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12/12/11 Burma (American Spectator) – Dwight Eisenhower went to Korea and Hillary Clinton went to Burma. True, it’s not quite the same. Nevertheless, Clinton recent trip was almost as dramatic, coming after Washington’s lengthy campaign to isolate the brutal military regime that has been running the impoverished nation since 1962. 
Despite well-founded skepticism of the commitment to reform in Naypyidaw — a city created at great cost apparently in the belief that locating the capital far away from the people would help protect the regime — President Barack Obama was right to suggest that “After years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress.” The Clinton visit may help spur a reform process capable of ultimately transforming Burma, also known as Myanmar. 
There long has been no hope. Although the junta’s membership changed over time, its deadly policies did not vary. With equal ruthlessness the regime suppressed the urban democracy movement, symbolized by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and battled ethnic guerrillas, such as the Chin, Karen, Shan, and Wa, seeking autonomy in the east. The result has been thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of thousands of refugees in bordering countries, and millions of displaced people within Burma. Tens of millions of Burmese languish in poverty. 
The U.S. and Europe tried economic sanctions, but China, India, and most other Asian states felt no compunction about dealing with Naypyidaw. Human rights be damned when there are profits to be made. While the Burmese people suffered, well-connected Burmese elites prospered. And the regime went on doing what it did best: killing, imprisoning, punishing, and oppressing. 
Now come “flickers of progress.” The election last fall was a fraud, and the new “civilian” government initially seemed little better. However, in recent months some political prisoners have been freed, controls over the media and labor unions have been relaxed, Suu Kyi has met with government officials, and restrictions on her party have been lifted. Equally significant, Burmese leaders seem increasingly nervous about Beijing’s tight embrace. 
Nevertheless, the reforms might be a façade. And the latest engagement boomlet might fade as have others in the past. Still, so long as the two countries are talking, Washington should promote democracy and individual liberty. And the administration should emphasize Naypyidaw’s obligation to end the army’s vicious military campaigns against ethnic groups seeking autonomy and related attacks on religious freedom.
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