Page 1 of 2 The geopolitical stakes of 'Saffron Revolution' By F William Engdahl
There are facts and then there are facts. Take the case of the recent mass
protests in Burma or Myanmar, depending on which name you prefer to call the
former British colony.
First it's a fact which few will argue that the present military dictatorship
of the reclusive General Than Shwe is right up there when it comes to
world-class tyrannies. It's also a fact that Myanmar enjoys one of the world's
lowest general living
standards. Partly as a result of the ill-conceived 100% to 500% price hikes in
gasoline and other fuels in August, inflation, the nominal trigger for the mass
protests led by saffron-robed Buddhist monks, is unofficially estimated to have
risen by 35%. Ironically the demand to establish "market" energy prices came
from the IMF and World Bank.
The UN estimates that the population of some 50 million inhabitants spend up to
70% of their monthly income on food alone. The recent fuel price hike makes
matters unbearable for tens of millions.
Myanmar is also deeply involved in the world narcotics trade, ranking only
behind Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan as a source for heroin. As well, it is said
to be Southeast Asia's largest producer of methamphetamines.
This is all understandable powder to unleash a social explosion of protest
against the regime.
It is also a fact that the Myanmar military junta is on the hit list of US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration for its
repressive ways. Has the Bush leopard suddenly changed his spots? Or is there a
more opaque agenda behind Washington's calls to impose severe economic and
political sanctions on the regime? Here some not-so-publicized facts help.
Behind the recent CNN news pictures of streams of monks marching in the streets
of the former capital city, Yangon, calling for more democracy, is a battle of
major geopolitical consequence.
The major actors
The tragedy of Myanmar, whose land area is about the size of George W Bush's
Texas, is that its population is being used as a human stage prop in a drama
scripted in Washington by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the
George Soros Open Society Institute, Freedom House and Gene Sharp's Albert
Einstein Institution, a US intelligence asset used to spark "non-violent"
regime change around the world on behalf of the US strategic agenda.
Myanmar's "Saffron Revolution", like the Ukraine "Orange Revolution" or the
Georgia "Rose Revolution" and the various color revolutions instigated in
recent years against strategic states surrounding Russia, is a
well-orchestrated exercise in Washington-run regime change, down to the details
of "hit-and-run" protests with "swarming" mobs of monks in saffron, Internet
blogs, mobile SMS links between protest groups, well-organized protest cells
which disperse and re-form. CNN made the blunder during a September broadcast
of mentioning the active presence of the NED behind the protests in Myanmar.
In fact the US State Department admits to supporting the activities of the NED
in Myanmar. The NED is a US government-funded "private" entity whose activities
are designed to support US foreign policy objectives, doing today what the CIA
did during the Cold War. As well, the NED funds Soros' Open Society Institute
in fostering regime change in Myanmar. In an October 30, 2003 press release the
State Department admitted, "The United States also supports organizations such
as the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute and
Internews, working inside and outside the region on a broad range of democracy
promotion activities." It all sounds very self-effacing and noble of the State
Department. Is it though?
In reality the US State Department has recruited and trained key opposition
leaders from numerous anti-government organizations in Myanmar. It has poured
the relatively huge sum (for Myanmar) of more than $2.5 million annually into
NED activities in promoting regime change in Myanmar since at least 2003. The
US regime change effort, its Saffron Revolution, is being largely run,
according to informed reports, out of the US Consulate General in bordering
Chaing Mai, Thailand. There activists are recruited and trained, in some cases
directly in the US, before being sent back to organize inside Myanmar. The US's
NED admits to funding key opposition media including the New Era Journal,
Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma radio.
The concert-master of the tactics of Saffron monk-led non-violence regime
change is Gene Sharp, founder of the deceptively-named Albert Einstein
Institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group funded by an arm of the NED to
foster US-friendly regime change in key spots around the world. Sharp's
institute has been active in Myanmar since 1989, just after the regime
massacred some 3,000 protestors to silence the opposition. CIA special
operative and former US military attache in Rangoon, Col Robert Helvey, an
expert in clandestine operations, introduced Sharp to Myanmar in 1989 to train
the opposition there in non-violent strategy. Interestingly, Sharp was also in
China two weeks before the dramatic events at Tiananmen Square.
Why Myanmar now?
A relevant question is why the US government has such a keen interest in
fostering regime change in Myanmar at this juncture. We can dismiss rather
quickly the idea that it has genuine concern for democracy, justice, human
rights for the oppressed population there. Iraq and Afghanistan are sufficient
testimony to the fact Washington's paean to democacy is propaganda cover for
The question is, what would lead to such engagement in such a remote place as
Geopolitical control seems to be the answer - control ultimately of the
strategic sea lanes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea. The coastline
of Myanmar provides naval access in the proximity of one of the world's most
strategic water passages, the Strait of Malacca, the narrow ship passage
between Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Pentagon has been trying to militarize the region since September 11, 2001
on the argument of defending against possible terrorist attack. The US has
managed to gain an airbase on Banda Aceh, the Sultan Iskandar Muda Air Force
Base, on the northernmost tip of Indonesia. The governments of the region,
including Myanmar, however, have adamantly refused US efforts to militarize the
region. A glance at a map (click
here) will confirm the strategic importance of Myanmar.
The Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is the shortest
sea route between the Persian Gulf and China. It is the key chokepoint in Asia.
More than 80% of all China's oil imports are shipped by tankers passing the
Malacca Strait. The