Monday, June 2, 2008

Burma's Sorrow

I have been meaning for a while now to post on Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.
The regime handled the crisis with its characteristic criminality and callousness, first blocking food aid, then seizing it themselves. The government of Burma is far more concerned with maintaining control of the country than it is with the welfare of its people. Compare the brutal effectiveness of the response to "Saffron Revolution" to the muted response to Nargis. This is part of a wider pattern: the government of Burma (like that of Zimbabwe) is only adapt at repression, and is useless in any helpful functions of government.
The Burmese junta has ruled since 1962, and is among the worst governments in the world. The country has been at war since World War II, and the war goes a long way toward explaining the hold the junta has been able to have.
It is odd that their is no word for a crime against humanity caused by criminal neglect. Such things have occurred, the "Great Leap Foward" comes to mind. Burma's policy toward foreign aid is another.
To understand the response, we have to understand the xenophobic, isolationist and paranoid nature of the junta. Their strategy of staying in power has involved utterly isolating the country, seeing foreigners as possible agents of foreign powers. Recently, the government moved their capital from Yangon to tiny, isolated Pyinmana, possibly because they believed it more defensible in the event of a US invasion.
Pundits have argued whether we should intervene. George Packer and The New Republic say yes, David Reiff says no.
I have mixed feelings. I would love to see the butchers of Burma humiliated, even brought before an international tribunal to answer for their crimes. However, I don't see an invasion being successful in bringing an end to Burma's catastrophe, or being effective enough to help get aid to people who need it, and I would therefore not advocate it.

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