Monday, May 12, 2008

Who can we invade next?

Time magazine, that establishment organ of respectable opinion, asks if the United States is "serious" enough to invade another country:
The disaster in Burma presents the world with perhaps its most serious humanitarian crisis since the 2004 Asian tsunami. By most reliable estimates, close to 100,000 people are dead. Delays in delivering relief to the victims, the inaccessibility of the stricken areas and the poor state of Burma's infrastructure and health systems mean that number is sure to rise. With as many as 1 million people still at risk, it is conceivable that the death toll will, within days, approach that of the entire number of civilians killed in the genocide in Darfur.


That's why it's time to consider a more serious option: invading Burma.


A coercive humanitarian intervention would be complicated and costly. During the 2004 tsunami, some 24 U.S. ships and 16,000 troops were deployed in countries across the region; the mission cost the U.S. $5 million a day. Ultimately, the U.S. pledged nearly $900 million to tsunami relief. (By contrast, it has offered just $3.25 million to Burma.) But the risks would be greater this time: the Burmese government's xenophobia and insecurity make them prone to view U.S. troops — or worse, foreign relief workers — as hostile forces. (Remember Black Hawk Down?) Even if the U.S. and its allies made clear that their actions were strictly for humanitarian purposes, it's unlikely the junta would believe them. "You have to think it through — do you want to secure an area of the country by military force? What kinds of potential security risks would that create?" says Egelend. "I can't imagine any humanitarian organization wanting to shoot their way in with food."
Notice the juxtaposition of the current situation in Burma with the deaths in Darfur, and not, say, the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe that is Iraq; the latter is directly linked to U.S. "humanitarian" actions ("liberating" Iraq from Saddam Hussein) that have resulted in several hundred thousand civilian deaths, while the United States has no responsibility for the killings in Darfur -- ergo, it is safe for a Time magazine reporter to draw the comparison. 

It's also revealing that the writer, Romesh Rotnesar, writes "Remember Black Hawk Down?", rather than, say, drawing the connection to the actual event in Somalia to which he is referring. The reverence the author has for U.S. military power is nothing if not based on fantasy, and as most of the public gets their view of war through entertainment (whether at the theaters or on CNN), it's understandable that one would want to draw the comparison to a Hollywood movie when advocating for war.

In contrast, connecting U.S. military intervention with its actual disastrous results is uncouth among the political and journalistic elite as it detracts from the neat little moral fable setup not just in the Time article, but in the national discourse over foreign policy in general: that the U.S. military is the world's benevolent guardian acting across the globe to promote human dignity -- and rarely in its base self-interest -- with the only question being whether our boneheaded politicians can react quickly enough (i.e. launch an invasion) to take advantage of the wonderful humanitarian tool of military interventionism.

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