Mark — Please don’t get me wrong. Rangoon? I wouldn’t send the boys to the grocery store on the say so of Time. Certainly I don’t want to see a bunch of desk-jockey reporters (and worse yet, pundits) deciding when it’s time for the U.S. to use force. (Or campaign aides, for that matter.) I know they’d balk just as soon as there was a casualty or some resistance, or the wrong kind of MREs in the field. I’d be happy to delegate this mission. If, say, there were a U.N. with muscle and moral conviction, this would a good assignment for it. But I hate to see a million of world’s most hard-working, downtrodden, truly unfree peasants die when it could be prevented fairly easily. Because, deep down, I am a bleeding heart, and, as John McCain might say, “they’re God’s children too.”
The virtue of using military force under these circumstances is that there is going to be a lot of death anyway, and there could hardly be more destruction. Having our trained forces — the Marines, maybe a few Special Forces teams — push their way in, while handing out bags of rice, blankets, and water decontamination tablets, means that more Burmese military will die and fewer hapless, innocent peasants will. And a potential side benefit is that the government could be destabilized enough to give the opposition a chance. Of course, this would still be one of those dread humanitarian missions, which are said to undermine the killer ethos of the armed forces. I think we have learned, dispositively, that we do not want to be in charge of rebuilding. In Burma, building stopped somewhere around the end of World War II, so there’s a lot to do even when the weather is good.
Of course we could do nothing. That will be easier this time than, usual, because the junta is pretty effective at keeping out the media. And without those pictures of dead bodies clogging the river, or disintegrating in the sun; without the touching features on parents of dead children weeping, while new orphans are dying because they cannot fend for themselves, and all the drinking water is contaminated and gives them cholera, while the military guys pass out rotten rice … well that’s what the backburner is for.
Here’s my last suggestion: Laura Bush has expressed interest in this tragedy, and she has just finished her major spring project of running a wedding. Cindy McCain actually has experience at running a humanitarian aid organization — and she has the kind of money that can be deployed to attract more money. Put the two of them at the head of a mission, give them what they need, (and a few Marines) and let’s see what they can do.