The Corner

A Humanitarian Invasion of Burma?

I asked a friend who has experience at all levels of this kind of thing, from humanitarian delivery to high-level government deliberations, whether it makes sense to go into Burma without permission. His response:  

No.  It would make us feel good about ourselves, and help a very, very small number of people (an almost entirely symbolic exercise – very hard to do in bulk – and with no control over distribution) but could backfire in serious ways:  1) Something get’s screwed up (like when we crushed Khurdish kids under pallets of relief supplies in Provide Comfort or when gangsters got to all the aid first or a plane goes down or whatever), as it always does.  2) There is no movement in Burma to take advantage of the good intention, thus and strategic communication benefit on the real target audience is lost (unlike in Acheh where we got a huge strategic comms benefit with Indonesians who saw it real time via their govt and international media that Burma does not have access too).  3) it would be replayed against us by the junta and others as more examples of American imposition and intrusiveness, especially when something goes wrong and the benefit is know to be infinitesimally small, as it has to be given the sheer mechanical challenge of dropping aid w/out permission with no knowledge of what the situation on the ground it.

Obama and Clinton and McCain will all be for it, because it looks and feels good.

A better strategy is to continue to lead the international community (but not out front – pushing someone else out front as the flag carrier) to show up the junta and it’s ineffectiveness and use this whole episode as a serious point of leverage to get a Prague Spring going in Burma.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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