Bloggers debate whether a humanitarian invasion of Burma is necessary

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
May 9 2008 5:46 PM

The Next Somalia?

Bloggers ponder whether the Burmese junta's attempts to control aid to the devastated country justify a "humanitarian invasion." They also wonder why Cindy McCain refuses to release her tax returns.

The next Somalia? Six days after the disastrous cyclone in Burma, bloggers are tracking the power struggle between the U.N. and the junta over the control of international aid. The U.N. halted shipments after the junta seized supplies but vows to resume efforts on Saturday. Bloggers are universally outraged.

"It's been 6 days since the cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar and the situation is getting worse day by day due to the decomposed animals and human lying around the effected areas," exhorts expat Burmese blogger Soe Moe. "Recent days, we had witnessed the generosity of the world as the humanitarian aid in millions of dollars. But it is very sad to find out that Burmese government is hesitating to grant visa to UN aid workers and NGOs in the name of politics. It is not the time for politics during the time of humanitarian crisis."

Burma (Myanmar) Blog's Richard Bacon, a pastor, asks: "What can happen? ASEAN can cut off ties to the junta; China can refuse any further aid to the generals (most of their aid is military—the last thing the Burmese people need right now); the UN can insist that either aid will be distributed or the ruling junta of Myanmar will no longer be recognized as the rightful government of Burma."

On the Guardian's Politics blog, Lucy Powell writes: "This challenge requires a major international political movement equivalent to the enormous charitable movement that emerged after the tsunami. Then, the pressure of populations around the world forced governments and institutions to act. We must now do the same."

Just exactly how to force the Burmese government to allow in unfettered aid is a delicate question, but bloggers aren't shying away from raising the topic. Basically, is a humanitarian invasion justified? Australian Mark Lawrence, who has been following the situation closely, thinks not: "However the level of concern, verging on panic, over the junta's refusal to allow the free flow of aid, most sane international aid and Burmese democracy groups are, however, stopping short of calling for an all-out 'humanitarian' invasion of Burma a-la Somalia, if only just. Reason will prevail in this matter, I hope." Bangkok Dazed's Don Gilliland agrees: "If the USA, or any country, wants to offer humanitarian aid, I think that is wonderful. But the aid shouldn't come with strings attached, or accompanied by lectures. Just help the people that need it, and keep your political and religious agendas to yourself."

Another War-on-Terror Blog's Brian compares Burma to Iraq and points out that both the U.S. and France agree that unilaterally dropping aid into Burma might be a good idea, but "[c]rossing a national boundary with a formation of aircraft, without permission, and then dropping un-asked-for materials on another nation's territory, would be very close to an invasion."  Former Iraq-invasion supporter Andrew Sullivan is now calling for action: "If there were ever a moment when the international community, led as it must be, by the U.S. and the U.N., should use force to prevent what now looks like mass murder, this is it. It is also a rare opportunity to open up the beleaguered, isolated repressed population to the outside world, and to show a face for the US and the West that is humane. When aid is being stolen or hoarded in front of our eyes, we have a duty to face down the junta."

Read more about the aftermath of the cyclone in Burma. Global Voices Online has an excellent roundup. Narinjara News, a site run by Arakanese exiles from Burma in Bangladesh, reports about Bangladesh sending two shipments of aid.

Conscientious objector: Bloggers are in a tizzy over the fact that Cindy McCain, whose worth is in the tens of millions of dollars and who always kept her finances separate from her husband's, has gone on record saying that she will never release her tax returns, not even if her husband becomes president.

Some are nonchalant. "Great for Cindy McCain. She knows that the leftist media and the assorted other liberal kooks would beat her over the head with the information forever. Never give ammunition to people who are trying to destroy you. Mrs. McCain is an admirable person who had done a great deal to provide health care to children in third world countries. She would make an ideal first lady," comments Archer on the Chicago Tribune's Swamp. "Unless she's been accused of tax evasion or some other criminal activity, or her fortune is somehow linked to illicit campaign funds, why in the world should she be obligated to share her personal information?" asksMidnight Had Come Upon the Crowded City's Keri.

But the progressive Media Matters claims, "John McCain, and therefore John McCain's campaign, benefits from his wife's wealth, and the tax returns would indicate the extent to which Cindy McCain—and presumably therefore John McCain—has benefited from President Bush's tax cuts, which McCain supports permanently extending."

Observing that a majority of Americans think that candidates should make their tax returns public, Daily Kos diarist Avenging Angel cries foul: "Virtually the entire Republican brain trust and its amen corner in the media agree. Or at least they did four years ago, when the subject was Democrat Theresa Heinz Kerry and her vast fortune. Despite eventually releasing a two-page summary of her 2003 income, the Kerrys were pilloried by the same conservative machine that is silent now."

Looking ahead to the general election, Marc Ambinder predicts, "[T]his question will return during the general election under the force of holding powerful interests accountable, and No, No, No might not cut it."

And "CubbyChaser" at Comedy Central's blog Indecision 2008 riffs, "Also, she doesn't want anyone to know that she files an annual Q-4!9p3x*~259.w form. That's how Borg Queens itemize their deductions."

Read more about Cindy McCain's tax returns.

Bidisha Banerjee is the San Francisco-based co-author of a forthcoming Yale Climate and Energy Institute/Centre for International Governance Innovation report on scenario planning for solar radiation management. She is collaborating on a geoengineering game and has written about geoengineering governance for Slate and the Stanford Journal of Law, Science, and Policy.

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