WikiLeaks: Burma's Opposition Stifled By Old Farts and Uninformed Analysis

The US embassy is Rangoon is not known as the most diplomatically radical outfit in town. When I lived in Burma, I don't think I ever encountered the chef de mission. Several other grand Poo Bahs from high profile and influential countries were constantly out and about. You would run into them at fetes and fairs, in the local pub, at a karaoke night. The US mission, with its barbed wire-like defenses and Big Brother surveillance systems remained aloof and secretive.

Now the latest tranche from WikiLeaks has revealed that behind those forbidding doors busy fingers were sending perceptive, well observed missives about the state of Burmese misery. Casting an eye on the generals that hold Burma in their iron-fisted grip, in 2008 the departing Political Economy Chief reported that "uninformed analysis and wishful thinking of the exiles and outside observers" may hope for the demise of the generals that control the country, but ..... "we should not expect an imminent coup to save us from the hard-line senior generals...... while talking to the generals may be unpalatable, their firm control over Burma and the weakness of the pro-democracy opposition are a reality we must consider when working to promote change in Burma." And while sanctions "give us the moral high-ground, they are largely ineffective because they are not comprehensive."

The most astute observation is for the opposition National League of Democracy:

While many outside Burma perpetuate the impression of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party as a large movement with massive support waiting to take the Parliamentary seats they won in the 1990 election, the reality is quite different. Without a doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi remains a popular and beloved figure of the Burman majority, but this status is not enjoyed by her party.

Already frustrated with the sclerotic leadership of the elderly NLD "Uncles", the party lost even more credibility within the pro-democracy movement when its leaders refused to support the demonstrators last September, and even publicly criticized them. 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.....lack of unity among the pro-democracy opposition remains one of the biggest obstacles to democratic change in Burma.

The "Uncles" have repeatedly rebuffed the most dynamic and creative members of the pro-democracy opposition, who reinvigorated the pro-democracy movement throughout 2006 and 2007 by strategically working to promote change through grass-roots human rights and political awareness and highlighting the regime's economic mismanagement.

....the party (has not) made any effort to join forces with the technically sophisticated bloggers and young, internet-savvy activists, who have been so clever at getting out the images which repeatedly damaged the regime and undermined its international credibility. Instead, the Uncles spend endless hours discussing their entitlements from the 1990 elections and abstract policy which they are in no position to enact. Additionally, most MPs-elect show little concern for the social and economic plight of most Burmese, and therefore, most Burmese regard them as irrelevant.

Ending Burma's isolation will also be integral to any successful long-term change in the country. No matter how democratic transition comes about in Burma, the military will be involved given its vast control over the political and economic structures of the country. We should make an effort to seek out and speak with the more progressive military officers and to those who have access to the senior generals. Their hostility to democratic change is motivated by paranoia and distrust of the West, and a belief that we seek to punish them and obliterate a significant role for them in Burma's future. If we want to counter this, we should pursue dialogue directly with them rather than through intermediaries who can sometimes garble messages.

It's refreshing of course, to read a document that you fundamentally agree with. After all that frustrating "no-talkies" from the embassy in Rangoon, that there was good judgment and willingness to do the tremendously difficult work of drilling down into the often seemingly impenetrable layers of Burmese society is reassuring. Burma has for so long been blighted by "uninformed analysis and wishful thinking of the exiles and outside observers" and the bone headed notion that NLD = good, Generals = bad. The truth is more complex and unless those complexities are understood and embraced the country remains doomed.

The last word goes to the cable writer:

Though most Burmese do not believe the NLD will be able to bring about democratic change.....they have not given up on working for democracy. Instead, they are taking matters into their own hands and creatively working in what space is available to improve the lives of their communities.