Disengage for Democracy!

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Yesterday, President Bush extended the "national emergency with respect to Burma," a government whose actions apparently "pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." Who knew? That means another year of unilateral economic sanctions, which have worked wonders since they were first imposed against the same government in 1997.

As is his habit, Burma-obsessed Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the resolution to renew the sanctions, then threw in some bad information. He says the SPDC poses "an immediate danger to the entire region" partly "through the trafficking of illicit drugs." The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is run by a bunch of thugs, but they surely aren't running the drug trade these days, which is operated by oppositional minorities on the Northwest border. McConnell goes on to claim that Burma has a "rising prisoner of conscience population" (not true) and insist the U.S. is part of a "growing chorus for political reform in Burma" (doubtful). Considering that the SPDC manages to rack up new human rights abuses daily, why pass on false accusations?

Here's a nice closing sentiment from Mitch:

"There is no more definitive expression of support for democracy and human rights–for solidarity with those struggling for freedom–than an import ban."

Meanwhile, Myanmar's information minister is trying to explain away some recent bombings in Yangon with a clever game of "guess who?":

"It is crystal clear that the terrorists . . . and the time bombs originated from training conducted with foreign experts . . . in a neighbouring country by a world famous organisation of a certain superpower nation."

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  1. I think denying people a legitimate source of income is a very effective strategy to discourage them from engaging in illegal pursuits.

    Why are you all looking at me like that?

  2. a world famous organisation of a certain superpower nation

    “Now, we won’t you tell you their name, but their initials are C, I, and A.”

    Realllllll subtle, guys.

  3. “There is no more definitive expression of support for democracy and human rights–for solidarity with those struggling for freedom–than an import ban.”

    -Millions of malnourished souls around the world stand in agreement.

    There are only a handful of more insidious things than denying someone’s right to trade. To claim that an import ban actually helps those whom it hurts is just a slap in the face to the citizens of Burma.

  4. Yeah, but look how well the embargo has worked against Cuba!

    Um, never mind.

  5. Wouldn’t it be cool if the CIA could really competently do all the things that other countries accuse them of?

    It would be like the Secret Service in the Wild, Wild West show.

  6. Yeah, sanctions never worked against South Africa.

    Um, never mind.

    Actually it’s much more complicated than that. A case can be made that the breakup of apartheid happened for many reasons other than the sanctions. Or that those conditions combined with the sanctions produced the desired effects.

    And then, that old bastard Saddam just crumbled when faced with sanctions. Didn’t he? Didn’t he?

  7. Isaac-

    There’s a very big difference between South Africa and most other countries that have faced sanctions: South Africa had an elected government, while most countries facing sanctions have dictators. (OK, Iran has an elected government for show, but the real power is in the hands of the Ayatollahs who aren’t elected.)

    Why do elected governments matter? Well, most of the pain inflicted on sanctions falls on ordinary people, not leaders. While the white minority in South Africa was admittedly a very privileged minority, and while the elected government was hardly representative of South African society, the fact remains that the white minority was hurt by the sanctions, and the white minority had political power.

    In dictatorships, on the other hand, the leadership is rarely hurt by sanctions. Some dictators and their cronies might even profit from sanctions, by running black market operations or by cheating in things like “Oil for Food”.

    Which is not to necessarily say that sanctions against South Africa were a good thing. A case could still be made against them, and debating it is a separate can of worms. The only point is that you can’t compare sanctions against dictatorships with sanctions against democratic or partially democratic societies.

  8. Now, a sanction will probably hurt the people of Burma more than the government, but…will it really hurt any of the citizens’ right to trade? Does Burma have a free enough market for that to happen, or do they do the “everyone sells to the government, the government sells it for much more abroad” schtick?

  9. There’s a very big difference between South Africa and most other countries that have faced sanctions:

    That’s pretty much what I was trying to say in my third paragraph.

    I was not trying to argue for or against sanctions, more trying to point out why they appeal as a tactic to some people.

  10. In fact, what you wrote is pretty much what I would have written if I was as smart as you:)

  11. Sorry for my misunderstanding, Isaac.

  12. I probably should have been more clear. It’s not easy to get complex ideas expressed in a few short sentences, and I haven’t the time to write a lot of long ones.

    You said it the way it needed to be said.

  13. thoreau — I feel like the world’s biggest idiot; after years of “thinking” about sanctions, the elected-government distinction never occurred to me even once. Hot damn. Thanks!

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