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Burma and the Bush Administration

It's time to intervene.

12:00 AM, Jun 5, 2008 • By BENEDICT ROGERS and JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Given the unflinching paralysis of the U.N. Security Council over Burma, what should the United States do? The United States, with a democratic coalition that could include Great Britain and France, should prepare immediately to intervene in Burma to ensure humanitarian aid reaches the tens of thousands of cyclone victims whose lives are still at risk. Defense Secretary Gates recently ruled out such action, but President Bush could overturn his judgment, given the ongoing humanitarian disaster.

U.N. apologists would decry a U.S.-led intervention as a breach of international law--but only by ignoring the "responsibility to protect" doctrine adopted by U.N. member states nearly three years ago. Under the U.N. doctrine, nations agree to take all possible measures--including the use of force--to protect civilians from gross human rights abuses. If the deliberate and calculated failure to protect and assist its own population in the face of a devastating catastrophe does not invoke the U.N. mandate, what does?

An intervention of this kind, even with its humanitarian objective, would not be without its risks. Yet the costs of inaction--the deaths of thousands of people, the emboldening of a murderous regime, the perception of American weakness--must also be weighed.

"Intervention will be seen as divine intervention by the Burmese people, not only to help the cyclone victims but also to finally free the entire nation from the military yoke," wrote a coalition of Burmese democracy groups to President Bush. "Please do not compare Burma with Iraq, because Buddhist monks, students, Burmese patriots will happily assist you with whatever you need to go inside Burma and help the cyclone victims and entire nation Many concerned Burmese citizens are willing to join the intervention. Please do not waste precious time."

Burma represents an opportunity not only to save lives, but to rescue the principle of humanitarian intervention from the forces of cynicism and moral cowardice. That may not amount to a final vindication of the Bush doctrine. But it could prove to be one of the most important legacies of his administration.

Benedict Rogers is a human rights officer with the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide and author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People. Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.