by Eric Margolis © 1997 Eric Margolis
The generals who run Burma are a bunch of brutal thugs who violate human rights, crush political opposition, and steal the nation's riches.
This week, President Bill Clinton put the kibosh on this nasty junta by banning new American investment in resource-rich Burma - or Myanmar, as the generals irksomely call it.
Clinton's move sparked praise on campuses across America. Burma's hamhanded generals, who are masters of negative public relations, are one of the world's most unpopular regimes. By contrast, Burmese opposition leader, Auung San Suu Kyi, has become an Asian Joan of Arc to worldwide female admirers.
She is under house arrest. My visit to see her last fall involved a good deal of nocturnal slinking through spooky Rangoon's back alleys. and very nearly got me arrested by the notoriously untender military police, The gentle, lovely, elegant Suu Kyi seems like a princess compared to the toadish generals who misrule Burma. But unlike the ethereal Suu Kyi, they have had to battle fierce rebellions by ethnic Shan, Karen, Mon, Kachin and Chinese armies that have torn Burma apart for the past half century.
I've seen many world-class terrifying regimes - such as Iraq, Duvalier's Haiti, or Syria, and lesser ones like Burma. I despise all with passion. But I despise even more western hypocrisy that scourges these thuggish regimes, while conducting business as usual with equally offensive ones elsewhere.
In the Middle Ages, young princes had a whipping boy, who was thrashed whenever the prince, who could not be touched, was naughty. The Clinton Administration is clearly using Burma as a whipping boy for China.
China's human rights record is dismal - at least compared to Switzerland. Few foreign critics understand that political and economic human rights in China, however imperfect, are better today than at any other time in the last 5,000 years of Chinese history. No matter. A wave of anti-Chinese hysteria has gripped America.
Scourging Beijing by trade sanctions is popular, but it would endanger America's growing export business to China. Clinton typically chose the politically expedient course by swatting Burma, a close ally of China. Unfortunatly, banning US oil firms from Burma has opened the door to gleeful French competitors.
While Washington chastises the wicked Burmese, it is encouraging trade and investment with neighboring India, supposedly Asia's next `tiger.' Yet India is one of the world's worst violators of human rights.
In rebellious Kashmir, Indian forces have killed tens of thousands of Muslim independence fighters and innocent civilians. Torture, mass gang rapes, and reprisals, are the norm. India's continuing crimes in Kashmir are denounced by international and Indian human rights groups.
India used equal ferocity to crush the Sikh independence movement in Punjab. Delhi is brutally surpressing tribal rebellions in NE India - just as Burma does across the border in its rebellious ethnic areas.
Washington is encouraging North Korea, the world's most hideous regime, to improve relations. The Clinton Administration is actually supplying oil, rice and nuclear plants to North Korea - in spite of threats by the North to `exterminate' the 37,000 US troops in South Korea.
Clinton shamefully arranged US $10.2 billion of loans to Russia just as Moscow was slaughtering 80,000 Chechen civilians.
Trade is being encouraged with Vietnam, whose communist regime is no less repressive than Burma's, though far more diplomatic. Burma at least has an opposition. In Vietnam, there is none outside prison.
Interestingly, there's another Asian nation run by generals that crushes political opposition and denies many human rights - yet remains in Washington's very good book. That's Indonesia, whose clever military rulers had the foresight and savoir faire to make large, continuing contributions, via the Riady family, to President Bill Clinton.
It's amazing how a few hundred thousands dollars in cash will calm even the deepest moral outrage. Burma's cloddish generals, take note.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]