Hey, who says there are no new ideas in Washington?
For the second time in two months, President Bush announced sanctions against Myanmar to punish the military-run government and its backers for the recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
We already have sanctions, of course, and we've had them since 1997. If there is some logical reason to impose a new round now, I have no idea what it might be. If new sanctions are justified in October, why weren't they justified in September? And in every month since 1962? Sanctions have failed to promote change for a decade so, yes, let's pile on more of them. Drug war logic!
In terms of practical effect, Bush may as well ban the import of unicorns. None of these sanctions touch Chevron, which is the only U.S. company with a significant investment in Burma. It is also the only company that might make sense to ban, since it constitutes a large part of the economy of resource extraction, whose gains are not broadly shared. But even if the Bush administration were to target the only American company that actually pumps money into Burma, unilateral sanctions wouldn't have any effect in the long term. Other economies will rush to fill the vaccuum, as they did in the 90s. If Chevron weren't there, someone else would be.
Multilateral sanctions are not quite so anodyne. If Thailand, China, and India suddenly stopped trading with Burma, the regime would feel hit, and hard. But it takes a significant leap of faith to believe that a poorer Than Shwe would give up and throw an inauguration party for Suu Kyi. Working in Rangoon, I didn't see a hi-tech regime intimidating people into silence with its vast wealth; the government operatives in our newsroom could barely operate a cell phone. It's not that expensive to scare a population into passivity, and the government might actually be more secure in an economy of total isolation.
More on Myanmar here.