Recently I had a conversation with a renowned expert in humanitarian relief and conflict resolution regarding ethnic cleansing in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslims, and I expressed my concerns that the US might potentially back the fledgling militant group “The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA). She disagreed, saying that the US had been very supportive of the Rohingya; they had welcomed refugees (before Trump), and had convened a Security Council meeting at the United Nations on the issue, facilitated relief work, and so on. What was interesting to me about this was that she believed these actions by the US precluded the likelihood of American covert support for ARSA, whereas I do not see the slightest contradiction between US expressions of concern for the plight of the Rohingya and their simultaneous exacerbation of that plight. But then again, I am American. The US does that kind of thing all the time.
The US, let’s be clear, promotes democratic facades, not democracy. When the façade is flimsy, they criticize, and offer dictatorial regimes the necessary marketing strategies to obscure their authoritarian tendencies. Hold elections; talk about “transitions to democracy”, cultivating pluralism, and so on. Meanwhile, they will simultaneously facilitate the intensification of repression. Remember, American foreign policy is exclusively dedicated to securing the perceived “national interests”, and this translates to the interests of business. No regime is better suited for doing that than an authoritarian one; preferably a corrupt military government. The ideal situation is for any country to be ruled by an unscrupulous group of local elites who are ready and willing to collaborate with global elites to deliver their country’s resources in exchange for a percentage and a guarantee of immunity.
One of the best mechanisms for camouflaging the fact that a client regime is tyrannical and not even slightly interested in democratic reforms (which no one in power really wants anyway), is the creation of, or the encouragement of, internal conflict. A military government can then impose brutal crackdowns in the name of securing peace and tranquility; while the actual objectives are the subjugation of popular dissent, the prevention of democracy, and the ruthless protection of vital business interests for themselves and their global sponsors. It is understood that the sponsors will occasionally reprimand the regime for particularly egregious atrocities, but these reprimands will be hollow, and the regime is allowed to ignore them. In fact, they are essentially part of the mechanism required to enable the regime to continue, as they serve to abate any public pressure on the international community to actively intervene. They are permissive condemnations, and everyone involved understands this.
In Myanmar, the central government’s real problem is the Rakhine, not the Rohingya. The Rakhine are an ethnic minority living in a resource-rich, and strategically important state, who have a history of secessionist ambitions. They are oppressed, exploited, and impoverished, and if they rose against the government, it would be a lethal blow to the Burmese. As long as their resentment and hostility are directed against the helpless Rohingya, the regime is secure. Internal conflict in Arakan, therefore, is useful to everyone who matters. The Rohingya, however, may need to be slightly less helpless in order for this conflict to be sustainable. Hence, it is entirely possible that the US will covertly, with the help of conduits in the Gulf States, try to foster a semi-viable militant movement in Arakan; and probably is already doing so. And this is entirely for the purpose of supporting the central government, increasing US ties to the Burmese military, and previous expressions of support for the Rohingya do not contradict with this strategy at all, but rather align with it.