May 14, 2008

Let's Not Invade Burma, Please

The regime in Burma is being astonishingly slow to let in international aid. There are grisly photographs of tens of corpses floating in overflowing riverbanks. It would be inhuman to not want to see aid workers get in there, distribute medicine, and help the survivors of the typhoon rebuild their lives. And the only thing preventing that from happening is the paranoid, reclusive, and repressive military junta that the Burmese have for a government. So there are some calls being circulated for the use of military force to back up the aid workers, up to and including forcing a change of the Myanmar regime.

Of all the soft-headed liberal pie-in-the-sky thinking I’ve heard, this is some of the foggiest. It’s really simple – this would set an extraordinarily bad precedent. Every nation on the planet has poor people, people who lack for the means of day-to-day survival. So any nation could invade any other nation at pretty much any time on the pretext of distributing humanitarian aid. Sovereignty could cease to have any meaning at all. And governments would then acquire a legitimate pretext to exclude humanitarian workers altogether.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the U.S. refused aid from its neighbors, most prominently by not allowing a Mexican Navy medical cruiser to enter U.S. waters and thus enter helicopter rescue range for some of the victims of the flooding and disease arising from our utterly inept response to the disaster. Under the thinking of today’s “Invade Burma” crowd, the Mexicans would have been justified sending an armed frigate up the Mississippi to clear the way for its medical cruiser, because there were people in New Orleans in immediate need of medical aid that our own government was not providing them.

No, the sad truth is that if the government in Burma won’t let in international aid workers, those workers will have to stand by and await permission. Humanitarian aid cannot become so intertwined with military force. If it does, in the end more people will be denied such aid when it is necessary and everyone everywhere will be at greater risk of being invaded simply because they are unpopular and their nations are afford to support each and every citizen living like middle-class Americans. We can call out the dictators of Myanmar for their cruelty but if they remain indifferent to global public opinion, that’s about it.

We can talk about how China is responding to its earthquake another time; “Katrina” may get discussed again. That’s “bigger” news because at least there’s news to cover due to reporters being in the country, and the country itself (one-sixth of the world’s population lives in the PRC) is too big and modernized to be silent in today’s age. But I’ll say this for the otherwise criticism-worthy government of the PRC – it seems to at least be responding to the problem.

3 comments:

Thomas said...

"So there are some calls being circulated for the use of military force to back up the aid workers, up to and including forcing a change of the Myanmar regime.

Of all the soft-headed liberal pie-in-the-sky thinking I’ve heard, this is some of the foggiest. It’s really simple – this would set an extraordinarily bad precedent."

Just like falsely claiming that Iraq had WMDs so we could invade but later say that we invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the people of Iraq by changing the regime.

If you can genuinely admit that invading Iraq was a mistake, then I will agree with you that going into Myanmar is also a serious mistake.

I doubt you will respond to such a rational suggestion. But if you do, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

From a not so soft-headed liberal pie-in-the-sky or a hard-headed conservative warmonger.

Transplanted Lawyer said...

You underestimate me.

Invading Iraq WAS a mistake. I admit I did not think it was a mistake at the time. But the way the war was sold -- to prevent Saddam from getting WMDs -- turned out to have no factual justification whatsoever. Any goodwill that we might have received from the Iraqi people for freeing them from Saddam was forever lost in the botched initial occupation of Baghdad. We blew it - from conception to execution, the invasion of Iraq was a seriously bad call.

Having already squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube, there's no putting it back in. It's NOW a question of how we can repair the damage we've done there, how we can salvage some kind of value and create a tolerable situation out of an intolerable one. But if we had it to do over again, I'd say we ought not have invaded in the first place.

Thomas said...

I agree with your comments concerning both Iraq and Burma. The US needs to show more restraint (and diplomacy) when it comes to offering unwanted humanitarian aid or when we disagree with a country's form of governing or lack of capitalism.