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Burma Revisited


Three months ago, Robert Kaplan and (to a lesser extent) George Packer decided to try to use Burmese cyclone victims as props in Humanitarian Intervention III: Objective Burma! The argument was that SLORC, the junta that controls Burma, was so inept and mendacious that a military assault to save disaster victims was both justified and possible. The argument disintegrated under casual scrutiny, with the idea that the international community could both destroy the regime and replace its bureaucratic structure within the time frame dictated by the crisis looking particularly silly. Yglesias hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that an invasion of Burma would never actually happen, but that the hypothetical invasion of Burma would go swimmingly; since the invasion would never turn out to be a disaster, it could always be used to justify the next intervention.

Via Mark Goldberg
, John Holmes (UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs) has a Washington Post op-ed updating the situation in Burma. International relief did reach disaster victims, if later than and in lower amounts than would have been optimal. The Burmese state is working international organizations to facilitate relief and ameliorate the crisis. Agricultural and economic activity have returned to the areas afflicted by the cyclone. In the final analysis, SLORC did a (predictably) terrible job of disaster management, but there is no reason to think that an invasion of Burma would have improved the situation. Holmes:

From the first, the aid operation in Myanmar — as is true everywhere we work — had to be about helping vulnerable people in need, not about politics. In this post-Iraq age, I am concerned that humanitarians are often pressured to choose between the hammer of forced intervention and the anvil of perceived inaction. Was there a realistic alternative to the approach of persistent negotiation and dialogue that we pursued? I do not believe so. Nor have I met anyone engaged in the operations who believes that a different approach would have brought more aid to more people more quickly.

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