Friday, June 19, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi's Birthday and Iran, con't.

Today is the birthday of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  She will "celebrate" this birthday like she has so many others in confinement; the major difference this year is that she is confined to Burma's notorious Insein Prison, rather than her home.  My thoughts and prayers are with her today.  Having been privileged to spend nearly two days with The Lady, as she is known in Burma, I feel personally connected to her.  My meetings with her took place in the summer of 2002, when she was enjoying a brief period of freedom from her long-running house arrest.  She was focused on rebuilding her political party, which had been decimated by years of unrelenting pressure by Burma's brutal military regime.  When she traveled around the country, she was greeted by throngs of Burmese who braved the regime's network of spies and torturers to reassert their desire for freedom and democracy.  In person, Suu was warm and funny and almost comically small - she probably weighs 90 pounds wet - but you could sense the steel that lay beneath her elegant exterior.  The regime certainly has never been fooled by the pretty flowers she wears in her hair and her delicate manners - they know she is a force and fear her as such.  She is an inspirational person by any measure and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to know her even a little.  I hope that I will someday have the chance to renew our acquaintance under better circumstances.  For today, I am just going to light some incense and say a prayer for her well-being.

Which brings us to Iran.  David Brooks has written a good piece in the NYT today about the US response to the situation in Iran.  Money quote:

Foreign policy experts are trained in the art of analysis, extrapolation and linear thinking. They simply have no tools to analyze moments that are non-linear, paradigm-shifting and involve radical shifts in consciousness. As a result, they almost invariably underestimate how rapid change might be and how quickly it might come. As Michael McFaul, a democracy expert who serves on the National Security Council, once wrote: “In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.”

Worth thinking about as you listen to the "experts" talk about how we need to be "pragmatic" and "realistic" about what is happening.  While it is true that we should never get ahead of the protesters and the Iranian people, we most certainly need to make it clear to everyone that we are supporting them in their aspirations.  Moreover, as my former colleagues pointed out in the Wall Street Journal a few days back, there continues to be broad plain between the carefully worded statements coming from the Administration and the outer limits of appropriate support for these brave men and women.  While I hope that my former colleagues at the State Department are getting this right and doing the needful, my painful experience with them causes me to have grave doubts.  I had a ring-side seat on our failure to do everything we could to support Burma's democracy movement during the Saffron Revolution in 2007, a case where our public rhetoric far outpaced our private actions.  Again, I am hoping that the reverse is happening this time - the cautious remarks are masking a vigorous effort to figure out what needs to be done and do it - but the institutional bureaucratic barriers to this are high and the forces of the status quo are particularly tenacious among the Arabists who populate the professional ranks of the United States foreign policy community.    Sphere: Related Content

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