Yes, the Burmese junta is reclusive and tyrannical. But when a hundred thousand innocents may have died in a catastrophe, and many more tens of thousands of lives hang in the balance, the time is not right to make a regime, already paranoid of the outside world, even more jittery of outside interferenceespecially when the West is trying to get emergency workers and relief supplies in to the restrictive nation. (The administration has made a similar mistake by saber-rattling against a paranoid and nuclear-armed North Korean regime.) Any administration criticism of the junta should have been held at least until the country is able to get back on its feet.
Once the disaster had already occurred, it was especially unhelpful for the First Lady to focus on the irrelevant matter of whether the Burmese government had issued adequate advance warning. Furthermore, the secretive junta was slow to open the country to outside relief workers and supplies, but the U.S. presidents public criticism certainly was not going toand did nothelp matters. Not surprisingly, the juntas slow roll on admission of relief workers and badly needed provisions continued. As should have been learned during Jimmy Carters administration, autocratic regimes usually get angry and push back or become more obstinate when publicly criticized. After all, criticisms by foreign governments are not known to most of their oppressed populations, thus relieving any pressure to loosen up their systems.
Even Burmese dissident groups criticized the timing of the administrations rhetorical onslaught against the juntadeclaring that it made getting rapid relief to the desperately needy that much more difficult. According to the Washington Post, exiled Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo called Laura Bushs verbal harangue totally and utterly inappropriate. She is trying to score political points out of peoples disaster. Similarly, the newspaper also quotes Thant Myint-U, a former United Nations official and Burmese historian as saying, the problem is that everything, including aid, has been politicized, with suspicions on all sides. In response to the administrations verbal barrage, a Burmese government spokesman defended the juntas storm warning, request for international help, and provision of boats and helicopters. He noted that the government had issued a cyclone warning two days before the storm, and retorted that ...what we are doing is better than the Bush administration response to the Katrina storm in 2005, if you compare the resources of the two countries. Ouch!
So as with U.S. policy toward Saddam Husseins Iraq, administration attempts to score points in its campaign of global democratization against despotic regimes are unfortunately likely to result in much needless loss of life.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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