Admission to Burma


Than Shwe now says he will allow "all" aid workers into Myanmar, though he hasn't said when. The promise comes after a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, who notes that Than Shwe "has taken quite a flexible position on this matter."

This is the first time I've seen the word "flexible" used to describe Than Shwe. On the other hand, it's hard to know how much accurate information he has at any given time. In Burma it is extremely difficult to deliver bad news to one's superiors; truth often takes a backseat to norms of conflict-aversion. From the perspective of Than Shwe's underlings, it's almost always going to be easier and safer to minimize the perception of problems and act as if things are under control. They're terrified of him; he'd rather not hear anything unflattering about his own capacity for leadership. The former UN resident coordinator in Burma apparently calls this "mutually strategic ignorance."

Than Shwe is further insulated by the information blackout his own government enforces, which makes it easier for lesser generals to pretend that everything is progressing swimmingly. It's probable, for example, that Than Shwe was unaware that the potemkin refugee camps he visited were an elaborate farce. And if you doubt his capacity for delusion, remember that this is the guy who moved the country's capital on the advice of his astrologer.