Foreign Policy

Burma Save

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In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, foreign policy writer Robert Kaplan argues for forcibly aiding the Burmese victims of Cyclone Nargis (a proposal Kerry Howley discussed the other day). He also argues against doing so.

On the one hand, says Kaplan, "this is militarily doable," thanks largely to conveniently located U.S. ships. In fact, "an enormous amount of assistance can be provided while maintaining a small footprint on shore, greatly reducing the chances of a clash with the Burmese armed forces while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta." Furthermore, "we could do a lot of good merely by holding out the possibility of an invasion," thereby pressuring "Beijing, New Delhi and Bangkok to, in turn, pressure the Burmese generals to open their country to a full-fledged foreign relief effort."

On the other hand, "a humanitarian invasion could ultimately lead to the regime's collapse," "the collapse of the Burmese state," and interethnic civil war. In that case, "we would have to accept significant responsibility for the aftermath." To sum up:

It seems like a simple moral decision: help the survivors of the cyclone. But liberating Iraq from an Arab Stalin also seemed simple and moral. (And it might have been, had we planned for the aftermath.) Sending in marines and sailors is the easy part; but make no mistake, the very act of our invasion could land us with the responsibility for fixing Burma afterward.

So according to Kaplan, the U.S. should stay out. Or go in, but carefully, with a plan. And whatever decision we make, we can't say he didn't warn us.

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  1. Heads I win, tails you lose.

  2. A plan? A plan? Shit, now he tells us!

  3. No problem. The Burmese people will welcome us as liberators…

  4. SDid not read the article, but has he discovered that we have a secret taco warhead for cruise missiles or something?

  5. On the one hand, says Kaplan, “this is militarily doable”

    All right, then! What could possibly go wrong?

  6. Invading troops.
    You’ll soon see ’em,
    On a shore.
    Many soldiers, epigeum.
    Burma-Save.

  7. This time, we should airdrop the flowers and candy in advance so the cheering crowds have something to welcome us with.

  8. Cheer up face
    The war is past
    The h is out
    Of shave
    At last
    Burma-S[h]ave

  9. She’s a juvenile delinquent
    Never learned how to behave
    And food, means, bombs away
    In burmmmmmm-a shava!

  10. Robert Kaplan clears his throat and confidently announces that nobody should actually listen to what he says, it’s just a way to make a living.

  11. What if we made napalm with yummy, gooey taffee? Sure, it’ll burn your hair off, but it’s oh so sweet.

  12. “while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta.”

    Political blows are meaningless to a regime that shoots demonstrators.

  13. I wonder if a lot of the people like Time magazine who are arguing for an invasion would be doing the same if this were happening in Cuba? Just asking.

  14. How would a collapse of the Burmese junta cause a worse disaster that the one that is currently ongoing?

    Why not just bomb the people with food, as we have done in the past (i.e., the Kurds and Kosovars)?

  15. On Kaplan’s article:

    Cobra Gold is a primarily Marine Corp exercise (Where the marines mostly fly in commercial). There is not nearly the logistical support that Kaplan indicates (i.e. an ARG off the coast). Here’s pretty much the extent of their Navy support. And this:
    “It was a similar circumstance that had allowed for Navy intervention after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.”

    No that ARG was on it’s way to the Persian/Arabian Gulf to relieve the ARG that was already there. And since there’s pretty much an ARG or CVG always transiting there or back to turn over, there’s pretty much one of these passing through Malaca every other month.
    The tsumani relief ships pretty much took as much time as the ARG that’s in Sasebo would have taken.

    And Thailand’s ‘democratic’ government has it’s own coup/junta problem (albeit it’s the least oppresive military dictatorship in history) And as far as I know, has been agressively pushing Mynamar/Burma’s rulers to open up more – ‘pressure’ from us in not a factor.

  16. I wonder if a lot of the people like Time magazine who are arguing for an invasion would be doing the same if this were happening in Cuba? Just asking.

    I doubt it. Time never wants the US to invade their allies, only our allies.

  17. And this makes no sense:

    “About a third of Myanmar’s 47 million people are ethnic minorities, who have a troubled historical relationship with the dominant group, the Burmans…Meanwhile, the Chins, Kachins, Karennis, Karens, Shans and other hill tribes have been fighting against the government”

    “Of course, Myanmar is not the Balkans or Iraq, where ethnic and sectarian rivalries were smothered under a carapace of authoritarianism, only to erupt later on. ‘

    He spends a paragraph decribing how Burma is a country where ethinic/sect rivalrys are smothered by authoritarism, and then says ‘never mind’?

  18. Guy Montag spouts:

    Time never wants the US to invade their allies, only our allies.

    So, by contrasting “our allies” with those of Time Magazine, I assume that since Time is an American publication the alliances you perceive are ideological rather than national. Does this mean that you consider the junta in Myanmar to be your ideological allies?

    Great company that you keep, Guy Montag.

  19. Jamie Kelly:

    What if we made napalm with yummy, gooey taffee? Sure, it’ll burn your hair off, but it’s oh so sweet.

    This is not feasible–for napalm to burn properly it must contain a petroleum product, which in turn would prevent it from being “yummy”.

  20. Why not just bomb the people with food, as we have done in the past (i.e., the Kurds and Kosovars)?

    There was an article on Slate several days ago that addressed this. The real crises is water purification equipment and other heavy infrastructure that cannot just be dropped on a waiting population. It needs expertise to install and operate. It requires cooperation of the government to allow the necessary experts to come into the country.

  21. So, by contrasting “our allies” with those of Time Magazine, I assume that since Time is an American publication the alliances you perceive are ideological rather than national. Does this mean that you consider the junta in Myanmar to be your ideological allies?

    No.

  22. There was an article on Slate several days ago that addressed this. The real crises is water purification equipment and other heavy infrastructure that cannot just be dropped on a waiting population. It needs expertise to install and operate. It requires cooperation of the government to allow the necessary experts to come into the country.

    But if you drop it on the right Generals the tecnicians can sneek in without being shot, perhaps?

  23. What about napalm gummy bears?

    You know what would be cool? Fill the shuttle with aid packages, launch it, and land it in Burma. Obviously an expensive and ludicrously inefficient delivery system, but it would have panache: “Aid. . .from. . .Spaaaaaace”.

  24. So why did you refer to Myanmar as “our” ally, Guy, while referring to Cuba as Time Magazine’s ally?

  25. We are not in the business of invading a foreign country for good reasons.

  26. If we must intervene it would make more sense to just use the air force like when dealing with the Serbs. We could just airdrop the aid in and smoke any anti aircraft fire. I’m sure we’d have no problem with Burmese air defenses or fighters.

  27. So why did you refer to Myanmar as “our” ally, Guy,

    I didn’t and I am now ignoring your nonsense again Neil.

  28. He spends a paragraph decribing how Burma is a country where ethinic/sect rivalrys are smothered by authoritarism, and then says ‘never mind’?

    No. In Iraq the armed conflicts of the minority (well, actually majority) with the ruling class, at least until agitation by the CIA, had been suppressed. This is not the case in Burma where the hill people have been in constant war with the ruling Junta since it took power.

  29. The idea is not to “deal a hard blow to the Junta” but to save lives.

    It is interesting that we can smoke thousands of Iraqi civilians in the initial assault, writing it off as “collateral damage” but we are timid about going in to save lives in Burma.

  30. “But liberating Iraq from an Arab Stalin also seemed simple and moral.”

    Yeah, “simple” all right, as in the American Heritage Dictionary entry at #7:

    sim?ple
    a. Having or manifesting little sense or intelligence.
    b. Uneducated; ignorant.
    c. Unworldly or unsophisticated. See Synonyms at naive.

  31. The real crises is water purification equipment and other heavy infrastructure that cannot just be dropped on a waiting population. It needs expertise to install and operate.

    I actually meant to address this the other day but missed the opportunity.
    Why can we not air-drop these or these?

  32. To Bush’s wars
    we are opposed,
    but when they’re ours
    debate is closed!
    Obama in 2008!

  33. A proposed course of action may be both sound and moral notwithstanding that it entails risk and certainly notwithstanding the fact that it fails to comport with some predetermined ideological perspective.

    Whether the U.S. ought ever to use its military power in situations such as Burma, unilaterally or in some international effort, remains an open question. It is, moreover, a question to which neither I nor anyone else writing here has the certain answer insofar as that is an empirical question.

    It is one thing to say it simply is not worth risking American lives and fortune except in the strictest necessity of self-defense, another to say we have no moral obligation and yet another to say we have no clear moral right to interfere. All of those things may be true. What is not, however, nearly so obvious as some are currently contending is that the isolationist equivalent of the precautionary principle is now a self-evident truth that admits no exceptions.

    On the other hand, dogma does save a great deal of time and effort tediously spent in research and analysis.

  34. The last refuge of the discredited is always an appeal for open-mindedness. “Hey, look, maybe we’ll get it right next time! Are you going to be so closed-minded that you won’t consider dropping bombs on people for their own good?”

  35. thoreau,

    There are those who think you are Neil. But there are others who think the Viking Moose is Neil. I suspect you’re all the same person.

  36. I do not think we will be helping the Burmese people one iota by invading their country. A US intervention will never be in the interest of the Burmese, only the interest of the US and her allies. It is the Burmese people’s job to overthrow the Junta, not Americas, and American intervention will only lead to a puppet state. Given America’s track record with puppet states (like our current failed states in Afghanistan and Iraq) intervention would cause more death and destruction then has been currently visited.

  37. thoreau,

    There are those who think you are Neil.

    But thoreau is not the shittiest speller this side of the kindergarten.

  38. He’s just in character.

  39. I heard a rumor that Neil is another Dan T. incarnation, here to break up the echo chamber.

  40. I don’t believe you, nor do I accept your misdirections. Besides, Dan T. could never sustain conservative-like talk for so long.

  41. Check this out, PL:

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/126533.html#988510

    And look who else is from that area:

    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/4/26B/23B

    And while he has sustained conservative-like talk for a while, he tends to degenerate into self-parody, which is consistent with Dan T.

    Anyway, it’s a well-established fact that I’m Brian of Nazareth, so there’s no way I could be Neil.

  42. Funny, I seem to recall a story that came out about the same time as the Iraq invasion that consisted of a bunch of “Burmese-in-the-street” interviews that basically consisted of them complaining that the US had passed them over in the invasion candidate choosing process. If the US had chosen them, they said, they would’ve really appreciated it.

    Naturally, I’m too lazy to use google to find the story. Besides I probably just dreamt it anyway.

    Of course, there were no shortage of “Iraqi-in-the-street” interviews in the day that promised welcoming parades and rose petals too. So perhaps you’ll be a little tolerant of cynicism here.

  43. Simple Answer:
    Don’t go in for now. Maybe the Burmese will get pissed off enough by their government forcibly refusing outside help that they will overthrow it. Until then, I say it’s not our problem.

  44. I read that Dr. T was really Lazarus Long.

  45. I read that Dr. T was really Lazarus Long.

    That was my stage name, but only in that one movie I made. My face was never actually on camera.

  46. The USA
    Is Our Good Friend
    Until Wedding Guests
    Meet Untimely End
    Burma Save!

  47. The last refuge of the discredited is always an appeal for open-mindedness.

    Whereas the first retort of the arrogant, self-righteous and intemperate man so blindly convinced of his own rectitude that he cannot abide any challenge whatever appears to be an ad hominim attack.

  48. I didn’t and I am now ignoring your nonsense again Neil.

    Oh, but you did. And while your prestidigitation seems to have been successful for a moment, this is one of the most disturbing (Freudian?) slips I’ve heard in awhile.

  49. Look, DAR, I don’t have a pile of corpses to answer for so, you know, I have that one going for me.

  50. Keep up the personal attack, Mr. Small. It increasingly becomes you.

  51. Hey, look, I’m not the guy who looks back at 5 years of bloody chaos and says “Well, you know, there’s no reason to conclude that this was a mistake.”

  52. Oddly enough, neither am I. Then again, neither careful reading nor the ability to discriminate among the positions of those with whom you disagree appear to be among your current strengths.

  53. You might think it’s a mistake, but you won’t rule out doing it again.

    That’s actually worse, in a way.

  54. Of course it is, Alex. Much, much worse! Any argument on this topic with which you disagree any more nuanced than, say the official Little Green Footballs line is likely to disturb the dogmatic slumbers. Wouldn’t want that, now would we?

  55. Call me crazy and dogmatic if you will, but “Thou shalt not drop bombs on people and persuade yourself that it’s for their own good” is one place where I’m willing to draw a hard line.

  56. You’re not crazy. You’re obsessed, and I frankly wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if you weren’t both sensible and insightful the vast majority of the time. Now, I’ll make you a deal. If you’ll stop lying about me and what I say, stop taking cheap shots that are beneath you and stop, for example, implying that I have ever said the sort of nonsense you put in quote marks above, I’ll stop saying nasty but unfortunately true things about you. Deal?

  57. Fair enough. Let’s both wipe the slate. Whatever you have to say about intervention in the future I’ll read in the context that it’s offered, without assumptions from previous exchanges.

  58. Agreed. And, for what it’s worth, I’m genuinely sorry to have let my temper get the better of me lately and I apologize for my own intemperate remarks, especially including the snippy way I phrased my last comment. I actually have enormous respect for you. If nothing else, I hope you believe that.

  59. And I also apologize for jumping to erroneous conclusions.

  60. Aw, where’s Neil when you need him, to lighten things up a little?

  61. Rhywun, didn’t you know? Thoreau and I take turns being Neil.

  62. The Democrat Party should not draw our country into conflicts we cannot hope to win.

  63. See! Where is everyone? Proof! Proof! Goddammit.

  64. I have you now, Neil/thoreau! I’m watching. Waiting. Judging.

  65. Perhaps Kaplan is trying to cover his ass. But you know, sometimes a thoughtful person can look at an issue and say – screw it, there’s no good answer here. It’s rather counter-productive to criticise people who point out that the world is a complicated place, and that foreign policy ought to conducted with forethought and discretion… just consider the alternative. I’ve been considering it for seven years and counting.

  66. The Democrat Party should not draw our country into conflicts we cannot hope to win.

    That is one hell of a good parody.

  67. Perhaps Kaplan is trying to cover his ass. But you know, sometimes a thoughtful person can look at an issue and say – screw it, there’s no good answer here. It’s rather counter-productive to criticise people who point out that the world is a complicated place, and that foreign policy ought to conducted with forethought and discretion… just consider the alternative. I’ve been considering it for seven years and counting.

    I think this is what Kaplan is pointing out in this piece. There is no ideal solution. Sure you can go in violently and bring aid to people that truly need it. But when your actions screw other things up, you need to be willing to take responsibility (and pay) for them. Alternatively, you can do nothing and let thousands die of dehydration and starvation. Wonderful world, ain’t it?

  68. “There is not nearly the logistical support that Kaplan indicates (i.e. an ARG off the coast). Here’s pretty much the extent of their Navy support.”

    Actually there is a huge amount of logistical support available here already.

    My det is sitting nearby after ofloading a single MPF ship in Thailand. We’re prepping to put all that gear onboard. We can take the cargo off the ship and take it straight to the beach pretty quickly – all we need is for the ships to show up. Just those I have with me can empty a single ship every 3-5 days.

    That’s just us, there’s a lot of manpower here already – its the gear that’s the hardest to get on station and even that is already here are on its way.

  69. Oh, you guys, I think Ridgley and Thoreau are in love. Don’t they look so cute together, you guys?

  70. Neil makes nuanced, reasoned statement. Mask slips again.

  71. The Burmese would welcome any sort of intervention to kick the regime off the planet. You could argue that what might replace it would be worse. But only a Pol Pot like regime could be worse than what they have now, and none of the ethnic leaders speak of ethnic cleansing. The only talk I hear of is liberal democracy or democratic socialism – not a Pot in the bunch.

  72. China props up Burma. Any invasion would mean dealing with the PRC military. Is it worth it?

  73. China supports Burma but wouldn’t go to war over her, Vapor. It’s not Taiwan or Tibet.

  74. The Burmese would welcome any sort of intervention to kick the regime off the planet.

    We’d be greeted as liberators!

    See, here’s the problem: it isn’t enough to remove the regime. That’s what we found out in Iraq and Afghanistan: “light footprint” is a synonym for “the local thugs with the most guns and bombs take over.” You either start with a huge footprint or you get forced into it later on.

    So be prepared for a lengthy occupation, while we help the Burmese write a new constitution, train a new army, and get blamed for everything bad that happens in the meantime.

  75. Oh, and since the UN won’t authorize it, it will also be called “illegal” and you’ll be called a war criminal for suggesting it.

  76. China props up Burma. Any invasion would mean dealing with the PRC military. Is it worth it?

    I remember hearing similar concerns in 1991.

    It would be nice to show the Chinese why there is still only one superpower.

  77. US or whatever anyone who can remove this bloody military regime from Burma land, we Burmese welcome them. We citizen of Burma fight along with the US against military regime from Burma.

    We will build new country, just help us to rid off stupid junta.

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