Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Soft Power

The junta (vocabulary words are cool!) ruling Myanmar refuses to let America (and the world) help their starving citizenry in the wake of a devastating cyclone.



They are afraid that their citizens will find out that other countries have so much stuff that we can afford to just give it away. Perhaps, the citizens might think, the American system of capitalistic democracy is a better way to organize society.



Our efforts to find a way to save the Burmese victims is a good illustration of the "City Upon A Hill" humanitarian impulse of American foreign policy.



Anne Applebaum says we should "go around the generals."



Read Applebaum's essay and then make a comment outlining what you would do if you were President of the United States.



Article reprinted below for educational purposes.



Go Around the Generals
By Anne ApplebaumTuesday, May 13, 2008; A15


They are "cruel, power-hungry and dangerously irrational," in the words of one British journalist. They are " violent and irrational," according to a journalist in neighboring Thailand. Our own State Department leadership has condemned their "xenophobic, ever more irrational policies."


On the evidence of the past few days alone, those are all accurate descriptions. But in one very narrow sense, the cruel, power-hungry, violent and xenophobic generals who run Burma are not irrational at all: Given their most urgent goal -- to maintain power at all costs -- their reluctance to accept international aid in the wake of a devastating cyclone makes perfect sense. It's straightforward: The junta cares about its own survival, not the survival of its people. Thus the death toll is thought to have reached 100,000, a further 1.5 million Burmese are at risk of epidemics and starvation, parts of the country are still underwater, hundreds of thousands of people are camped in the open without food or clean water -- and, yes, if foreigners come to distribute aid, the legitimacy of the regime might be threatened.


Especially foreigners in large numbers, using high-tech vehicles that don't exist in Burma, distributing cartons of rice marked "Made in the USA" or even "UNDP," of course. All natural disasters -- from the Armenian earthquake that helped bring down the Soviet Union to Hurricane Katrina, which damaged the Bush administration -- have profound political implications, as do the aid efforts that follow them. The Burmese generals clearly know this.


Hence the "logic" of the regime's behavior in the days since the cyclone: the impounding of airplanes full of food; the initial refusal to grant visas to relief workers or landing rights to foreign aircraft; the initial refusal to allow American (or, indeed, any) military forces to supply the ships, planes and helicopters necessary for the mass distribution of food and supplies that Burma needs. Nor is this simply anti-Western paranoia: The foreign minister of Thailand has been kept out, too. Even Burmese citizens have been prevented from taking food to the flood-damaged regions, on the grounds that "all assistance must be channeled through the military." The result: Aid organizations that have workers on the ground are talking about the hundreds of thousands of homeless Burmese who may soon begin dying of cholera, diarrhea and other diseases. This isn't logic by our standards, but it is logic by the standards of Burma's leaders. Which is why we have to assume that the regime's fear of foreign relief workers could even increase as the crisis grows, threatening the regime further.


If we fail to persuade the junta to relent soon -- despite what I hope are assurances that Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and the U.S. military will bring only food, not regime change, much as we all might like to see it -- then we have to start considering alternatives. According to some accounts, the U.S. military is already considering a variety of options, including helicopter deliveries of food from ships and supply convoys from across the Thai border. The U.S. government should be looking at wider diplomatic options, too. The U.N. Security Council has already refused to take greater responsibility for Burma -- China won't allow the sovereignty of its client to be threatened, even at the price of hundreds of thousands of lives -- but there is no need for any country to act alone. In fact, it would be a grave error to do so, since anything resembling a foreign "invasion" might provoke military resistance.


Unfortunately, the phrase "coalition of the willing" has been forever tainted -- once again proving that the damage done by the Iraq war goes far beyond Iraq's borders -- but a coalition of the willing is exactly what we need. The French (whose foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders) are already talking about finding alternative ways to deliver aid. Others in Europe and Asia might join, too, along with some aid organizations. The Chinese should be embarrassed into contributing, asked again and again to help: This is their satrapy, after all, not ours.


Think of it as the true test of the Western humanitarian impulse: The international effort that went into coordinating relief after the 2004 tsunami has to be repeated, but in much harsher, trickier, uglier political circumstances. Yes, we should help the Burmese, even against the will of their irrational leaders. Yes, we should think hard about the right way to do it. And, yes, there isn't much time to ruminate about any of this.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would continue to talk with other nations so we could all help together and find a solution and quickly as possible with as little brutality and conflict as possible. The Burmese generals seem to want to keep absolutly everyone out, but when their people are dying, it's not political or economical, it's moral. People are people. People are not votes, policies or obligations, they are human beings. It would not change my opinion if this disaster had happened in Mexico, Africa, England or Australia. We would go and help the people who need help, period. Again, I would go in with another country, not just by ourselves to make it clear we are not declaring war. Our troops would deliever food/medicine/clothes, whatever was needed, and then leave. People are people, I would not just sit back and watch them die just because it might hurt my political standings.
~Swaz

agent gregg said...

I personally wouldn't try to force anything on the Burmese. They seem like they would likely fight if troops were sent in, and obviously that would get more people killed. Given the choice between their people or our people, I would say their people, no offense to anyone. If the Burmese junta wouldn't cooperate, my response would be to wash my hands of any responsibility. The blood can be on their hands.

Anonymous said...

the person in me wants to help them, but the evil pragmatist in me says if they're going to be an "a-bag"(quoting russ)about foreign aid, why get involved.

I hope that the situation gets better soon but if it ends up anything like somalia i dont want to get involved

~gangsta david~

MerryMeredith said...

I think it does seem right to help ofcourse, but it's against what the junta wants. I think it would be extremely bad for us to go against what he says. If we could convince him to definitley let us take supplies and food then YES we should! But for the time being I think we should unite with other nations to help convince the junta to let us provide aid to the citizens

Anonymous said...

thanks for the quote david. Any aid with Burma will only end in blood, but without aidind thousands of innocent Burman people will die. the only possible solution is do what most Americans do, leave it to future self to deal with.

Russ

TimmyTango said...

By refusing help, they're incompetant. To quote Mr.White.

ryanryanryann said...

My moral values are telling me that as a country who can obviously aid other countries, we should continue to try and help with supplies even if at first we didnt succeed. It's really making me mad though that the "junta" are ignorant and selfish by taking the supplies for themselves and not allowing people to have relief because it might show them that their government is corrupt. Thousands of people are dying and still their thinking about their own power? If the govt. keeps going on like this maybe their strategy will do the opposite and their people will be angry that the gvt. isnt doing anything and rebel! So, if i was the president of the united states i would feel it necessary to continue helping. :]

dancer maria said...

Of course this is a difficult issue simply because the government is so uncooperative and because our "humanitarian impulses" never seem to work out as planned. I guess I would continue trying to get around the junta to get the supplies to the people, and by force if necessary. (Although I would not advocate some huge military excapade, as that will only lead to more deaths). Since the junta is most worried about losing their power, I say find some way to put them in a position where their authority might be compromised in order to force cooperation. That would probably work better.

energetic emily said...

This is a very difficult situation. I think that I would continue to work with other nations to find a possible solution. However, I think that if the junta continues to resist, than we should try to get supplies to them secretly or at least try to persuade the junta to let us help.

ginnypig said...

I would continue to give as much aid as possible without provoking the junta to do something drastic. It's important to give help to other countries, but if doing just that will only make matters worse, we should back off a little and try to diplomatically work the situation out.

John said...

If you tried to force something on burmese they would most likely fight back maybe, leading to more human lifes lost. so its a bad idea

funnyfaith said...

I would continue to offer help to the Burmese however, if they chose to not accept our help then we really can't force them. It is up to their government to accept help and if they won't take it, at least the US offered and are willing to help.There are other reasons to refuse aid besides not wanting to look like a weak country compared to the US. For example some African countries don't accept our food aid because it contains genetically modified food which crossbreds with non-GMO plants through wind pollination and forces farmers in Africa to start using GMOs.

Anonymous said...

i really want to help them to but our track record lateley for helping out forign countries isnt too good. besides, we have Iraq to worry about right now. if i said i would rush right in there ans save all those people from dying of hunger and stuff, i would most likely be lying.

chris

ScottyB said...

I also don't think we should provoke the junta into acting irrationally (or is that too late..?), but we should try to send as much aid as possible. Even if the slightest amount of help would provoke a war, then we should let them fend for themselves until they are willing to cooperate. Even the Japanese gave up the idea of nationwide suicide after getting nuked.

dropABeat said...

I wouldn't send help to Burma because they don't want help. You can't help people or countries that don't want help. Forcing these people to accept this help would only do more harm than good. I would extend the offer to the leader of the Burmese people and let him accept or refuse the help, the respect the decision.

maddiecake said...

While it would be humanitarian of us to get involved, America has already overextended its resources and its welcome. If anyone has seen and appreciated Team-America: World Police, they would agree that we do enjoy sticking our nose in world affairs that do not particularly pertain to us. I do think that we should work on persuading the Burmese government to accept relief help, but we should not 'go past the generals' and spark additional dissent.

GiveAndySome said...

I think we should not be afraid to use some muscle in convincing Burma to let us help it's people. That is, only if talking and negotiating and diplomacy and all that good stuff is exhausted. These juntas may think they're big stuff by trying to keep us out but we all know we could that the US could kick their sorry butts. Also, other people are behind this. Where as the Iraq war had some dubious motives this is for the cause of helping people. Who can argue with that?

Gracefull said...

If I were the president, I would support any efforts to bring relief to the people of Burma, even if it was slightly illegal. I would talk and team up with other nations as well so there would be more relief effort.

laughinglizliz said...

If I was president I would continue to help. Like Meredith said we should join together with other countries to help the Junta. But if they won't except our help then there's nothing really that we can do.

Wacky Wendy said...

My gut instinct tells me that would she supply the Burmese with help, but they may not be the best idea. Aiding them would only anger them more and we would purposefully be going against what they want. It would probably help people, but also bring violence along with help.

Atomic Dead Head said...

If I were president, first thing I'd do is put a roller disco in the white house, followed by a room with a Star Trek theme. Then I'd hold a little video-conference with these Myanmarians. Hey, we have the bomb for a reason, why don't we threaten to use it more often?

Where'sWeston? said...

This situation is stickier than Burmese mango rice any way you cut it. While we are doing the right thing in "following our humanitarian impulses," the Burmese government clearly doesn't want our help, as they are likely afraid of our aid proving to their minions that totalitarianism just ain't that cool. While aiding the victims of the tragedy is morally the right thing to do, we must evaluate whether it's worth it at all costs. There comes a point where you have to draw a line of giving aid or something of this nature. What would threatening military action against this nation accomplish? Anything? I have no real solution, merely an evaluation of the situation, but I believe that the powers that be must think evaluate all possible outcomes and make a rational decision that best suits the situation--they truly face a Hobson's Choice.

Anonymous said...

I believe we should help out no matter what the situation is, as long as it is for the greater good. After all, we are American, and American's are awesome. Anyway, these people need help even if the Junta are stubborn America haters who don't want what is best for the people they lead. I know our troops are already stretched in Iraq, but there is always the draft. (wouldn't I make a great President).

-Parker

Kommunists-are-bad Karl said...

Unfortunately this puts us in a difficult situation. We can choose to respect the sovereignty of the junta and let hundreds of thousands die. Or we can let our humanitarian impulses drive us and help the people. I have to admit to being a victim of media footage because my consience is telling me not to give a damn what some power-hungry 3rd. world dictator thinks. Why should we care if we destabalize their regime. The kleptocrats can't keep their facade up regardless of what we do so they might as well accept it.

Anonymous said...

While most everyone can feel for the Burmese people and want to help them, if the junta won't allow our help, trying to force it on them will just end badly. Maybe it's just me, but the junta don't seem to be the most stable people and if they react irrationally to our aid, it could end badly for american troops. While I feel terribly for the Burmese people and want to send them aid, it the junta prohibit it, it's just more trouble than we need at this point.
~Jackie

noandrew said...

the main obstacle in this is probably China, so I would rally the un to pressure China into supporting forced aid. If that didn't work (and i'm being extremely cynical here) i'd chalk up a victory against world over population.

Anonymous said...

If I were president I would want to help the Burmese people. However, I would not take action without the consent of congress, the American public, and the UN. We need to be pragmatic and use our resources to better our country, not to meddle in the affairs of other nations.

~Jessy

ryan the ridiculous said...

If any country is going to refuse food because they want to pull the wool over their citizens eyes, then that country needs reform. How childish is it to say "we dont want your stuff" because their jealous of the success's in other countries. Just adopt a working system, accept your aid, and start working on making life better for your citizens.

tinytim said...

I don't really know. We should look at history. The last time we forced some thing on a nation, like a style of government for example, what happened? You can see where I lie.

Explorer Elizabeth said...

The longer we wait, the more people are dying. No nation can go in alone, so figure it out with the other nations and act quickly. Of course now we know that they have allowed us to help, but that's what I would have said if they hadn't

Anonymous said...

Everyone's humanitarian side jumps at any opportunity to help foriegn countries in a time of tragedy. But if that country refuses our help, who are we to try to convince them otherwise? Just because America has the power to help does not mean that we are obligated to help, especially when aid is not wanted. So yea, thousands of people are going to die. And of course every person wants to help. But i think Americans need to learn there place and realize that we cannot control everything and allow another country to help itself.

-Just for Kicks Jordan-

joyful said...

Obviously helping them out won't please the Junta... we need to put the Junta through some kind of therapy or something because if I were President I would not just sit around and let thousands of people die while I'm in office