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Southeast Asia, explained

Myanmar's debut at America's biggest war games

A pariah army joins the planet's most elite battle drills
Myanmar cobra gold 2012 10 22Enlarge
Thai soldiers training in Cobra Gold, America's largest war games, run through chemical attack drills on February 14, 2012. About 13,000 military personnel from seven nations -- South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan and Malaysia -- are involved in the exercise. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

The speed at which America and Myanmar have grown closer has a way of making predictions from just months ago look silly.

Here's one from February on the subject of Cobra Gold, the world's largest American war games, held each year in Thailand. (Here's my report, with video, from the exercises: War Games in Paradise.)

"But welcoming Burma's army to Cobra Gold, for the moment, is a huge long shot.

Hillary (Clinton) sitting down with Burma's new reformist president is, for most, politically palatable.

U.S. troops collaborating with an army known for forced labor, shelling ethnic villages and firing on protesters is not. In the minds of most international observers, Burma's army still evokes villainy."

That prediction, written before a GlobalPost altered its house style to go with "Myanmar" instead of "Burma," was mine. It appears that I was wrong.

As the BBC and many others are reporting, America is poised to allow Myanmar's army to join its massive military exercises in early 2013. Those highly dubious of the government's reform movement will find this move apalling. The U.S. generals who will (likely) approve the invite are keen to draw Myanmar's army away from Chinese influence.

Here's one aspect of my prediction that I got right.

What Burma may be angling for is a less controversial opportunity: sending military attaches to observe future war games.

But American marines storming the hill with Burmese commandos? Even in a military exercise? That remains unthinkable.

As Reuters reports, the Myanmar army contingent will probably involve a handful of officers to watch and learn from "humanitarian relief" and "medical programs." At this point, the U.S. would catch way too much grief for offering combat training to an army still engaged in active fighting against ethnic militias such as the Kachin on China's border.

As long as this fighting is ongoing, that prediction should stand. But a lot can change between now and Cobra Gold 2014.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/myanmar-cobra-gold