On the Way to Mandalay…

April 1, 2012

One of the more ridiculous conversations I had while in Cairo was the hatching of a mad-cap plan to visit Myanmar, nee Burma, while it was still a closed, authoritarian system untouched by tourist hands.  My co-conspirator (she of the DRC juice reference) and I were so caught up in the grandiosity of the thing that it’s laughable in retrospect how little we even tried to foresee the almost predictable outcome. This was in December 2007, during the so-called Saffron Revolution, which was ultimately crushed by the ruling junta like the pods of the saffron plant.

I reflect on that conversation now as reports come in that the new elections in this more authentically open Burma, the one visited by Secretary of State Clinton, have brought the National League for Democracy and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi into the country’s parliament.    The elections themselves have obviously brought more foreign journalists and observers into the country to see the first chance in 20 years for the NLD to stand before the voters.

I’m thinking too of the ethnic minorities of Burma/Myanmar: the Karen, the Kachin, the Rohingya.  The NLD has been vague — as it can and should be in suppressed opposition — but going forward they will need to take a position on what is essentially the biggest issue facing the country’s sovereignty.

Burma’s on the path — the former junta leader has committed to working with Suu Kyi.  Considering how many examples there are of countries stuck in neutral or headed in the wrong direction, some optimism in the face of Burma’s progress today doesn’t seem grandiose at all.


Xi and the Sea (Lanes)

February 20, 2012

The presumptive next leader of the PRC just paid the U.S. a visit, and apparently the media here are quite taken with his more approachable, Chinese and American pop culture infused manner of communicating.

I think it is important to keep the substantive differences in the Sino-American relationship in mind, however.  The CCP isn’t going to let the yuan float or allow greater local political autonomy in Tibet just because the next head of the PRC references “Mission: Impossible” or other American cultural fare.

After all, this is a regime that has raised ‘pop culture as an opiate for the masses’ into an ironic art form


In other reviews of scenes from the world stage, Iran has both cut off oil shipments to the UK and France and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.   Clearly the IRI is angling for a nomination in the yearly Shooting Self in Foot Awards, but as I’m looking back at Operation Ajax via the excellent All the Shah’s Men, I can’t help but think that the more things change the more they stay the same.  Particularly in the Middle East.  Sixty years ago Britain was furious that Iranian nationalism dare stand in the way of its oil.

Now Britain imports no Iranian oil, letting it coolly and consistently push for greater sanctions.   If only the US could say fifty years from now that the Iraq war moved us on a similar path away from oil period.