Neither process is complete. While the U.S. pledged to restore diplomatic ties with Myanmar, sometimes known as Burma, appointing an ambassador will take time, and most of the sanctions against the country remain in place. Nor have Myanmar’s reforms yet been solidified into sustainable, concrete accomplishments. The two tracks, however, are not mutually exclusive: “[T]he United States will meet action with action,” said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, announcing the new ambassadorship. “Based on the steps taken so far, we will now begin.”
Now a right-wing Member of Congress wants to bring it all to a screeching halt. In a statement released Friday, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) called on the administration to end all talks with Myanmar. She said:
I am distressed that the Administration is prematurely and publicly discussing any major concessions to the Burmese regime, such as nominating an Ambassador. Any concession to the dictatorship would be grossly premature. The world needs to see that the upcoming April elections are not the same kind of sham that we saw in 2010. [...]
I call on the Administration to immediately cease talks with the ruthless tyrants in Burma until the junta has been replaced with a duly elected, democratic government that respects human rights and civil liberties.
While, in the statement, Ros-Lehtinen raises legitimate concerns — for example that the ceasefire with one of the ethnic insurgencies is not nationwide and might not hold — her prescription doesn’t reflect the direct connections between the gains toward reform that have so far occurred and the Obama administration’s engagement.
While the reform project in Myanmar kicked off in 2010, the flood of actions undertaken by the government in the past several months have followed rigorous U.S. engagement that began in early Autumn. In October, the U.S. special envoy to Myanmar Derek Mitchell, who was only appointed in August, made his second visit to the country in less than two months. Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported in October that the administration’s policy was one of cautious engagement and waiting for concrete steps from the Junta before concessions are made. That process has yielded at least a few advancements such as prisoner releases.
Yesterday, Rogin reported that appointing an actual ambassador will take time. That gives the U.S. wiggle room to ensure further reforms are made and that those already gained are implemented and not walked back.
And while the caution is well advised, the gains do seem to have some legitimacy. One previously repressed dissident and Nobel Laureate is expected to run for a parliamentary seat. And the Daily Beast’s Ron Gluckman, who’s been travelling to Myanmar for nearly two decades, reported in December that “most here believe the reforms are genuine.”
The reforms in Myranmar are connected directly to continued and vigorous U.S. engagement — a term that appears again and again in the “guiding principles” of the administration’s foreign policy. But Ros-Lehtinen, with her ideological opposition to the policy and the administration, seems to want to throw it all away in favor of waiting until all the reforms are carried out and a “duly elected, democratic government that respects human rights and civil liberties” is in place — a process that could take years. Her stance epitomizes Voltaire’s famous phrase that the “perfect is the enemy of the good.”