Burma Save


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.