The military dictatorship in Burma has long been one of the world’s most oppressive. Efforts to bring some thaw, even a slight political opening, were repeatedly made during the Bush Administration and with the personal support of the president and Mrs. Bush. But little or nothing was achieved.
In that context the announcement today of the release of over six thousand prisoners is a very welcome move.
Moreover, it is not an isolated action but the most recent in a series of steps by the Burmese military regime. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from detention eleven months ago and has now met with Burma’s president, Thein Sein. Censorship of the internet has been greatly reduced. Of course Burma has a long way to go, but it would be foolish to deny that real changes have been implemented. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma Derek Mitchell provided a good account of some recent progress, and of U.S. policy today, in a statement made from Rangoon last month and available here.
Two comments seem called for. First, movement by the Burmese military should give rise to movement by the United States and others who have long-and rightly-isolated and sanctioned Burma. The more they do, the more we must be willing to do, rewarding reform and thereby giving an incentive for more of it.
Second, great credit is due to the Obama Administration’s handling of Burma. Secretary Clinton, Special Representative Derek Mitchell, and Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Kurt Campbell began a policy review in early 2009, and decided the way forward was to engage in direct talks with the regime (while sanctions were maintained). I was confident this tactic would not work, but over these two years of careful diplomatic activity the Administration has achieved a great deal for the people of Burma. Hats off to all involved.