Saving Burma from Itself? Posted by: Dale Franks
on Thursday, May 15, 2008
George Packer is wondering if a military intervention to forcibly deliver relief supplies to Burma is needed.
Forcing the regime to let the rest of the world save its people would have a devastating effect on morale. Burma’s leaders are so isolated and irrational that they actually believe their own propaganda about being the only group that can hold the country together. It’s possible that the junta would collapse out of sheer humiliation. It’s also possible, though it seems unlikely to me, that Burmese military units would be ordered to engage the foreigners. Shots might be fired, people might be killed. No one knows what will happen if British sailors and American airmen arrive on soggy Burmese soil. Hanging over the question is, of course, Iraq. No one expects an intervention to go smoothly anymore; now we expect it to go terribly wrong. I doubt the American, British, French, Australian, and other governments, with or without U.N. consent, will decide to invade Burma with boxes of oral rehydration kits and high-energy biscuits. But if the fear of Baghdad and Falluja is what keeps foreign powers from saving huge numbers of Burmese from their own government’s callousness, that will be one more tragic consequence of the Iraq war.
It's certainly troubling to see thousands die from the deliberate malfeasance of a paranoid, authoritarian regime. It's troubling to have to shrug our shoulders, and say, "Well, there's nothing we can do. It's their country."
Even worse, though, would be to set up the principle of the acceptability of 'forced humanitarian interventions".
Who decides when such interventions are necessary? Who does the intervening? What constitutes the "bright line" between acceptable an unacceptable interventions?
In real terms, life in much of the developing world is nasty, brutish and short. Governments have a large hand in making it so,bit, then again, so does culture, economics, tribalism, and a host of other deplorable conditions.
Historically, the "bright line" has been national interest. nations intervene in the affairs of others when it is in their interest to do so. Now, that's not a high-minded reason, nor is it a standard that is immune to abuse. But in general, national interest standard tends to deter abuse. If a nation cannot credibly make the national interest argument, it tends to be labeled an aggressor, which opens it up to the possibility of forceful resistance from other states.
The humanitarian standard, on the other hand, is nearly illimitable. In many nations in Africa, Asia, and South America, there are innumerable humanitarian reasons for intervention. Do we invade Zimbabwe to prevent Robert Mugabe from completely cratering the country? Do we invade Israel to relieve the suffering of the poor Palestinians?
We would do well to remember that we are talking about sending soldiers in to kill foreigners. The Kaplokistanis aren't providing enough earthquake assistance? Well, let's go in and kill some Kaplokistanis to bring relief to other Kaplokistanis. The conscript soldiers that get whacked when we go in? Oh, well. Omelettes. Eggs. You know.
It is the business of the Kaplokistani government to govern the country, and the business of the Kaplokistani people to object forcefully if that government is not to their liking.
Once get into the business of deciding that we have some responsibility to act directly on behalf of the Kaplokistani people, what we have really done is to declare that we in principle have the right—as long as a sufficient number of other nations agree—that we can overthrow any government that displeases us for any reason.
I'm pretty sure that the results of that kind of operating principle would devolve into serious unpleasantness, and do so in ways that we might not like at all.
Tuesday night, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against resolution conveying "condolences and sympathy" to the people in Myanmar affected by deadly Cyclone Nargis. It’s not all that surprising of a move for a guy who earned the nickname "Dr. No" by so frequently refusing to march along with the parade of feel-good legislative acts that often dominates the days of our Congress. (The resolution, it should be noted, doesn’t actually do anything for the people suffering in Myanmar.) You see, if you want to earn hollow well wishes from Ron Paul on the House floor, you have to do something a little more special than just get totally wiped out by a massive cyclone and then be left for dead by your own government.
Daniel Schorrrrrrrrrrrr did the same thing on NPR this afternoon. He began his disjointed rambling, I mean, commentary with the statement "It is a shame that the Bush Administration’s adventures in Iraq have given intervention such a bad name..."
After that, I kept waiting for his explanation as to exactly how Danny knew that the Burmese military junta’s xenophobic paranoia was all attributable to Bush, but he never got around to it.
Guess he just figured that it was common knowledge.