Destroying the village to save it
Posted by metaphorical on 11 May 2008
Today’s Orwellian phrase is “coercive humanitarian intervention.”
The military regime that runs Burma initially signaled it would accept outside relief, but has imposed so many conditions on those who would actually deliver it that barely a trickle has made it through. Aid workers have been held at airports. U.N. food shipments have been seized. U.S. naval ships packed with food and medicine idle in the Gulf of Thailand, waiting for an all-clear that may never come.
Retired General William Nash of the Council on Foreign Relations says the U.S. should first pressure China to use its influence over the junta to get them to open up and then supply support to the Thai and Indonesian militaries to carry out relief missions. “We can pay for it — we can provide repair parts to the Indonesians so they can get their Air Force up. We can lend the them two C-130s and let them paint the Indonesian flag on them,” Nash says. “We have to get the stuff to people who can deliver it and who the Burmese government will accept, even if takes an extra day or two and even if it’s not as efficient as the good old U.S. military.”
Time magazine is reporting that the difficulties in getting the Burmese government to accept relief aid has led some governments and some relief organizations to consider an extreme alternative: a “coercive humanitarian intervention.”
That’s why it’s time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma. Some observers, including former USAID director Andrew Natsios, have called on the U.S. to unilaterally begin air drops to the Burmese people regardless of what the junta says. The Bush Administration has so far rejected the idea — “I can’t imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday — but it’s not without precedent: as Natsios pointed out to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. has facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid without the host government’s consent in places like Bosnia and Sudan. “
It calls to mind that other 21st century coercive humanitarian intervention, the U.S. invasion of Iraq. If I had to guess the reason the American public has turned against the war it’s that, rightly or wrongly, it ran out of patience with people it sees as unwilling to help themselves, or even let anyone else help them. The Iraqi people had only to accept American aid, this sentiment goes, and if they won’t, to hell with them. Americans will say the same thing about Burma.
It’s hard not agree. “Coercive humanitarian intervention” sounds a little too much like what went wrong in Vietnam, the war in which, writ large, it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.