Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


March 19, 2005

Note: This is the second of three related announcements. Please forward.

The recent statements from President George Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher have reinvigorated the Burma democracy movement. In American slang, the government is now “talking the talk.” The question is: will it also “walk the walk”?

What hasn’t been commented on regarding these statements is that they have effectively established a deadline. The U.S. must act in the next four years to bring democracy to another country. Improvements on the ground in Iraq will not be sufficient to satisfy the expectations of the American people (and of the world).

However, the list of candidates is small. For a variety of reasons Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Zimbabwe, and China, are unlikely. This leaves Iran, North Korea and Burma. But the first two will be exceedingly difficult, as there are all manner of complexities to address. This leaves Burma.

It is also worth noting that Secretary Rice clearly has ambitions beyond State. She will need a major success to support her Vice-Presidential (and ultimately Presidential) aspirations.

No Administration, Republican or Democrat, has ever initiated action on Burma. The two sanctions bills were organized in Congress. Presidents Clinton and Bush merely signed them into law. Now is the time to set a new precedent.

The logic for Burma to become a democracy is irrefutable, even to its neighbors China and Thailand, which presently back the regime. East Asia is committed to legitimate development and trade. China and Thailand, and also India and Bangladesh, will yield far greater returns if the country is open and democratic, rather than a dictatorship and economic cripple.

The benefits for the United States would also be profound. Were it to lead the solution, which would be a natural role since it is already the international leader in putting pressure on the regime, it would create a strong and long-lasting alliance with the people of Burma. Such an alliance, in the nation that lies at the crossroads of the most populated and rapidly developing region of the world, would have many positive consequences.

Presently, America’s foremost ally in the area is Thailand. However, under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand has shifted its allegiance to China. By leading the way to a free Burma, the U.S. could replace (or augment) its relationship with Thailand, whose support under the present government is unreliable.

One questions the suitability of an alliance with Thailand under Thaksin in any case. As the recent Human Rights Report describes, gross human rights violations are being committed in country, in the South against the Muslim minority and also along the Thai/Burma border. It is clear that Thaksin, who has gutted the Thai constitution and its oversight mechanisms; has used his financial resources to assemble a one-party government; has brought the police and military under family control; and who has repressed the media and local activists, does not really understand democracy. He does not grasp that in a democracy the people rule; government officials are public servants; and that civil liberties and a free press are essential to maintain the system’s vitality. Thaksin is opposed to the establishment in Thailand of a well-functioning democracy, and with his business and political allies has done everything in his power to return the nation to its darkest past.

It is appalling that the United States would yield to Thaksin’s desire for Burma to remain a dictatorship. Does America really need an ally such as this?

The United States faces two primary challenges with Burma, and neither are the SPDC. It cannot be put off by Thailand, or China; and it cannot allow itself to be perpetually distracted by the problems in the Middle East. The U.S. Government is huge. Furthermore, since World War II the U.S military has been prepared to be involved in two major conflicts, in different regions of the globe, at the same time. Surely America can find a way – a concrete plan – to walk the walk in Burma, while it continues to pursue its objectives in the Middle East.