May 102008

I’m not saying we should attack Myanmar. I’m really not in favor of attacking any countries at all. But I’m trying to figure out how the justifications made for the invasion of Iraq do not also justify — or, indeed, *demand* — that we similarly undertake a military effort to overthrow the ruling Myanmar government.

After all, much of the public justification for the Iraq invasion was based on the country being ruled by a tyrannical autocracy that ruthlessly turned on its people. Certainly the same situation is present in Myanmar, and possibly on an even greater scale. The ruling junta’s indifference to the health and well-being of its entire population seems to put even Saddam Hussein on his worst day to shame.

Of course, in the case of Iraq it was also argued that America’s own interests were at stake. Hussein might have been harboring terrorists, or building a nuclear arsenal. As far as I know, no such similar allegations have been asserted against the Myanmar government. But even if there were it wouldn’t affect this analysis, seeing how in the case of Iraq none of those allegations turned out to be true themselves. No doubt Saddam Hussein harbored a great deal of antipathy and suspicion towards the United States, but hateful feelings do not an imminent danger make. In terms of posing an *actual threat* to American security he was obviously lacking. On the contrary, his rule in some ways even *assured* the security of the U.S. For example, under his government Al Qaeda, a mutual enemy of both him and the United States, was not free to operate. Whereas after his overthrow Iraq suddenly became the Al Qaeda breeding ground it hadn’t been before.

So when we take a look at the arguments underpinning the Iraq invasion and compare them to the ones that would support an invasion of Myanmar, we see there’s little difference. In fact we might be left with even *more* justification to invade Myanmar, given the scale of the junta’s longstanding track record of humanitarian crimes and scope of imminent harm its current behavior is likely to cause.

Meanwhile, remember also that Myanmar has oil, which has often proven to be an important factor in choosing whom the U.S. should invade. Myanmar’s wealth of natural resources has always made it a complicating factor in Southeast Asian geopolitical relations, and it’s a wealth it might behoove the U.S. to have some control over. Personally I find this kind of rationale wholly unqualified to justify the violent incursion of a sovereign nation, but the point here is that because the current U.S. government has relied upon such reasons before, it’s hard to see why it would not be willing to rely upon them now too.

At the core of the neoconservative thinking behind the Iraq invasion was the idea that pre-emptive self-defense could provide a justification for an otherwise forbidden act, in this case an act of war. Necessity and justification are concepts that do exist in law to exonerate bad acts that are necessary to prevent even worse results that would occur but for the intervention of these other bad acts. It’s the idea that shooting a gunman could ever be ok. If it could reasonably be believed that the gunman posed a threat, shooting him first can be justified, whether to protect oneself or to prevent harm to other innocents. Defense of others — if you reasonably thought the gunman would kill other people — can provide just as legitimate grounds for shooting him as would have defense of oneself.

But these bad acts must still be reasonably grounded and proportionate to the actual risk threatened, and consequently, in the case of Iraq, these defenses come up short in justifying the violent action taken by the U.S. However, when we look at Myanmar, where we see that hundreds of thousands are already dead or missing and the survivors are without access to food, shelter, or clean water, and where the ruling junta is going out of its way to prevent them from receiving those necessary items of survival, they may come closer to measuring up. Right now the world can reasonably and unavoidably see the grave and lethal risk to millions the Myanmar government currently poses. If, then, it is ever right to intervene when such a grievous threat is posed by a government, surely such a time is now. Especially if it was ever Iraq’s time before.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm

  3 Responses to “When do we attack Myanmar?”

  1. Cathy, what do you think about the name of the country? Is it better to use the British colonial name (Burma) or the name bestowed by the junta (Myanmar)? Personally I think it’s better to deny the regime’s legitimacy by not using the name they chose – especially since “Burma” is still unambiguous and in common use. If we did invade, we would almost certainly be trying to restore a country called Burma. But I can see how people could come down differently on that.

  2. I’m inclined to agree that it’s generally better to use Burma, and thought about doing so for this post. But I decided to go with Myanmar, since that would really be the target of any attack – those who have forcibly defined it as such.

  3. wow great post :)
    I was searching for attack myanmar and found this…

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