Engaging with Burma but at what cost?

photo by Paula Brownstein, from the Guardian

A couple of decades after a military dictatorship started to lock up and exterminate the local Burmese populations, the United States has decided to check in.  Above we see Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

I’m not a romantic about international affairs.  I know that ugly stuff happens.  But the Burmese government is truly nasty.

What would fuel such a sudden rush to check in on Burma?  In my opinion there are two elements which bring US-Burma relations to the forefront.

1.  Many US businesses have been salivating to set up work in the dictatorship.   Turns out that when the military leaders can just shoot labor union organizers and lock up those who complain about bad working conditions, business profits can soar.  A couple of years ago, French and US energy companies built a massive natural gas pipeline through the dictatorship.   Unocol hired a consultant to see just how much evil they were on the hook for (public relations-wise).

And consider this: according to company sources, Unocal hired a former Pentagon analyst to investigate whether the army was abusing human rights along their pipeline. And he warned Unocal executives that Myanmar’s military was committing “egregious human rights” violations. According to company sources, the consultant flatly told executives that when they keep insisting that slave labor is not being used to support the project, they appear “at best naïve and at worst a willing partner in the situation.”

via American Radio Works – Blood and Oil in Burma.

2.  American force projection is taking serious losses.  Talk about going from a dominant first world power to a second-tier nation in the span of a couple of years.  Military backlash in Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Yemen, and everywhere an American soldier shows his head.  Check out the softpower backlash in every place where US aid money is deposited in the bank accounts of local elites.   Bottom line, the United States empire is running out of “little buddies.” The bid to drop money and relations on Burma is a last-gasp effort to shore up the US empire.  The fact that we have to turn to Burma is in itself evidence of just how little clout the US wields.

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Filed under colonialism, human rights, propaganda

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