Friday, May 16, 2008

Myanmar Invasion: What Responsibility to Protect?

Since I've noted a couple of times how I've seen little advocacy on the left for regime change Myanmar, it's only fair that I note some attention to the issue.

Andrew Sullivan's got a post on George Packers's article at the New Yorker, "Should Burma Be Saved From Itself?"

Sullivan adds

A brief, decisive international effort to reach the starving and sick seems important to me. If it helps demystify this vile regime, great. But in its demonstration of humanity, it is also a great way for the US to enhance its soft power in the developing world. People remember who saved them. And sometimes, a bottle of water can mean a lifetime of gratitude. Bonus Burma blog here.
Sullivan's a shifty ideologue. He's something of a post-conservative Obama-backer, and here he sounds like a neocon!

But a look around the web sees little more of Sullivan's boosterism, at least among "liberal internationalists."

Democracy Arsenal suggesting Burma can't be a case of the world community's "responsibility to protect":

Afraid I can't go along with Mark Goldberg on the Burma situation as a test of the Responsibility to Protect. I worry that a showdown over the principle of national sovereignty could undercut, rather than promote, the process by which R2P takes hold as an international norm. Which raises the question of how that process will work and where it stands. [I owe thanks to Stanley Foundation colleagues Keith Porter and (occasional DA guest) Michael Schiffer for forcing me to think about this.]

Actually, I look at this not as an opportunity to assert R2P, but rather as an indication of how far we still have to go. Ask yourself this: how do you rate the chances of getting into Burma via a Security Council showdown over intervening militarily without the junta's consent (Chapter VII) versus forms of pressure short of the assertion of an international responsibility to intervene? There has been a lot of important progress in chipping away at the sovereignty shield, but R2P doesn't enjoy nearly enough international support for us to simply insist that it be followed.
How far we still have to go? So much for liberal humanitarianism?

Notice the strained legalistic language in
Democracy Arsenal's post, which can be translated into something like this:

Nope, no regime change Burma, not while President Bush is in power, as we're implacably opposed to this administration's regime change doctrine. Better to wait until the Democratic Party takes over the White House next year, then we can have Samantha Power - who rejoined Barack Obama's campaign in the fall - address the United Nations making the case for humanitarian intervention on the latest outbreak of ethnic cleansing in the Congo or Sudan, or on the next natural disaster in South Asia or the Pacific.
In other words, tens of thousands could die daily, around the world, while the "liberal internationalist" community twiddles its thumbs.

Yep, we can see the same tendency in
Matthew Yglesias's recent post rebuking outside intervention in Burma:

At the end of the day, great power conflict ... will do immense humanitarian damage to the world and avoiding it should be a very high priority. Does that mean we should do nothing? No, it doesn't, it means American officials (and, indeed, civil society figures) should keep pushing the international community to move to a world where something like the Responsibility to Protect has some force in the real world. But it has to be done in a reasonable consensual way that tries to stitch together America and its traditional allies with new emerging powers in various regions ...
Well, actually, it does mean doing nothing.

The leftist "internationalists" will sit around, waiting for some "global norm" to develop - apparently emerging magically out of some kind of ethereal "international legitimacy" - before the nations of the world mount some decisive effort to help the diseased and starving.

For more on this, see my post, "
Liberal Internationalism and Regime Change Myanmar."