President Obama’s trip to Myanmar this week is indeed historic. The country is making good and unexpected progress in opening up its political system, and Ms Suu Ky’s election to parliament is proof.
With the fiscal cliff looming, President Obama’s trip is perhaps a bit of a gamble, as he could be seen as shirking his presidential duties at home. Fortunately President Obama is going on a short trip and, more importantly, is not shirking is presidential duty to serve as head of state. The President’s visit is symbolically very important for a country moving towards democracy. So too is the money following the visit, with a USAID post slated to open and millions of dollars to dole out.
And even more importantly, the visit serves to shore up President Obama’s pivot. Bringing Myanmar into America’s orbit and away from China’s influence is key, just as it is important to gently push China’s neighbors towards democracy. While Myanmar’s democracy is fragile and any setback could be an embarrassment for the administration, it is clear that President Obama made a calculated gamble, figured the benefits outweighed the costs, and flew to Myanmar not only to encourage what many figured just a years ago would be an impossible transition to democracy, but to gain another piece to help the United States pivot to the Pacific. In short, it’s a win-win.