Since taking office in March 2011, Myanmarese President U Thein Sein has taken steps to move the country away from the political repression and human rights abuses that have left it internationally isolated over the past five decades. His initial efforts led to a process of engagement with the U.S. that culminated in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit late last year, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to the country in half a century. At the time, Clinton held out the hope of further engagement in exchange for continued progress on a variety of human rights issues.
Sure enough, Myanmar's release last week of political prisoners, combined with a government ceasefire with a rebel group, led the White House to announce its plans to send an ambassador to the country for the first time since 1990.
"The pessimists say this is all a sham: It's phony, superficial and will not last," said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. "The optimists say this is going to bring democracy. Neither is correct."