Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


April 12, 2011

Please forward.

We received the following reaction from David Steinberg to our statement about the Washington SAIS conference. (Of note, Mr. Steinberg, and also Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. Charge d'Affaires to Burma, both subsequently argued at the conference that the recent "election" in Burma is a significant pro-democracy accomplishment.)

"I do not know what fortune teller Mr. Watson has consulted to so characterize the nature of the conference as "pro-military," since the conference has not been held, any papers from it have not been distributed, and the participants judiciously chosen to address the topics under discussion--North and South Korean relations with Myanmar--the accepted title of that country by each of those states. The readers of Mr. Watson's many diatribes are no doubt aware of his consistent views and by now must cautiously approach what he has written with judicious care; they might well search for verification of his often dubious charges. I suggest they do so in this case.

Ad hominem charges will be dealt with separately.

David Steinberg
School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University

My initial response to this was with passion, and is the type of thing that Mr. Steinberg confuses with diatribe. (I also included a more formal analysis from another Burma activist, of Than Shwe's strategy to have the election accepted and thereby bring about the end of western economic sanctions.)

"I thought my reasoning was clear. This is America. We say Burma. The SPDC says Myanmar. And why aren't there any speakers from Burma's pro-democracy movement on the panels? For that matter, why wasn't I invited, since I first broke the story of North Korea's involvement in Burma's nuclear program.

Of the many people who responded to the Dictator Watch release, only one other was not favorable, possibly one of your former students. My answer to this individual, which holds for you as well, is as follows:

In case you are unaware, Burmese are dying every day at the regime's hands, and have been for years. Some of the people at this conference have done everything they can, also for years, to deflect pressure on what is nothing less than a gang of murderers. I could be much stronger. Maybe you don't think what is happening in Burma is that bad. Maybe you don't care. I do."

I have now decided that I should address Mr. Steinberg's charges, and his academic position on the military regime, more formally as well.

Dear Professor,

If I can stand up to the dictator of Burma, I can certainly stand up to you.

The most important issue in Burma by far is the need to save lives. The people of the country are being put to death by the murderous gangster and terrorist Than Shwe, either directly at the hands of his soldiers - as is now most egregious in Shan and Karen states - or indirectly through the lack of food and medical care that he enforces and which among other things has led to one of the worst rates of child mortality in the world. (According to Unicef, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 children under the age of five die every year in the country, many due to preventable diseases.)

I believe that we all should care about Burma, and similar situations that exist in the other dictatorships of the world. Of course, not everyone can do something about it. Most people must focus on their own survival, in part because they themselves are subject to political and other forms of dictatorship. But anyone who enjoys freedom, particularly the luxury of financial freedom, should be involved, certainly well-paid professors at prestigious universities and who are so-called experts in the field. Not to be involved, not to dedicate oneself to ending the murder and saving lives, is unethical. To act in a way that actually supports the dictators is despicable.

There is only one conference that should ever be held on Burma: How to get rid of Than Shwe, to save the people of the country and to give them the freedom that they so truly deserve. Even a focused examination of Burma's nuclear cooperation with North Korea, not to mention the program's connections to China, Russia and even possibly Iran, should be secondary to this subject. If we can free Burma, the nuclear proliferation problem there will go away.

Some people will argue that such an idealistic stance ignores political realities, and I suppose in a way it does. The question then becomes, whose realities are we talking about, and being forced to accept.

In my book Freedom From Form, I asked the question why, with the top universities of the world graduating one class after another of highly intelligent and motivated young men and women, and who rise to positions of leadership in society's different institutions, does the world continue to deteriorate? The answer to this is that such men and women are conditioned by their teachers, and then channeled into an employment structure where the conditioning intensifies, such that by the time they obtain the leadership roles (all doubters are weaned out along the way), they fully accept the system's principles, including that money and power are everything and that all possible means to them should be pursued.

The idea that money and power are everything is the core force behind social and environmental decline.

How do I know about the embedded structure of society? I was part of it as well, a graduate of universities that are well regarded and also on my way to a position at the top of a major corporation. I could easily have remained a part of the incestuous framework of schools, corporations, media, and yes, even democratic governments. But I became a doubter as well, and rather that wait to be expelled, I purposefully de-institutionalized myself.

This actually explains why activism is so difficult, even though the vast majority of the general public want real change. We live in an institutional world, and in this system only institutional voices are accepted. Why weren't there any Burma pro-democracy activists on the panels at the SAIS conference? Because they don't have institutional standing. Why are human rights secondary to such things as the pervasive Kremlin-think about the intricacies of Burma's military junta? Because the people of the country don't have any institutional standing.

Schools of Foreign Service teach political realism, the dominant paradigm - with a few cultural exceptions - of all human history. This is simply that "might is right." In technical terms, in international affairs only nations have standing, and national sovereignty is supreme. It does not matter a single iota how the rulers of a particular country obtained power, or what they do once they have it. Tyrants such as Than Shwe are embraced fully, and as equals.

Also, all nations compete, and any one nation can - and should - do anything to further its own interests relative to all others.

Political realism is a wonderfully immoral system of selfishness. Surprisingly, it is taught in the universities of democratic nations, and pursued as policy by the governments of those nations. The reason this is surprising is that democracy is an idealistic system, predicated on reason, not power, and because of this equality and rights. But a democracy that fairly holds elections does not guarantee that its leaders will follow democratic principles. And as is evident now with the United States and Europe, through their responses to Burma, China, and the pro-democracy uprisings in Arab nations and Iran, they regularly don't.

The historical system is still untouched. It remains stable. As George Orwell commented in 1984:

"… the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other."

This will continue to be the case until we reach the tipping point and refuse to accept it for even one second more, until we find a way to overcome power with reason, and such that it can never revert. I don't pretend to have all the answers to this, but I do know that democracy, and education - real education - are essential. It is clear that democracy still has a long way to evolve. And, along the way we will have to deal with the likes of major universities such as Johns Hopkins and Georgetown, to which young people aspire, and which continue to use instructors with amazing institutional backgrounds and who are so enamored of realism that they don't even recognize their bias.

We will have to work with determination, and find the way. It will be extremely difficult, considering the financial and military power of the opponents that we face. As Orwell observed, we may well fail. But we have to try. People power - democracy - is our only option. This is the only conceivable way we can successfully end oppression and save the multitude of lives that tyrants so ruthlessly take.

For Burma, as many of the people in the country now recognize, they can expect little help from the international community, and this will extend to the new U.S. envoy. International support for the Burmese people is an artifice: crocodile tears. As long as Chevron and Total fund Than Shwe, anything else that the U.S. and Europe does is rendered moot. The Burmese people will have to win freedom on their own.