On Monday Yangon time, President Obama visited Myanmar’s former capital and became the first sitting American president ever to travel to the one-time pariah. His itinerary included meetings with both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as an address before Burmese students, officials and former generals at the historic University of Yangon. “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear. I said, in my inauguration address, ‘We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,’” said Obama during his remarks. “And over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun, as a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip.”
While Obama acknowledged “this remarkable journey has just begun,” the rapid evolution of U.S. policy toward Myanmar over the past year suggests the Obama administration is betting heavily on Thein Sein and his ability to maintain the momentum of reform. In a new piece for Foreignpolicy.com, “Head Over Heels,” I argue that the economic and political changes underway in Myanmar —though substantial—may not be as secure as the United States and other outside observers think.