Burma: New Hill Leaders Step Up

Walter Lohman /



New leaders are emerging on Capitol Hill to draw a line on Congress’s acquiescence to the White House’s rush to lift comprehensive sanctions on Burma.

Congressmen Trent Franks (R–AZ), Rush Holt (D–NJ), and Trey Gowdy (R–SC) are pressing for strict conditionality on the provision of military assistance to Burma. In a letter to House appropriators, they have requested bill language that would withhold military assistance for Burma unless the Administration certifies that:

Congress should go even further. On military assistance, it should find a way to also condition the participation of Burmese military personnel in joint exercises with U.S. forces. As was pointed out on a Heritage Foundation stage in February by former long-time Hill staffer and Asia expert Frank Jannuzi, Burma’s observer status in this year’s Cobra Gold exercises, led by the U.S. and Thailand, “granted legitimacy to an army that has not earned it.” It is particularly troubling, given the continued egregious human rights violations, that one of Washington’s most prominent human rights advocacy groups is today calling “ethnic cleansing.”

Congress should also give the Administration a hand in setting concrete benchmarks for Burma’s reforms and indicate what exactly would constitute cause for re-imposition of sanctions. Without legal specificity, the Administration and interest groups can always skirt the rhetorical commitment to seeing the reforms through.

Congressman Franks and his colleagues recognize the reforms that have been underway in Burma. However, they also recognize the uncertainty of the reforms’ future. Disturbing inter-communal violence underscores the reforms’ fragility. The Burmese military remains firmly in control of the government and maintains the power to end Burma’s opening at any time. The action-for-action approach that the Administration used to account for this reality may have gone by the boards, but it is not too late to re-impose some accountability on its policy.

Congressmen Franks and his colleagues have stepped up to begin that process. Kudos to them. Let’s hope their leadership catches on.