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Opinion: Forget Kim Jong Il. The harder problem is Burma

Why Washington is powerless to help Aung San Suu Kyi.

Well, if the Burma leaders had any inclination "to do the right thing," we'd have heard about that decades ago. All of that presented a cacophony of conflicting approaches that emboldened the military dictators, enabling them to weather international scorn with hardly a worry. The same held true a year ago, when the Burmese government forbid international relief agencies from providing aid to thousands of people made homeless following cyclone Nargis. That brought on stronger sanctions and even louder excoriations. About that time, India worked out an agreement to give the Burmese generals $100 million for a waterway project.

In the last year, the situation has not improved. Early this year, Burma’s opposition party, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, acknowledged the obvious and said publicly that international sanctions were of no benefit to the country or its people.

Last week, after Burma arrested Suu Kyi for allowing John Yattaw, that odd American, to stay in her house for a day after he swum across a lake to see her, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Australia called for her release.

But, predictably, the nations that keep the junta in power, the enablers – China, India and Thailand – had nothing to say. With those trusty allies in the junta’s back pocket, all the ranting from the rest of the world means nothing. The ruling generals are proceeding with the trial. They will mete out whatever sentence they choose, free from worry or care. If anyone doubts the outcome, take note of the courts most recent act: forbidding the defendant to put her own witnesses on the stand.

When the Obama Administration finds time to conduct that Burma policy review, here’s an idea: Rather than haranguing the junta one day and then moving on when something more important inevitably comes up, why not call the various players in this debate – the United Nations, the European Union and Burma’s Asian neighbors – to an international conference. Maybe they could agree on a unified strategy. Maybe, under the Klieg lights and the skeptical gaze of a thousand reporters, China and India and Thailand might be shamed into doing the right thing.

More GlobalPost dispatches on Burma:

Ethnic Kachins defy Myanmar's junta

The wandering Rohingya

A cyclone's aftermath

More on North Korea:

North Korea's cries for attention

Opinion: Kim Jong Il's successor is (envelope please) ... Paek Se Bong!

All eyes on North Korea, for good reason

More by Joel Brinkley:

Why Eleanor Roosevelt is rolling over in her grave

Taliban poised to "take" Pakistan