Ethnic key to US role in Myanmar

It should be appreciated that ethnic resistance forces have by some estimates an impressive record of killing Burmese soldiers at up to 100:1 ratios in the field. This is testament to freedom fighters defending families, ancestral lands and cultures. This grassroots resilience is something the US and its allies have experienced at a bloody cost in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

After dubious performances in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States now has the opportunity to demonstrate in Myanmar what has been learned at a great price in both these countries. All three countries share one distinct feature: they are highly diverse ethnic societies that demand their ethnicity be both valued and balanced.

The question now is whether the US government truly understands the game to be played in Myanmar in a context rich in human factors and abundant in strategic implications.

Myanmar’s critical position for giving China access to the Indian Ocean is also of strategic importance to the US. The US has shown a strong willingness to engage President Thein Sein’s reformist government, though there are nagging issues that have compelled the US Congress to leave certain sanctions in place.

Still the Barack Obama administration has been positive and solution-oriented in response to the various reform gestures, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, a loosening of media censorship and allowing for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League Democracy to take seats in parliament. The question now is whether the US is on the right path for enduring progress, particularly considering America’s past history of getting it wrong when it comes to dealing with ethnic matters in diverse societies.


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