FOR a recent few weeks, the world was agog, hoping against hope for the long suffering of the people of our fellow Asean member, Myanmar, to miraculously end with its very own Nelson Mandela moment: the final permanent release of incarcerated heroine Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver her people into a new Burmese day.
There are always doubts whether the release of Suu Kyi, in and of itself, would end Myanmar's manifold problems. More likely, it would be the beginning of hope followed in fairly short order by the inevitable disappointments... huge disappointments.
I draw such conclusions from witnessing developments in another of our Asean neighbours, the Philippines, often at very close quarters -- beginning with a first visit in 1984 at the twilight of the Marcos regime, followed by many visits since.
That first visit was marked in a little over two years by the so-called "People Power" revolution in 1986, wherein Filipinos -- watched excitedly by the whole world -- found their political epiphany after peacefully thronging a Manila thoroughfare named Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA.
President Aquino was to endure numerous attempted military coups, often relying on American forces based in the country to save her government from being toppled.
Three more presidents later, the streets of Manila, riddled with squatters and beggars in 1984, are not much better in 2007.
Humans may not live by bread alone, as American Vice-President Richard Cheney pointedly reminded China. But the Chinese, apart from urging the American to hold his own counsel, could have helpfully replied that nothing much lasts for long without bread.
America, today, is loathed all over the world for promoting irresponsible policy outcomes that assume a state of democracy alone as the answer to peace and economic security for emerging nations.
China, today, is appealing to many nations precisely for the opposite assumption: that effective governance holds the key to a nation's advancement, and that democracy, rather than a necessary pre-condition for the former, may (or may not, in perhaps an unprecedented twist for China to America's claim to exceptionalism) be the eventual outcome.
Seen in the light of how today's world is still very much shaped by the pre-eminence of a sole superpower in America, Myanmar may, in fact, be a victim as much of its own rulers as of a world shaped by an inflexible and blinkered America.
The insecurity of Myanmar's rulers may be compounded by an implacable Western antagonism towards them.
That insecurity must surely be sustained by a genuine disdain for what is viewed as a mostly discredited Western "democracy-first" policy prescription.
The supreme irony and, perhaps, ultimate tragedy of Myanmar may be that its ruling generals had been so out of touch with popular sentiment that they actually started out wanting to buy into the Western policy prescription and naively believed they could have prevailed in a free and open vote.
If we accept that the military has to be an integral part of any realistic solution to Myanmar's multi-faceted political challenges, the generals can at least make a half respectable claim to being ill-served by the democratic imperative of a free vote, which threatened not only to marginalise them but also held out the prospect of a democratically elected government being hostile to them.
Rather than Myanmar's neighbours in Asean and Asia generally being complicit in sustaining its military regime, the real villain is Western governments pandering to the unreasonable expectations of their people for democratic quick fixes abroad and arrogantly throwing their weight around all over the world, with scant regard for the unintended dire consequences of their actions and policies.