Late last night, the House Armed Services Committee drew a line on American military relations with Burma.
The committee passed an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act offered by Representative Trent Franks (R–AZ) expressing the sense of Congress that “the Department of Defense should fully consider and assess the Burmese military efforts to implement reforms, end impunity for human rights abuses, and increase transparency and accountability before expanding military-to-military cooperation beyond initial dialogue and isolated engagements.”
This is a matter of accountability regarding both developments on the ground in Burma and the Administration’s Burma policy. Publicly and in visits to Capitol Hill, the Administration downplays the intentions of its opening to the Burmese military, which include providing sensitivity training to a couple of mid-level, fully vetted Burmese officers and in-country military-to-military consultations.
It is certain that they believe what they say. But given the rapid pace with which the broader opening to Burma has proceeded, and a turn in policy that is now focused more on delivering benefits to reformers than rewarding reforms, it is hard to believe that those intentions will remain modest for long. The modest claims also belie the energy with which Administration officials are taking their case to Congress.
The problem the Administration is running into is in the headlines. Most Members of Congress are not focused on Burma, but they know what ethnic cleansing is. Congress has been presented a clear choice: Give the Administration a blank check to lend legitimacy to Burma’s brutal military or impose conditionality and accountability on that engagement. Decency, common sense, and regard for the constitutional prerogatives of Congress make the latter the far better choice.