The U.S. Offer to Burma

In a DOD press briefing today, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Timothy Keating described what he told Burmese officials earlier this month about the U.S. military’s ability to assist in the distribution of aid in Burma. Keating traveled with USAID director Henrietta Foe on the first relief flight into Burma on May 11. Since then, Keating said, the U.S. military has flown about 70 missions carrying 1.4 million pounds of relief supplies to Yangon. But, despite the seemingly generous terms which Keating recounted in today’s press conference, the government of Myanmar has yet to allow the U.S. military to assist […]

USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS WANING — Fewer conflicts in the world today involve the use of child soldiers, but children remain on battlefields in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, according to a report released May 20 by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The number of conflicts involving child combatants has dropped from 27 to 17 over the last four years, the Coalition’s “Child Soldier Global report 2008” found. Tens of thousands of children remain on the world’s battlefields, with tens of thousands more former child soldiers suffering from a lack of available assistance […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Ten years after the fall of Dictator Suharto, is Indonesia’s democracy a glass half full or half empty? If one looks only at the news headlines that often portray the archipelagic country as a hotbed of terrorists, radical Islamists and corrupt politicians, it would seem that things have worsened since the student-led Reformasi movement forced Suharto to relinquish the power he had held for the past 32 years. That was 10 years ago, on May 21, 1998. Skeptics also point out that Indonesians have little trust in political parties, and that the country’s political and business elite […]

HONG KONG — Soaring world rice prices are finally showing real signs of abating, easing worst-case fears that inflation-fueled food shortages could lead to widespread starvation and social unrest. A bumper crop in Pakistan, an improved harvest in Thailand and a boost in exports from Japan resulted in a 14 percent drop in the price of rice over the last five trading days, its biggest fall since July 2004. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), rice prices skyrocketed by 76 percent between December 2007 and April. However, traders said a decision by Islamabad to export 1 million […]

Saving Burma

Those suggesting we should conduct a “coercive humanitarian intervention” in Burma would do well to consider this, from a WaPo article that otherwise describes the junta’s efforts to mask the country’s underlying dysfunction: The primary focus of the rulers is to ensure unity in a country with 130 ethnic groups, many of which have fought the military — dominated by the Bamar ethnic majority — for six decades. The moral arguments for intervening in Burma are irrefutable. And in a world where decisions were made free of any practical considerations, they’d suffice. So while I can’t really say I object […]

The Political Repercussions of Natural Disaster

I’ve been silent to date on the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar (which by the UN’s latest estimate will claim several hundred thousand lives), not out of indifference, but for lack of anything pertinent to add to the discussion. Today comes news that a 7.8-magnitude earthquake just hit China’s Sichuan province, with initial estimates of three to five thousand dead. The first reaction to natural disaster should be to think of the victims, with a priority on saving lives and alleviating further suffering. I admit that mine was to wonder how China and the world would respond politically, in terms of […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia —When he took office one year ago, Irwandi Yusuf knew his job was going to be tough. And a little more than one year later, over a coffee in his office in Banda Aceh, he acknowledged that it is not getting any easier. “I know the job better now, but my support base is getting more and more disobedient,” he said. Irwandi is the first directly elected governor of Aceh, the once war-torn province of Indonesia and the area worst hit by the December 2004 tsunami. He was elected in December 2006 with almost 40 percent of the […]

During a visit to Burma a few years ago, I decided to avoid the country’s legendarily deadly airlines and instead hire a car to take me along the somewhat less deadly roads. Distances that on the map looked like they should take an hour to cover took entire days. The criminal extent of the country’s neglect was already obvious in Rangoon, where I saw a mother sitting with a large crowd on a downtown sidewalk, despondently holding in her arms a baby so malnourished that I’m sure it died not long after I gave her a small amount of money, […]

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Promises of a war on drugs by Thailand’s new government had many Thais fearing a replay of the heavy-handed 2003 anti-drug campaign that saw the deaths of almost 3,000 people. So far, however, the new war has been a restrained affair, revealing much about the political strength of Thailand’s People’s Power Party-led government. The push for carrying out a second campaign against illicit drugs came from Thailand’s new interior minister, Chalerm Yabumrung, who had campaigned on the issue. In the wake of his party’s December 2007 election victory and with the approval of Prime Minister Samak […]