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Obama to visit Myanmar, an overture to a one-time pariah

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Now President Obama is making Myanmar a stop on his first international trip since winning reelection. The visit will be the first time a sitting US president has ever visited the country (when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last year, she was the most senior US official to visit the country in five decades). Obama's trip, slated for Nov. 17-20, will also include stops in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar, as part of his ongoing push for an increased US policy focus on Asia.

Has there ever been faster restoration of US relations with a country it had once worked so hard to isolate, in the absence of either a US invasion or a revolution? I can't think of one.

The once-maligned leaders are being brought in from the cold. The US even indicated in October that Burmese officers would be invited to the annual Cobra Gold military exercise between the US and Thailand as official observers.

The Obama administration's motivations are clear: Demonstrate the benefits of the generals’ political opening and turn toward democracy.

But with the breathless rush to friendship comes a country where ethnic tensions still dominate, and ethnic violence, specifically against ethnic Rohingya Muslims, that the generals have been either unwilling or unable to stop.

To much criticism, Aung San Suu Kyi has avoided both condemning and condoning the specific violence against the Rohingya, which saw 75,000 displaced in Rakhine state this June.

While she's a hero to many for her principled opposition to the military junta – at great personal cost – she's first and foremost a politician with a nationalist constituency that looks askance at many of the country's minorities, perhaps the Muslims chief among them.

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