Voice

State of Disrepair

If the State Department really wants to lead U.S. foreign policy, it needs to stop complaining about the military and act more like it.

The most conventional of conventional wisdom in Washington in the past five years is that the U.S. State Department is dramatically undernourished for the work required of American civilian power. Since 2000, there has been a staggering number of think-tank reports advocating a more robust diplomatic corps. The last three secretaries of state and the last two directors of the U.S. Agency for International Development have not only had ambitious goals for improving their departments, they have actually implemented at least the resourcing of them: Congress has increased funding by 155 percent since 2003 and the size of the diplomatic corps has grown by 50 percent.

There has emerged strong support for "whole-of-government operations," by which is meant the coordinated use of all elements of state power. The Obama administration has dedicated itself to practicing "smart power," a further polishing of the concept, emphasizing a rebalancing of governmental effort away from dependence on military force and toward diplomatic and economic levers. Inside the Beltway, whole-of-government operations and smart power are the Holy Grail, much yearned for yet elusive. Earnest advocates of effective American engagement in the world envision the military's role returning to small proportions as other government agencies, principally the State Department, increase their influence and activity.

Yet there is practically no one who believes the State Department is currently performing at a level adequate to the need. There are no voices arguing the State Department is a diplomatic equivalent to the dominance displayed by the American military, none who think America's diplomats stand astride the world like a colossus. Our diplomats punch below their weight and carry less influence than our country's power ought to deliver. Even sympathetic observers conclude that "today's Foreign Service does not have to a sufficient degree the knowledge, skills, abilities, and outlooks needed to equip career diplomats to conduct 21st-century diplomacy." Despite the substantial increase in the workforce at State, it continues to contract out work to the private sector that is mission-critical or whose function is inherently governmental.

State has a better record than it gets credit for, certainly. It established 20 new embassies in Europe after 1991 without additional personnel, and the diplomats who have joined the Foreign Service since 2001 are much more likely to want to deploy to Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan and to change the world for the better, rather than remain safely ensconced in embassies and report on changes as they occur.

Still, the Department of State underperforms, both for what the country needs and for the resources it has. Foggy Bottom chants the mantra of whole-of-government operations and yet it remains -- even by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's own assessment -- inadequate to the task.

If further proof of this inadequacy is necessary to prove the point, look no further than the major swaths of civilian activity that continue to migrate to the military. The militarization of American foreign policy does not reflect an ambition by the military; it reflects the vacuum left by inadequate civilian power. Work needs doing, and the State Department remains incapable of doing it. In Afghanistan, small unit military leaders, rather than diplomats, are working to create local governance councils throughout the country. Moreover, the military command has established a high-level anti-corruption task force and is setting up legal and judicial structures -- both functions that ought to be civilian activities. Despite the existence of an embassy staffed by more than 1,000 civilians in Kabul, those tasks have not been undertaken by civilians.

State's inability to improve is not for lack of ideas or effort at the highest echelons of Foggy Bottom. Typically, secretaries of state invest little in the professionalization of the department. Instead, they spend all their time on policies rather than the functioning of the institution. But the last three secretaries of state developed major initiatives to improve the performance of the department: Secretary Colin Powell's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Secretary Condoleezza Rice's Transformational Diplomacy, and Secretary Hillary Clinton's Diplomacy 3.0. In all three cases, the leadership teams identified shortcomings, developed policies to redress the shortcomings, and were successful in gaining funding support for their initiatives. What none of them proved successful at has been substantially affecting the culture of the State Department.

Fundamentally, State is an underperforming institution.  It has significant reservoirs of capability but it makes poor use of them; it has needs it cannot find ways to meet. Its institutional reflex is to complain that it lacks the resources to create change -- most recently demonstrated in the insistence of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that State needs more money and more people in order to support training. Thus State both justifies its current inadequacy and shields itself from reforms that would improve the organization.

There are no more fervent advocates of a more vibrant American diplomacy than the American military. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen have been the apostles of greater State Department funding, routinely advocating for it publicly, to the Congress, and within government counsels. True, they have not declined additional defense spending in favor of diplomatic funding, or offered more than what would be considered a trivial amount of money in the defense budget to achieve that improved State Department (roughly $100 million in the defense budget has a dual key for spending on activities that State and Defense jointly agree need doing). But they have gone further than any other DOD leadership in supporting increased spending for diplomacy. Both Gates and Mullen testified with the secretary of state to Congress in support of greater funding.

Bringing the Pentagon's sensibilities to the problems of improving American diplomacy sheds light on why State has not been more successful. The Department of State is deficient in three crucial cultural areas in which the Department of Defense excels: mission focus, education, and programming. Adopting DOD attitudes and commitments to these areas may prove more valuable to State than any additional money DOD leaders could help attain.

The U.S. military exists to fight and win our nation's wars; everything else is subordinated to that essential task. Moreover, it is the function American taxpayers and their representatives in Congress value, and demand of, their military. The Department of State has no equivalent focus. To the extent the institution can identify its priorities, what State values about American diplomacy is engagement in multinational negotiation and reporting on international activity. These are the functions that shape the culture of the State Department; they are not, however, the functions of greatest value outside the institution.

Protecting Americans at home and abroad through excellence in consular service should be the primary function of America's diplomats: preventing dangerous enemies from attaining visas to travel to the United States, ensuring Americans traveling overseas have the protection of their government, encouraging educational and other involvement with talented foreigners. These are the bread and butter -- what prospectors would call the "grub stake" -- of diplomacy, the activities that can only be performed by diplomats but on the success of which all Americans rely.

Yet they are also the activities least valued by the State Department: Consular service is the lowest priority "cone," or specialization, in the Foreign Service. Talented diplomats are not tracked into that branch. It is as though the Army and Marine Corps did not consider ground combat their principal function. This needs to change if the State Department is to build a strong institutional base as the lead agency for U.S. foreign policy. State needs to clearly embrace consular activity as its essential function and realign the incentives and thereby the culture of the institution. Doing so would bring the State Department significant advantages, both in the operation of the organization and in its support by the public and Congress.

The people of the State Department are among the American government's most talented. They come into the diplomatic corps with, on average, a graduate education and 11 years of work before joining the Foreign Service. State's personnel policies utilize the skills developed before entry into the service; they do not build skills. Hiring needed skills rather than developing them isn't a bad strategy, but it hinges crucially on identifying skills the institution needs and recruiting them. By its own admission, State is not hiring the skills it identifies as essential.

The Department of State compounds the error of not recruiting the skills it needs by not investing in the kind of professional education and training that will make our diplomats successful for the demands they face as their careers progress. The people who are successful in the State Department are people who can be thrown in the deep end of the swimming pool and not drown; but the department never teaches them to swim, and the successful ones even come to discredit the value of swimming lessons, because they succeeded without them.

State has twice in the past seven years been authorized increases in staffing levels to build time into diplomats' careers for education and training: Secretary Powell's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in 2003 and Secretary Rice's Transformational Diplomacy Initiative in 2006. More recently, Secretary Clinton has also requested and received additional Foreign Service and civil-service positions. Yet none of these substantial increases of people resulted in American diplomats receiving appreciably more professional education and training, or building time into their career tracks to participate in it. Training remains either a voluntary (off-duty) activity or something the department's most valuable people are not freed up to participate in. Secretary Powell made mandatory some valuable leadership training, but there has been no major effort to develop a core curriculum of knowledge that diplomats need at different thresholds in their careers or to develop a process by which diplomats are rewarded for undertaking it.

It merits mention that even the most starry-eyed believers in leading through civilian power assess the cost to produce it to be minimal. They are not arguing to double or triple the State Department budget; they are arguing for marginal annual increases. One of the most functionally ambitious and carefully accounted studies of increased funding puts the sticker price of achieving sufficiency at only $3.3 billion across four years. Such a sum is roughly a 1.5 percent increase per year over the $52.8 billion current spending for operations of the department, a small number even before comparison to the $525 billion baseline budget request of the Defense Department for the coming year. Think of it: 1.5 percent per year for four years.

Two conclusions leap out from this fact: First, that it would take pathetically little to invest at the level diplomatic experts consider fully funding their needs; and second, that if these experts believe their performance can be so vastly improved on such a thin margin of additional resourcing, they probably have very little idea what it would take to actually make themselves a successful organization.

It is tempting just to give State all the money it could imagine (years of chronic underfunding have badly diminished its ability to even imagine truly ambitious horizons) and hold it accountable for producing the dramatic improvements in performance its advocates believe are just barely out of reach. But the State Department lacks the rigorous culture of program analysis and evaluation that exists in the Defense Department, and which provides DOD a much stronger basis for advancing and defending its spending requests within the executive branch and to Congress. It is arguable that the second most powerful person in the Pentagon is not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the comptroller, who develops and defends the budget. Until 2009, the State Department didn't even have a parallel figure; it still lacks the analytic offices undergirding DOD's comptroller.

It is perverse that the chronic underfunding of the Department of State (and there isn't even a faction of serious policy analysts who would argue that State has been adequately funded since the end of the Cold War) created a vague budgetary culture. One would think that resource demands competing for limited funds would foster careful husbandry and transparent accounting. Just the opposite is true. State has a terrible reputation on Capitol Hill for pulling rabbits out of its budgetary hat instead of carefully costing and tracking programs in ways that would build congressional confidence in its ability to manage larger budgets. For State to achieve the kinds of sustained budget increases that advocates of stronger civilian power seek, it will need to develop a long-term budget perspective and the ability to prioritize its activity to make better use of the resources it gets.

Deficiencies in focus, education, and programmatic proficiency impede the State Department's work; investing in those areas could, in the space of just a few years, produce American diplomats who genuinely are the peers of their military counterparts and who can undertake with a high level of skill the work at which our country urgently needs them to be successful. The means are actually largely in the State Department's authorities; very little legislation or funding would be needed from Congress to bring about the change.

The militarization of American foreign policy is bad for our country. We can and should strengthen our civilian power. But the State Department has not proven capable of identifying and redressing its inadequacies. The recent QDDR claims to pose the question, "How can we do better?" but its answer can be summed up as, "By having more money and more senior positions." Yet resources cannot wholly be the answer, given the influx of money State has received in the past decade.

State must develop the means of assessing activity so that it can make a credible case that money spent on civilian power is a better investment than the alternatives. Asserting leadership has not worked; it must be earned by demonstrating the intellectual and operational proficiencies that will draw adherents. Credibility begins with demonstrating excellence and asking for it to be rewarded once achieved. Instead of surveying its own ranks (as the QDDR did), State should throw itself open to the kind of consumer satisfaction surveys that would inform its priorities and resourcing. It would learn an awful lot from interagency partners, recipients of both civilian and military engagement, aid organizations, and other stakeholders.

Imagine a State Department that actually does lead American foreign policy, one whose ideas for shaping the world in positive ways drive the agenda of America's engagement and build a broad basis of public support to which elected leaders would respond. Imagine a State Department that produces data that drive public and congressional analyses of problems and programs and whose diplomats are so expert that they are foreign and domestic journalists' preferred interviews and major universities' preferred hires. Imagine a department that is a magnet for entrepreneurial people of diverse skills and which puts those skills to creative use, fostering professional growth, with employees whose ability is so obvious that they are pulled by other agencies and constantly at risk of being poached by the private sector so that State has to fight to keep them. Imagine a department in which competition for retention is so fierce that it drives a personnel pyramid wide at the base, with an educational program so rigorous it equips our diplomats to succeed at every level of their career and draws applicants from the military and foreign countries to learn what our diplomats know. And imagine a department with personnel policies that identify emergent needs and encourage activity rather than description; one whose senior leadership is so proficient and commands activity so expansive that the Pentagon would seek to place four-star generals as deputies to diplomats rather than give diplomats consolatory slots in our military headquarters.

We should not just imagine such a State Department. We should demand it. And we know how to achieve these things; we do it in our military. Businesses all across the country achieve it. We just don't bother to do it in our civilian agencies on which the success of our military efforts depends. The State Department and the Obama administration should seize the moment and create a more solid basis for civilian-led American diplomacy. The country deserves it, and the good people of the State Department deserve it, too.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

The Lady and the Peacock

An exclusive excerpt from the new biography on Burma's democratic opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

On April 1, voters in Burma are set to take part in an election that could see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected to parliament -- with the tacit consent of a government trying to prove its professed reformist credentials. If she wins, it will be the latest breathtaking twist in a long and improbable journey that has taken her to the Nobel Peace Prize and beyond.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's most famous pro-democracy crusaders, an exemplar of moral courage in the defiance of tyranny. But she didn't start off that way. When activists opposed to the ruling military dictatorship in Burma chose her as their leader in 1988, there was little that distinguished her aside from her illustrious ancestry: Her father, Aung San, had freed Burma from British colonial rule after World War II. But she soon showed that she was more than just her father's daughter.

In the following exclusive excerpt from The Lady and the Peacock, a new biography by British journalist Peter Popham, we witness the incident that first made her a legend. In 1988, a nationwide uprising against the military regime prompted a bloody crackdown by the generals. The following year, they tried to shore up their crumbling legitimacy by allowing for a national election. Aung San Suu Kyi and her nascent National League for Democracy (NLD) decided to participate. On the campaign trail, she and her followers (including her confidante, Ma Thanegi, whose diary provides the basis for much of Popham's account), soon found themselves confronting the guns of the junta. In April 1989, the contest of wills finally came to a head in a town called Danubyu:

More party members were being arrested: The persecution of democratic activists was already growing familiar. And, as Ma Thanegi noted, word of the growing discord between students and their elders inside the party had reached the outside world.

"April 3: In evening met with families of NLD members arrested in Mon state . . . Ma Ma [a familiar reference to ASSK] saw Asiaweek article about split between students and NLD . . . Someone denied having sent out an open letter about the split . . ."

The next day Suu, Ma Thanegi and their convoy were on the road again, back to the Irrawaddy Delta for the fourth time since January -- heading for the encounter which would imprint forever an image of almost unbelievable courage on Suu's name.

"April 4: left home at 5:30 and had to wait for an hour at Insein jetty. We took two cars, Tiger's car and a green pickup. Arrived at Meizali village, army said we could not stay there." They set off again, stopping by the roadside to drink sugar-cane juice while they waited for the green pickup, which had fallen behind, to catch up.

Leaving Rangoon they had driven almost due west; at Meizali they joined a river which they now followed as far as the next village, Hsar Malauk: "A long village," Ma Thanegi recalled, her descriptive powers failing her for once, with "a nice loo." "Ma Ma stood on a table at the front door of the NLD office," she added, "to address public."

But trouble was brewing again.

Near end of her speech two cars arrived and parked on either side of the crowd, and started blaring on about decree law 2/88 etcetera [the martial law provision banning public assemblies, of which Suu and her party were flagrantly in breach everywhere they went] and making such a racket. Ma Ma talked through this and the crowd which had until that point listened in silence started clapping and cheering and whistling. Then one car after another in turn repeated the announcements. We all made a show of listening carefully, Ma Ma included, turning our heads to each car in turn, then when one of them was a bit delayed Ma Ma called out "Aren't you going to start?" -- at which they gave up and went away.

Ma Ma said goodbye to crowd and we went home to lunch. A lot of reserve firefighters and people's voluntary forces standing around but looking sympathetic. Lovely lunch of nice seafood-sellers in market had cut prices to get rid of their wares faster so they could listen to the speech. Ma Ma able to rest in the afternoon, boys had football match on the beach in evening. Lovely dinner also, fish, fish.

Next day they left Hsar Malauk and drove north alongside a waterway so broad you could barely see the far side, to the township of Danubyu, where in 1824, during the First Burma War, the Burmese Army had lost a critical battle to the British. The authorities here, under Suu's old enemy Brigadier Myint Aung, had decided to make things difficult for them. As at the village of Kim Yang Gaung, which they had visited on March 24th, the army had ordered the population at gunpoint to stay indoors-though not all obeyed. And at the entrance to the town Suu's convoy was stopped and told they could not drive through the town's main street but must take a different, circuitous route to reach the party's office.

"April 5," Ma Thanegi wrote, "arrived in Danubyu and found there were certain roads which we were not allowed to pass through. They had given us a longer alternative route." The two sides parlayed tensely over the arbitrary restriction, until Suu discovered the perfect loophole, an excellent legalistic reason why they could not obey: The new route "unfortunately meant we had to go the wrong way down a one-way street. Ma Ma firmly said we must not break traffic rules, so joyfully Tiger turned into the forbidden road leading to the market past cheering crowds and then to NLD office. Local SLORC secretary followed and parked a little way off, looking furious." Win Thein, one of the student bodyguards, remembered seeing scores of soldiers lined up in front of the party office, guns at the ready.

The officer in charge of the troops, Captain Myint U, acting under the orders of Myint Aung, told Suu that Danubyu was under martial law and that she was therefore forbidden to address the public. Suu was obliged to compromise. "Ma Ma made a speech inside NLD office, then we all left the office to walk to a jetty nearby, intending to take a boat to some of the outlying villages." With the local supporters who had joined them, Win Thein remembers there being some eighty people in the group -- but under the dire regime of Brigadier Myint Aung, even walking in a group was a violation of martial law. "As we walked along, SLORC followed in a car warning us not to walk in a procession," Ma Thanegi wrote in her diary. "Three warnings were given to the effect that if we did not break up they would shoot to kill."

It was the first time they had been subject to such a direct threat to their lives.

"Order was given to load and aim. Arms loudly loaded by soldiers standing near officers as we passed and we looked calmly at them and walked on. Ma Ma told one soldier, ‘Hey, they are telling you to load, aren't you going to, soldier?' They raised their rifles on first warning but after that we were at jetty and already on boats."

They were on the water, and safe. "Stopped at villages, glorious lunch which I sat through with gritted teeth while party supporters recited two poems. With the exception of very few I would like to hit poets who are writing poetry, usually very bad, about doing this and doing that in the movement and reading them aloud . . ."

The military presence did not stop at the town limit. "Armed soldiers all along the way," Ma Thanegi wrote. "Two majors followed in their own boat and one soldier on it grinned and nodded several times when we waved at him."

Despite all the intimidation they had experienced in Danubyu, they planned to return to the town in the evening and spend the night. Not everyone in the party thought this was a good idea: Win Thein says that he was among the voices urging Suu to pass the town by and land further downriver; their cars could drive down from Danubyu and pick them up there. But Suu insisted on sticking to the original program.

Sure enough, the army was there on their return to the town, in the form of a single guard, forbidding them to disembark. "Came back to Danubyu at 6 pm," Ma Thanegi wrote, "when armed and lone soldier tried to stop us from landing. But we said no we are landing. You mustn't come on land, he said, yes we will we said. And we did."

They set off through the almost deserted streets to walk back to the NLD office for dinner. But even though the market was long closed and the townspeople were indoors, the army was still determined to impede their progress. "On the way we were told by one military policeman that the road in front of market was not allowed to us." The order seemed ridiculous to Suu -- just another attempt to bully and humiliate them. "Market closed by that time and streets almost deserted. Route given quite a bit longer . . ." Again Suu flatly ignored the army's command. "Ma Ma said ‘We'll take shorter one.' MP shouting angrily after us as we passed him."

By now the sense of danger was acute. "I quickened pace to get ahead of Ma Ma and boys . . . I managed to get right out in front beside Bo Lwin, our very tall, very dark and very nice cameraman and Win Thein, our hot-tempered bodyguard who was carrying the flag." Meanwhile an army jeep roared up and screeched to a halt at the end of the road down which they were walking.

I kept one eye on Win Thein and one on Captain Myint U, who had halted his jeep at the top of the road. Six or seven soldiers jumped down from the jeep and took positions, three or four kneeling, three standing. The kneeling chaps pointing guns somewhat low, at our midriffs, standing ones guns pointed upwards. Someone on jeep turned on a song about army not breaking up etcetera -- we had heard the same song played from afar this morning as Ma Ma spoke at Danubyu's NLD office.

A furious captain swung around to shout and the music stopped in one bar. I felt a bit giggly at this but only for a moment. Captain Myint U came towards us, one arm outstretched and finger wagging, shouting at us to stop walking in procession.

People react to terrifying situations in unpredictable ways. Ma Thanegi's reaction was to get angry herself. "How the hell did this fool expect our group of forty to walk?" she wrote. "Indian file and ten paces apart? We were just hungry, hot and longing to rest. I thought I had better tell this fool the true meaning of 2/88, and called out to him that I would like to talk with him. I shouted this several times but he didn't hear, he was too intent on shouting to Ma Suu that he would shoot if people blocked road."

Suu now offered a compromise. "Ma Ma called out to us to walk at the sides of the road -- I didn't hear because I myself was still shouting at the captain. But somebody came up beside me and pushed me towards the side of the road."

Suu herself recalled,

In front of me was a young man holding our NLD flag. We were walking behind him in the middle of the street heading home for the night, that's all. Then we saw the soldiers across the road, kneeling with their guns trained on us. The captain was shouting to us to get off the road. I told the young man with the flag to get away from the front, because I didn't want him to be the obvious target. So he stepped to the side. They said . . . they were going to fire if we kept on walking in the middle of the road. So I said, "Fine, all right, we'll walk on the side of the road . . ." And they all moved to the sides.

But for the irate young captain, the gesture was too little, too late. "Captain Myint U said he would still shoot if we were walking at the sides of the road," Ma Thanegi wrote.

At this point Ma Ma walked out into the middle of the road, the boys after her, and by that time she was so close to the soldiers that she brushed past them. They stood petrified, clutching their arms to their chests and looking pale.

I had such a stab of sick fear when I saw her pass through but within seconds she was safe.

Just before this I vaguely heard someone shouting, "Don't do it Myint U, don't do it Myint U!" and I thought it was one of our NLD people, not knowing it was one of the majors who had been ambling behind after us." She learned later that his name was Major Maung Tun of 1-08 battalion. "He came up running and ordered Myint U not to fire -- the captain tore off his epaulettes, hopping around in the dust raised by our group and his own feet and shouting, "What are these for, what are these for?"

I listened for a few minutes thinking he was speaking to us but then realized it was not so. Then I followed Ma Ma and others home to the NLD office . . .[PAGEBREAK]]

Why did Suu walk back into the middle of the road, risking death? She explained that the captain's rejection of her proposal to walk at the side of the road struck her as "highly unreasonable." "I thought, if he's going to shoot us even if we walk at the side of the road, well, perhaps it is me they want to shoot. I thought, I might as well walk in the middle of the road . . . . I was quite cool-headed. I thought, what does one do? Does one turn back or keep going? My thought was, one doesn't turn back in a situation like that." In a later interview she said of that split-second decision, "It seemed so much simpler to provide them with a single target . . ."

She added, "I don't think I'm unique in that." In situations of sudden danger, "you can't make up your mind in advance what you'll do; it's a decision you have to make there and then. Do I stand or run? Whatever you may have thought before, when it comes to the crunch, when you're actually faced with that kind of danger, you have to make up your mind on the spot . . . and you never know what decision you will take."

She remembered noticing the reaction of the soldiers who had been aiming at her. "We just walked through the soldiers who were kneeling there. And I noticed that some of them, one or two, were actually shaking and muttering to themselves, but I don't know whether it was out of hatred or nervousness."

It was this incident which, more than any other, created the mystique of Aung San Suu Kyi, while at the same time -- in this land of the zero-sum game -- effectively dismantling that of the army. If anyone still doubted that she was her father's daughter, true-born child of the man who had defied both the British and the Japanese and come out on top, they could doubt it no more. When, on July 19, 1947, assassins burst into the conference chamber where he was holding a cabinet meeting, Aung San's response -- as instinctive as Suu's in Danubyu -- was to stand up and face them: Their bullets tore apart his chest. That was heroism, and returning to the middle of the road in Danubyu and keeping on walking was heroism, too. Suu may be right in saying that she is not "unique" in the way she reacted to a moment of grave peril, but her whole prior life had been a preparation for that moment.

"Ma Suu and I were once tidying the glass-fronted cabinets where [her mother] Daw Khin Kyi's clothes were kept," Ma Thanegi later recalled. "She took out a white scarf with a large patch of dried blood on it, and said that when her father died all her mother could say was, ‘There was so much blood! There was so much blood!'

"It was her father's blood. I broke out in goose pimples; I was trembling, with tears in my eyes, to be touching the blood of our martyr, our hero, our god. That must be the most memorable moment of my life."

Word of what had happened and what had so nearly happened helped to consolidate Suu's reputation among the deeply superstitious Burmese public, many of whom now began to consider her a female bodhisattva, an angel, a divine being. The fact that she had survived the army's attempt to kill her was proof positive of her high spiritual attainment: only someone "invulnerable to attack," "guarded by deities" and "subject to adoration" could have come through alive. She was "a heroine like the mythical mother goddess of the earth," one admirer wrote three years later, "who can free [us] from the enslavement of the evil military captors."

In January, Suu had told the New York Times reporter, "I don't want a personality cult; we've had enough dictators already." But it didn't really matter whether she wanted it or not. Now she would be stuck with it, forever.

Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images