Story Time in Myanmar


In today's Washington Post, Morton Abramowitz and Jonathan Kolieb note the smashing success of sanctions against Myanmar:

Western economic sanctions, international diplomatic pressure and "engagement" with the ruling junta by its Asian neighbors have produced scant progress. Given the military's deep stake in the economy, it is unlikely to relinquish power. Rebellion is improbable, and regime change by outside forces is not an option….Meanwhile, Burma's 52 million people endure increasingly appalling conditions…

There is, of course, peril in a humanitarian approach. Millions of aid dollars may well be diverted by the junta, and the flow of aid might convince the government that it need not reform. Nor can we be sure the government would accept such a program. Cooperation with the regime, in any event, will be patchy—the junta has long placed onerous restrictions on aid agencies already there. But cooperation must be pursued, as there is no possibility of working on a large scale inside Burma without such efforts.

Western officials and politicians may bridle at this approach. Certainly, vigilance is required to minimize the hazards of working in Burma. But risk is unavoidable, and the costs of inaction—measured in mortality, drug addiction and infection rates—loom larger.

Actually, there is no way to weigh the costs and benefits here with even the slightest suggestion of accuracy. Simply asserting that one risk "looms larger" than another doesn't take us very far. Myanmar is a statistical black hole; you cannot know whether foreign aid is affecting public health in any significant way, and you certainly cannot know whether aid is further entrenching the regime (and extending the duration of military rule). Anyone who claims that an uptick in aid will worsen the Myanmar situation is just guessing; as are Abramowitz and Kolieb, who claim it will help.

That's not an argument against aid, but an argument against extending aid while assuring taxpayers that their money will be well spent. It's a gamble, and the description Abramowitz and Kolie give of Myanmar's horrific situation could as easily be marshaled as evidence by anti-aid types.

The only thing the U.S. can do to reliably help people in Myanmar is to get them out of Myanmar. Issue more visas, and lots of them. Here's an even less expensive idea: Stop subsidizing Myanmar's brutal drug war

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  1. I’ve read that the Myanmar junta is propped up by aid from India and China. The Chinese have long funneled aid to the SLORC, and India has begun to do so more recently to counteract Chinese influence and to try and get the SLORC to crack down on Indian tribal separatists who are based out of western Burma.

    So it’s not really accurate to say that sanctions have failed, since sanctions don’t exist there in any meaningful form.

  2. Western economic sanctions, international diplomatic pressure and “engagement” with the ruling junta by its . . . neighbors have produced scant progress.

    Is there a rogue regime anywhere that you couldn’t write this sentence about?

    And yet, like the clinically insane, it seems all that world leaders can do is repeat this proven-to-fail formula ad nauseum.

  3. Boycotts work here

    About as well

    As Ice Cream Parlors

    Do in Hell

    Myanmar Shave

  4. Nice touch DA

  5. Less military dictatorship than Burma.
    Less child prostitution than Cambodia.

    Enjoy the jewel of Southeast Asia. Enjoy Thailand.

    (brought to you by the Royal Ministry of Tourism of Thailand)

    – Josh

  6. Hee’s another idea: Stop calling it Myanmar. It was the junta that insisted we couldn’t call it Burma anymore. Screw ’em. When a freely elected government in Burma formally changes its name, then I’ll listen.

  7. Incidentally, doesn’t SLORC sound like something Retief would encounter? And overcome in a long weekend?

  8. “During the third rectification of the Voldranai, the chosen form was that of a giant SLORC.”

  9. Sorry, I’m confusing the Voldranai with the McKetrick supplicants. The Voldranai got the large and moving Torg.

  10. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

    Know your Slor from your SLORC or you may be next to roast in the depths…

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