Much of the US media continues to parrot the accusatory, highly politicized "Laura Bush
version" of what's been happening in Myanmar/Burma. Namely that (a) the country's military junta is largely responsible for the devastation that Cyclone Nargis has visited on the country, (b) the junta has responded very poorly to the disaster and is also wilfully standing in the way of international efforts to deliver relief to cyclone survivors, (c) the US military is uniquely qualified and positioned to deliver the needed in the very best way possible; and that therefore (d) the junta should simply stand aside and let the US and its western allies roam around the country fixing it all up.
(Like the Bushites "fixed up" New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina? Do these people have so little awareness of how arrogant the US looks to the rest of the world?)
Well, there is little point right now in delving too deeply into proposition "a" there, though as I wrote Tuesday
, Mrs. Bush's accusations on that score were extremely mean-spirited and over-stated.
On proposition 'b', it is simply not true at this point that the junta responded to the cyclone with zero effectiveness. See, for example, this UN-OCHA report from Sunday May, 4. It says,
6. The Government has established an Emergency Committee headed by the Prime Minister. Five central and southern regions â€“ Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Bago, Mon and Kayin states â€“ have all been declared disaster areas. The authorities ... have deployed military and police units for rescue, rehabilitation and cleanup operations in Yangon.
7. No formal request has yet been issued for international assistance, though there are indications that such assistance may be welcomed...
On Tuesday came this news release from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which says,
The International Federation is supporting the Myanmar Red Cross in their efforts to address the needs of the affected people. The Myanmar Red Cross is already handing out relief supplies, such as clean drinking water, plastic sheeting, clothing, insecticide-treated bed nets to help prevent malaria, and kitchen items. Additionally, the International Federation has sent a first deployment of shelter kits from Kuala Lumpur and has released an initial 200,000 Swiss francs (USD 189,000/â‚¬ 122,000) to support the Red Cross relief effort.
That is exactly what the IFRCS is supposed to do: to build on the strengths of the Red Cross societies that already exist in all countries, and to coordinate the provision of help from other countries' RC societies when it's needed. No need for Mrs. Bush to get all exercised about things.
Over the weekend, ASEAN and the UN had already started assembling damage assessment teams, and most members of those teams have now been deployed.
On Monday, the Government of Myanmar "invited World Vision, a US-based aid organization that's been working in the country for some years now, to provide assistance in the form of zinc sheets, tents, tarpaulins and medicine." That report from Monday also noted that,
World Vision assessment teams have been deployed to the hardest-hit areas to determine the most urgent needs. The agency is already providing clothing (sarongs and t-shirts) as well as tarpaulins and blankets to 100 households in the capital, along with 10,000 kg of rice and 7,000 liters of water.
Given that the Red Cross societies and some private groups like World Vision already (a) have a lot of experience in post-catastrophe relief and reconstruction, (b) already have networks of relationships with official and unofficial bodies inside Myanmar, and (c) have an often detailed familiarity with the country, and its social and physical infrastructure, it is hard to see why anyone should imagine the US military is "uniquely qualified" to deliver aid there? Some people speak of helicopter capabilities. But China, Thailand, and several other Myanmar neighbors have that-- and probably, have been using it already.Unlike what many US pundits think, the US has no "special responsibility" to undertake even well-intentioned life-saving actions around the world... Is it hard for some US commentators to entertain the thought that bodies and governments other than the US and its western allies are equally well intentioned, and might sometimes actually far better positioned to undertake such actions?
So now, let us travel to the worsening, and woefully under-reported humanitarian disaster in the Sadr City area of Baghdad-- a place where under international humanitarian law the US, as occupying power, does have direct responsibility for the welfare of the country's residents.
These past few days, the US military and its allies from the increasingly isolated Iraqi "government" side have stepped up their assault on a large section of Sadr, trapping many of the area's 2.5 million residents in their homes and neighborhoods, which are being harshly fought over by, on one side, the US forces and their allies, and on the other, local militiamen loyal to Imam Moqtada al-Sadr.
The fighting has been hell for the residents of Sadr City, particularly those in the areas near the "front line" newly established by the US forces.
This Reuters report from Baghdad tells us that,
Civilians caught up in fighting between security forces and Shi'ite militiamen in a Baghdad slum are running out of food, water and medicine and relief agencies are unable to bring in supplies, officials said on Thursday.
That report also quotes some Sadr City residents as saying that the Iraqi government has taken a leaf out of the playbook that Israel followed many times in Lebanon (and also, some 60 years ago in Palestine), and tried to send loudspeaker trucks around some neighborhoods to tell residents that they should leave their homes... presaging a possible big new military offensive there.
But here is something else notable, from the Reuters report: a quote from Dana Graber Ladek, a displacement specialist on Iraq at the U.N. International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Amman, who seemed to be saying that the US and Iraqi-government forces in Sadr City were among those forces preventing the opening of safe corridors by which humanitarian aid could be delivered, and civilians find a safe way to exit if they so chose. Ladek said
"We need that corridor open to allow aid in, by U.S. and Iraqi forces ... by everyone involved in the conflict."
The German press agerncy DPA reports that the fighting that has occurred since the US started its push into Sadr City at the end of March has killed around 1,000 people, and wounded over 2,500, many of them children and other civilians.
Well-meaning people in the US who are concerned about the harms being suffered by our fellow-humans around the world would do well to pay a lot more attention to stopping the harms that have arisen directly out of our own government's actions around the world, rather than continuing to point fingers at other governments?
... I note also that some people have said that the situation in Myanmar could be a good example where the UN's recently adopted doctrine of "Responsibility To Protect" (R2P) could be valid. The well-informed and always thoughtful Ramesh Thakur had a good response on that point in today's Toronto Globe & Mail.
Thakur, we should note, was one of the members of the UN's R2P Commission, so he certainly knows whereof he speaks.
That link given there goes to a pay-gated version of Thakur's op-ed. His argument there is this: humanitarian aid does not justify going to war as called for by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in urging the UN Security Council to pass a resolution under the "responsibility to protect" norm to force the delivery of aid over any objections from the country's ruling military.
Mr. Kouchner is one of the unrepentant "humanitarian warriors" who gave "humanitarian intervention" such a bad name that we had to rescue the deeply divisive idea and repackage it into the more unifying and politically marketable "responsibility to protect" (R2P) which was endorsed by world leaders at the UN in 2005. There would be no better way to damage R2P beyond repair in Asia and the developing world than to have humanitarian assistance delivered into Myanmar backed by Western soldiers fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia again. If France has soldiers to spare for serious combat, they could relieve embattled Canadians in southern Afghanistan.
John Holmes, the former British ambassador to France, has rightly rejected Mr. Kouchner's call as unnecessarily confrontational. He said co-operation from Myanmar authorities was "reasonable and heading in the right direction."
Thakur warns that trying to invoke an R2P-based, "right" of foreigners to intervene in Myanmar by force and against the wishes of the national government would have this effect: "Instead of securing timely action, it would complicate humanitarian relief efforts in this particular case and more generally afterward."
He made clear he was not defending the rights record of the Myanmar government. But he also laid out a sensible plan for how the "international community": (whatever that is, these days) might most effectively respond to the situation there. Not surprisingly, his program depends a lot more on Myanmar's neighbors than on any very expensive, complicated, and imperialistic intervention from the distant European or US governments.