Burmese Haze: US Policy and Myanmar's Opening-and Closing.

AuthorMarston, Hunter

Burmese Haze: US Policy and Myanmar's Opening-and Closing. By Erin Murphy. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Association for Asian Studies, 2022. E-version: 215pp.

Myanmar has always been something of an anomaly in US foreign policy. On the one hand, its remote geographic location has led Washington policymakers to place values over geostrategic interests--in contrast, for instance, to its pragmatic embrace of autocrats in the Middle East. On the other hand, successive US administrations have oscillated between policies aimed at regime change to an approach focused on engagement, with hopes of encouraging democratic reforms. The February 2021 military coup, which fundamentally ruptured Myanmar's nascent political transition (underway since 2010), has once again provoked international condemnation and reignited old debates in Washington over how to influence events within Myanmar from afar.

As Erin Murphy's new book illustrates, the United States has a mixed record regarding engagement with Myanmar. Its ability to shape events is limited compared to neighbouring China, India, or Thailand, and many Americans will undoubtedly question whether Myanmar holds any strategic significance for the United States in the first place. Rather than dismiss these realities--largely dictated by geography, limited cultural interaction and historical convergence--Murphy constructs a compelling case that Myanmar still matters to the United States despite the challenges of distance and cultural differences, and that Washington should care about the country's future.

Murphy is well-placed to explain Myanmar's myriad complexities. She had an inside view of Myanmar's pivotal transition between 2010 and 2021, and a central role in Washington's policy debate concerning the country. Murphy joined the Central Intelligence Agency after completing her master's degree in 2007, and later served as special assistant to the Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Myanmar in the US Department of State. After 15 years in government, she founded her own Myanmar-focused consulting firm, Inle Advisory Group. Murphy clearly cares a great deal about Myanmar and the people she came to know over her years of involvement there. Murphy puts forward a cogent argument for why the reader should also take note of the country's trajectory, drawing new parallels between Myanmar's quest for a unified federal democracy and America's ongoing struggle with issues of race, ethnicity and religion (p...

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