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Head Over Heels

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
November 16, 2012
Foreign Policy

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When he arrives in Myanmar next week, President Barack Obama will mark a historic occasion. Not only will it be the first time a sitting American president has visited the country, the trip also represents the final step in Myanmar's remarkable rehabilitation from international pariah status. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made a point of ignoring the previous leaders of Myanmar (then known as Burma), almost all of whom were blacklisted from entering the United States. In 2005, the Bush administration began calling the country an "outpost of tyranny," while Bush's wife, the first lady, made change in Burma one of the highest-profile issues on her personal agenda.

Since then, Myanmar has come in from the cold. During Obama's visit, part of a longer Southeast Asia swing that kicks off in Thailand on Sunday, the president will almost certainly praise the rapid and pervasive reforms that have supposedly transformed the country in two short years. Indeed, just the fact that the president is traveling to Myanmar, administration officials say, shows how impressed Obama is with the pace of change, and particularly with the reformist instincts of Myanmar president Thein Sein, a former army general who has worked with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to usher in a wave of political, economic, and social change.

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