Last month, influential Democratic Sen. Jim Webb proposed “moving forward on trade” with Myanmar, a reforming quasi-democracy currently sealed off from American investors by a thicket of sanctions.
Now we’ve got a longtime Myanmar observer from across the aisle, Republican Sen. John McCain, suggesting Uncle Sam should pull out the weedwhacker.
In a speech at Washignton D.C.’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, he advocated suspending — not permanently removing — almost all American sancitons against Myanmar. (The U.S. government still calls the country by its colonial name: Burma.)
McCain suggested only two major caveats: no weapons and no investing in military-backed firms.
That both a Democrat and a Republican with plenty of political juice agree on wiping out sanctions is highly significant. The White House can only eliminate so many sanctions against Myanmar by decree. (And there are plenty of them.)
It’s up to Congress to eliminate the rest.
Said McCain in his Center for Strategic and International Studies speech:
“The right kind of investment would strengthen Burma’s private sector, benefit its citizens and ultimately loosen the military’s control over the economy and the civilian government. The wrong investment would do the opposite, entrenching a new oligarchy and setting back Burma’s development for decades.”
Worth noting: McCain’s nod toward an earlier chapter in U.S.-Burmese relations, when the U.S. trained military officers whose army regime would go on to drag the country into the ground.
“On my last visit to Burma, I met with the president. He had most of his cabinet there, and after the meeting, I walked over to shake their hands. As I went down the line, one of them said: Fort Leavenworth, 1982. Then another one said: Fort Benning, 1987.
And it went on like that. And I realized many of these guys were former military officers who had been part of our military exchange programs prior to our severing relations with the Burmese military. Even after all this time, all of our troubled history, they remembered America fondly and they wanted to get closer to America once again.”