, moved away from China, its longtime patron.
Hillary Clinton traveled to meet with President Thein Sein and others last November, making her the second secretary of State to go, and Obama will become the first sitting president to go.
The United States has lifted crippling sanctions, allowing foreign investment to flood in. Time from Myanmar's opening to secretary of State visit: eight months. Time to presidential visit: 20 months.
That might be a land-speed record for post-Cold War rapprochement. Some in the Cold War were faster, but the coups and counter-coups and shifting alliances were unique to that bipolar era.
What's driving the Obama administration's remarkable enthusiasm for opening Myanmar right now? It seems largely to be part of the administration's mission to earnestly “pivot” to Asia; the president, on this trip, will also become the first to visit Cambodia.
One big part of this strategy that doesn't get discussed much is the effort to integrate Southeast Asian countries, which are not thrilled about China's rising influence but need some help in uniting against the neighboring giant. Perhaps the administration sees an opening to assert regional leadership now, while China's diplomatic outreaches remain clumsy and unconvincing.
There's another message that the rapid U.S. detente with Myanmar sends, whether deliberately or not: Rogue states that open up might be able to expect rewards from the Americans — and quickly. The administration's willingness to let bygones be bygones with Myanmar, to work with the ruling regime instead of pushing its top figures into international criminal courts, and to reward its reforms “action for action,” as the diplomats put it, would seem to establish some very tempting incentives for other rogue states.
To be sure, each rogue state is its own complicated case. The United States has a lot less baggage with Myanmar than it does with, say, Iran, so it's easier for Washington to put the past aside. And the Burmese relationship is also less encumbered by domestic U.S. politics or by interest groups that might oppose a too-rapid opening. Still, you have to wonder how it looks from Caracas or Riyadh or even Tehran.
Max Fisher anchors WorldViews,The Washington Post's foreign news blog.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins need trade-deadline acquisitions to bring toughness
- Rossi: Pirates’ post-Martin plan comes with a catch or 2
- Blue Jays’ Martin has ‘nothing but praise’ for former Pirates teammates
- Former NFL player humbly helped others
- ‘Time for bold change,’ Wolf says in outlining $30B state budget
- Trade deals good way to add jobs, CEOs say
- CMU grad’s FunBites make healthy food appeal to kids
- ‘Big Mo’ ranks with A-K’s gridiron greats
- Artist born without arms, legs gives Hampton students peek into her world
- Pitt’s Wright excelling in classroom
- Concurrent Technologies focuses on developing batteries for renewable energy, electric cars