Sunday, November 11, 2012




In his first foreign visit  after being re-elected, President Barack Obama will be in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand from November 17 to 20, 2012. His visit to Cambodia is to attend the East Asia summit. The brief  visits to Myanmar  and Thailand will be bilateral.

2. He will be in Yangon (Rangoon) where Aung San Suu Kyi lives for a few hours on November 19,2012. He will have talks with President Thein Sein also at Yangon and not in the capital. He will be accompanied by Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, for whom this will be the second visit to Myanmar.

3. The proposed visit has been projected in warm terms both by the US and Myanmar. A spokesman for President Thein Sein said on November 9: “His visit is warmly welcomed. It will strengthen the resolve of Thein Sein to move forward with reforms. Obama's visit shows concrete support for the democratisation process of President U Thein Sein, Daw  Aung San Suu Kyi, Members of Parliament and the Myanmar people. President Thein Sein fully believes that the trip of President Obama will push the momentum of the process of democratic reform."

4. The proposed visit underlines the US confidence in the stability of the Government of President Thein Sein and its belief that there is no opposition in the senior levels of the Myanmar Armed Forces to the policy of political and economic reforms and opening-up to the West undertaken by Mr.Thein Sein and his c-operation with Suu Kyi.

5. While there has been no comment so far from the Chinese Foreign Office, Qin Guangrong, Secretary of the Communist  Party of China in Yunnan, who is presently attending the 18th Congress of the CPC in Beijing, said that China saw no threat to its interests from Mr.Obama's visit. He added: "We understand and support the wish of the Myanmar authorities wanting to open up and become part of the world."

6. Mr.Obama’s proposed visit will be coming less than a month after a new spell of violence between the native Buddhists of the Rakhine (Arakan) State and the Rohingya Muslims, who are projected by the Myanmar authorities as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, not entitled to full citizenship rights.

7. The violence, which led to over 80 fatalities and added to the number of internally displaced persons living in camps, was triggered by the opposition of the Buddhists to a proposal to permit the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to open a permanent office in Yangon to monitor the human rights of the Rohingya Muslims and the distribution of humanitarian relief to the internally displaced refugees from both the communities living in camps in the Rakhine State.

8. While the violence has since subsided, a Commission appointed by the Government of President Thein Sein to enquire into an earlier spell of deadly violence in June has not been able to make much progress in its enquiry due to non-cooperation from the Buddhists.

9. US officials dealing with the visit have maintained a discreet silence on the recent violence in the Rakhine State and sought to project the visit as meant to encourage the Thein Sein Government to keep moving on the democratic path. However, there will be expectations from the Muslims of the ASEAN region, who nurse feelings of solidarity with the Rohingya Muslims, that Mr.Obama will exercise pressure on President Thein Sein as well as Aung San Suu Kyi to pay attention to the human rights of the Rohingya Muslims and grant them full citizenship rights.

10. The Buddhists are watching the visit with apprehension that President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi may soften their opposition to the grant of citizenship rights to the Rohingya Muslims under pressure from Mr.Obama. Any impression of a US pressure in this regard during Mr.Obama’s visit could trigger off fresh violence in the Rakhine State weakening the ability of the Thein Sein Government to restore law and order and to re-settle the displaced persons in their home villages.

11.Non-Governmental human rights organisations such as the Amnesty International have expressed their misgivings over the wisdom of Mr.Obama’s decision to visit Myanmar at this delicate time. They are worried it could prove counter-productive.


12.In a report on the situation in the Rakhine State due for release on November 12, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has been quoted by the media as saying as follows:

“The flare-up in Rakhine State represents a deeply disturbing backward step from Myanmar’s reforms. This is a time when political leaders must rise to the challenge of shaping public opinion rather than just following it. A failure to do so will be to the detriment of the country. There is a  threat of rising identity politics in Myanmar as reforms give new found freedoms to interest groups. The situation needs decisive moral leadership... by both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent it spreading and contribute towards long-term solutions.” The ICG urged the Government to ensure camps for the displaced do not become a precursor to the “segregation” of Rakhine and Rohingya.

13. Mr.Obama’s tricky visit is coming at a time when sections of the Rakhine Buddhists are demanding a policy of separate development for the Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, with separate educational institutions, hostels and buses for Rohingya Muslim students. ( 12-11-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)





In the history of the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), there have been three instances of Directors coming to grief because of their perceived wrong-doings.

2.Richard M.Helms (1966-73) was removed by President Richard Nixon from office because of his alleged disloyalty to the President during the Watergate enquiry.

3. James Woolsey (1993-95) had to resign following Congressional unhappiness over his reluctance to act against officers who were considered guilty of slack supervision in the case relating to Aldrich Ames, a Soviet/Russian mole in the CIA.

4.John Deutch ( 1995-96) had to resign following suspicions/allegations of breach of security against him. He was allegedly casual in handling classified information.

5.The resignation of Gen. David Petraeus reported on November 10,2012, following the alleged discovery of an improper personal relationship between him and his biographer Paula Broadwell, who was also from the Army like Petraeus, is the first instance of a Director quitting because of suspected moral turpitude. Both of them were married with  children.

6.American society tolerates personal relationships between unmarried individuals, but looks askance at relationships between married persons from whom high standards of  loyalty and faithfulness to the spouse are expected. Both Petraeus and Paula deviated from these standards and he has had to pay a price for this.

7. When such relationships between married persons come to light they go down in the esteem of their near and dear ones, friends and colleagues. They can no longer exercise effective leadership of the organisation headed by them. Bill Clinton’s was a remarkable instance of a President continuing and flourishing in office after his relationship with a young girl was discovered and he had to face the humiliation of impeachment proceedings, which were not successful. His was an exception to the rule.

8.The media has projected Petraeus’ resignation as voluntary. It is quite possible that the FBI brought his relationship with Paula to the notice of  President Barack Obama who advised him to resign. The resignation was called for.

9. Gen.Petraeus was a highly distinguished officer of the US Army who had done well in Iraq and Afghanistan before he was selected by Mr.Obama to head the CIA in June 2011 when he decided to appoint  Mr.Leon Panetta, the highly successful Director of the CIA who co-ordinated the covert action for the elimination of Osama bin Laden, as Defence Secretary in place of Mr.Robert Gates.

10. The Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees confirmed his posting after examining his credentials for the post and he took over in September last year. He had such a brilliant record and reputation as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan that his credentials appeared to have been assumed by the Congressional committees and his case was cleared.

11. Normally, the FBI does a detailed background check before the Congressional confirmation hearings, but nothing negative about him that could have made him unsuitable for the post of Director, CIA, appeared to have been discovered by the FBI.

12. It is now reported that during his posting in Kabul as an Army officer, Paula was also in Kabul to interview him for her biography and the two used to spend a lot of time together, often jogging together. It did not appear to have struck either the counter-intelligence division of the CIA or the FBI to question him about his relationship with Paula and bring it to the notice of the Congressional committees. They seemed to have assumed that it was purely a relationship between a biographer and the object of her study and that there was nothing personal about it.

13. It was only after he started functioning as the Director that the FBI realised that there was more than met the eye in his relationship with Paula and started checking his E-mails. The personal nature of the relationship then came to notice.

14. The case brings out continuing deficiencies in the functioning of the counter-intelligence divisions of the CIA and the FBI. The Congressional Oversight Committees may now revisit the checks that were made before he was confirmed in order to see how the personal nature of the relationship was missed by both the CIA and the FBI.

15. The FBI will also go deeper into the background of Paula to determine whether she has had any illegitimate contacts with foreign intelligence agencies, how long she was having a personal relationship with Petraeus and whether there could have been any breach of security.

16. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of his resignation, Petraeus will go down in history as an outstanding Army officer and counter-insurgency expert. However, he headed the CIA hardly for 13 months and did not have the time to impart his stamp on the organisation.

17. Before him, another outstanding military officer---Admiral Stansfield Turner of the Navy---had headed the CIA under President Jimmy Carter. His tenure proved controversial because of his packing senior staff positions in the CIA with his confidantes from the US Navy. This caused demoralisation in the CIA and had a negative impact on the CIA.

18. It was reported that keeping this in view, Mr.Obama’s aides advised Petraeus, at the time of his appointment, to resist the temptation to pack the senior posts in the CIA with his Army buddies. He had to rely on senior career professionals of the CIA and he took time to get to know them.

19.Between 9/11 and September 2011, for nearly a decade, the CIA’s focus was turned to improving its HUMINT and covert action capabilities required for security and counter-terrorism related tasks. The time, efforts and resources required for improving its area expertise were not forthcoming.

20. Petraeus was required to re-focus the CIA’s HUMINT and covert action attention on acquiring area expertise in respect of countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and the Arab countries. A new operational strategy for this purpose was required. Before he could formulate and implement such a strategy, his personal affection for and relationship with Paula brought him down. He failed to distinguish himself in Libya and Syria and he was unable to impart his stamp to the operations of the CIA. He will not be remembered as a great intelligence officer. ( 11-11-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)