by Austin Bay
May 13, 2008
How many people
have died in Burma (Myanmar) since Cyclone Zargis struck the South Asian nation
on May 3? Last Tuesday, Burma's dictatorship officially put the death toll at
34,000, with another 30,000 missing. The United Nations estimated 60,000 dead.
Western governments and media argued 100,000 dead might be a better figure, once
the statisticians account for casualties caused by disease and displacement.
Add "delay" to
the disease and displacement -- in the case of Burma, delay caused by a
dictatorship resisting aid efforts (most from Western nations) and emergency
is pursuing a modified "Darfur strategy," at least the Darfur political strategy
as pursued by Sudan's dictatorship in Khartoum. For the last three years, the
Sudanese government has been resisting, thwarting, dodging and blocking
international relief and peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, carefully relenting --
by an inch or two -- when the public and economic pressure reaches a momentary
junta knows the script.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Expressing his frustration and anger at the
junta's next-to-nil response to the cyclone disaster, Ban said: "This is not
about politics. It is about saving people's lives. There is absolutely no more
time to lose."
saving lives and doing so quickly. As for "not about politics"? Complete
baloney. Ban knows it, but he makes a diplomat's gesture to the murderers in
hopes of achieving the immediate goal of providing aid to 2 million destitute
George W. Bush called the military junta "isolated or callous." He's pulling his
punches, too, for the same reason as Ban. "Paranoid, brutal, calculating and
callous" is a much more thorough description of dictatorships in general but
especially criminal regimes that leverage natural disasters as genocidal
examples litter the 20th century. With starvation as the weapon, Stalin's Russia
mass murdered Ukrainians in the 1930s. Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan's various
"intra-state" wars are more recent cases. Saddam Hussein's regime created an
ecological disaster by desertifying the splendid agricultural marshlands of the
lower Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in order to destroy Shia Arab communities.
Egeland, a former U.N. aid coordinator, said, "If we let them (the junta) get
away with murder we may set a very dangerous precedent," essayist Romesh
Ratnesar wrote in Time magazine that it was time to consider invading Burma, or
at the minimum violate Burmese airspace (and sovereignty) by air-dropping
supplies to the victims.
rather hazy and logistically ignorant operational advice is more "invade to aid"
rather than regime change. He justifies his position on the basis of saving
hundreds of thousands of lives, which is a goal no one should dismiss.
Eliminating a mass murderer is certainly a long-term payoff of toppling Saddam
Hussein's regime, though it will be a decade or so before more than a handful in
the "international community" of commentators and humanitarian aid advocates
follow Bernard Kouchner's lead and acknowledge that.
Precedent" -- invading to stop mass murder -- is a thorny one. Russia portrays
Kosovo as a Western European and U.S. plot to unravel "states they don't like,"
while Western European and U.S. diplomats maintain Kosovo is unique -- a
singular, special situation.
however, is invoked by advocates of military force in Darfur. The Clinton
administration, however, invaded Kosovo after four years of fencing with
Slobodan Milosevic's thug regime in Serbia -- and after making Milosevic its
"peace partner" in Bosnia. For 12 years (1991 to 2003), the United States fought
a "slow war" with Iraq. It took the policy sea-change of 9-11 to move the United
States (which has enormous interests in the Middle East) to remove Saddam's
In Burma, a few
(the junta) wield vast physical power over the rest. Ditto North Korea. Ditto
Sudan. Economic sanctions, economic rewards, harsh words, warm words and sharp
threats may nudge these regimes, but the dictators only move when it's in their
interest. When 100,000 deaths serve the interest of the local thugs, then the
realistic options are starkly limited.