Today there has been a further Wiki-dump of classified cables about Burma. The best and most accessible source for this tranche is The Guardian‘s website.
For the moment I don’t have time to go through them all in fine detail but one or two immediately caught my attention.
First, there is the account of an episode where a “Burmese civilian” offers to sell uranium to the US Embassy Rangoon. That particular cable is classified as “Secret”. As a speculative aside, and based only on the information provided, it seems likely that any further correspondence on that intriguing set of circumstances is likely to be even more highly classified. Again, some of the pertinent details have been (wisely) redacted.
Second, among the other cables there is one that recounts the analysis of the departing “Embassy Rangoon pol/econ chief” in July 2008. It offers some very candid assessments. It is, of course, worth reading in full.
In one section this senior Embassy official reflects that:
While outsiders may portray [Senior General Than Shwe] as an uneducated, crass, and blundering man, he has successfully consolidated and held onto power for several years, while at the same time building lucrative relationships with his energy hungry neighbors that undermine Western efforts to cripple his regime.
The official then goes on to describe the National League for Democracy [NLD] in somewhat unflattering terms. Although the language is relatively gentle, this section is very much in the tone flagged by this earlier comment on New Mandala. For the official:
The way the Uncles run the NLD indicates the party is not the last great hope for democracy and Burma. The Party is strictly hierarchical, new ideas are not solicited or encouraged from younger members, and the Uncles regularly expel members they believe are “too active.” NLD youth repeatedly complain to us they are frustrated with the party leaders.
And then on sanctions we learn that from the Embassy official’s perspective:
While our economic sanctions give us the moral high-ground, they are largely ineffective because they are not comprehensive. Burma’s biggest client states refuse to participate in them. However, the generals despise the sanctions and want them removed because they challenge the regime’s legitimacy. If we really want to see the generals make progress, we need to show them what they will get in return. This means being willing to gradually remove sanctions in exchange for true steps toward dialogue and political change.
If we do decide to speak with the generals again, we should do it strategically. Dialogue could be used as a tool to bring the generals into the twenty-first century.
It is becoming increasingly clear that over coming days, weeks and months there will be some significant reconfigurations of public analysis about countries in mainland Southeast Asia based on these leaked documents. They certainly show that the standard of US diplomatic reporting about Burma is high. All of the cables I have read closely show deep insight and impressive savvy (as also highlighted by others).
I think it probably all leaves us with the only obvious question: what next?