Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Than Shwe in the news? Sort of.

The entire world is paying attention, or at least pretending to pay attention, to the crackdown on dissident monks in Burma. Missing in most of the coverage is any mention of just who runs the system that caused all this drama in the first place - SPDC chief Than Shwe. The coverage of the unrest in Burma has mostly avoided mentioning Than Shwe by name, preferring to run with "the military junta", "the generals" and so on and so forth. Then again, considering how Burma's top brasshat likes to avoid the limelight, this is somewhat understandable.

For now, Than Shwe remains in charge of the ruling SPDC party despite rumors of ill health and a desperate power struggle with the SPDC's number two man, Maung Aye. It's rumored that the delays in organizing the crackdown on the protesting monks were due to infighting among the generals, which could be construed as yet another sign of Than Shwe's diminishing influence. Nevertheless, Than Shwe's position at the top appears to still be intact, so much so that the United Nations will be directing its ineffectual pleas for "peace" and "restraint" to Than Shwe himself.

Perhaps the United Nations would try a different tack if they actually bothered to learn more about Than Shwe. How do you deal with a man who is, above all else, more of a brutal and monomaniacal kleptocrat than is an actual political leader? I can give you a hint: handing him a petition isn't going to get them very far, nor are "solidarity protests" in Belfast. The fact that the United Nations appears determined to deal with Than Shwe the same way they'd deal with the prime minister of Belgium shows that the international diplomacy bureaucracy still hasn't managed to to read the the essentially atavistic urges that motivate dictators, much less how to deal with them.

The talk of boycotts might scare a country like Belgium, but considering that most of Burma's trade involves heroin, mining and oil, it's a safe bet that Than Shwe isn't going to worry about boycotts. Besides, they only affect the poor. Who cares? There's been some talk about shaming China into restraining Burma with talk of an Olympic boycott, but wait - how will the Chinese know if the boycott is over Burma or Darfur? In the end, it's meaningless, because China has absolutely no intention to tell Than Shwe what to do, and Than Shwe has absolutely no intention to listen even if they did. Finally, a diplomatic relationship built on mutual understanding!

It's almost as if Than Shwe has figured out that there's no point in being a dictator if you're just going to let the rest of the world tell you what to do. Amazing, isn't it?