Anne Applebaum adds her voice to the chorus of fuzzy thinkers calling for coercive humanitarian intervention in Burma:
If we fail to persuade the junta to relent soon—despite what I hope are assurances that Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the American military will bring only food, not regime change, much as we all might like to see it—then we have to start considering alternatives. According to some accounts, the U.S. military is already looking at a range of options, including helicopter food deliveries from offshore ships, or convoys from across the Thai border. The U.S. government should be looking at wider diplomatic options, too. The U.N. Security Council has already refused to take greater responsibility for Burma—China won’t allow the sovereignty of its protectorate to be threatened, even at the price of hundreds of thousands of lives—but there is no need to act alone. In fact, it would be a grave error to do so, since anything resembling a foreign “invasion” might provoke military resistance.
Unfortunately, the phrase “coalition of the willing” is tainted forever—once again proving that the damage done by the Iraq war goes far beyond the Iraqi borders—but a coalition of the willing is exactly what we need. The French—whose foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was himself a co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières—are already talking about finding alternative ways of delivering aid. Others in Europe and Asia might join in, along with some aid organizations. The Chinese should be embarrassed into contributing, asked again and again to help. This is their satrapy, after all, not ours.
Try as I might I can’t come up with any intellectually coherent argument in favor of forcible humanitarian aid in Burma that wouldn’t also justify our invasion of Iraq, the invasion of China, the invasion of Russia, or, indeed, the invasion of the United States by some other coalition of the willing. Perhaps someone cleverer than I can make the case to me.
What argument can be made for coercive humanitarian aid in Burma that couldn’t have been made 20 years ago?
Is it the scale of the calamity? Following that logic we should have invaded China a dozen times over. Over the period of the last 60 years the Chinese government has killed a number of its own citizens greater than the total population of Burma. As had the Soviet Union.
Is it the lack of willingness of the ruling junta to accept aid? On that basis any number of governments including our own would justify invasion.
Is it that Burma is a little pipsqueak of a country and even spread as thin as it is now our military could overwhelm Burma’s, hardly breaking a sweat? Might makes right? At what point do the risks become too great? How many hundreds or thousands of American lives?
Bad things happen. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering. The purpose of our military is to defend our country and its interests seen in a fairly narrow sense. It is emphatically not to fight its way through the armies of other countries to render assistance to the citizens of those countries. Must we go abroad in search of monsters to destroy? Where does it end?