Burma Is Not Iraq

Ramzy Baroud

Posted Oct 12, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Burma Is Not Iraq

By Ramzy Baroud

The 2003 invasion of Iraq has enabled two important realisations. First,
that imperial powers act only to preserve their interests, and second, that
humanitarian intervention—i.e. humanitarian imperialism—is touted and
encouraged by the media and official circles mostly to circumvent the true
self-serving intents of aggression. Granted, many Americans are still under
the impression that Iraq harboured Al-Qaeda, developed weapons of mass
destruction and threatened America’s security. But who can blame them?
Compare the relentless campaign of fabrication and half-truths prior to the
invasion—courtesy of the Bush administration and its willing allies in
the media—to the dismal follow-ups on whether such military adventurism
actually achieved any of its declared objectives.

Every facet in America’s propaganda machine was in ceaseless motion to make
a case for war; aside from the obvious pretext, Iraq’s horrors under Saddam
were repeatedly emphasised. Also showcased were Iraq’s exiled elites who
“proved” that the US war was in tune with the desperate pleas of the Iraqi
“masses”. Forget the actual masses thereafter butchered with impunity.
Compare again the attention given to Saddam’s victims to the subsequent
attention given to victims of the US war (estimated to number more than one
million), who were not even validated as victims but instead presented as
grateful beneficiaries. A few months into the invasion, a leading US neo-
conservative claimed to me in an interview that the Iraq democracy
experiment was so successful that “Iranians are calling me at my office
angrily saying, ‘How come you liberated the Iraqis and are yet to liberate

So why aren’t the US and Britain responding to the situation in Burma with
the same determination that they exhibited for Iraq, and now Iran? Why
haven’t media pundits rushed in to make a case for war against the brutal
regime of General Than Shwe who has denied his people not only political
freedom but also the basic requisites of a dignified life? To maintain their
extravagant lifestyles in the midst of crushing poverty, junta generals
jacked up fuel prices by 500 per cent in August. This even provoked Burmese
monks—legendary symbols of peace and endurance—to demonstrate en
masse, demanding greater compassion for the poor. The protests, starting in
a rural town 19 August, culminated in massive rallies of hundreds of
thousands and lasted for weeks.

The media correctly drew parallels between the most recent Safrron
Revolution and the 1988 uprising, when students in Rangoon triggered
nationwide demonstrations that were suppressed brutally by the army,
claiming 3,000 lives. General Than Shwe became the head of the junta in 1992
and continued to rule with an iron fist. However, his subversion of
democracy was not a strong enough reason to prevent large multinationals
from seeking lucrative contracts in the gas-rich country. He accumulated
wealth and his officials continued to roam the globe with few hindrances,
while the Burmese people continued to suffer. This eventually led to the
most recent revolt, which was once again crushed without remorse. The number
of dead this time remains unknown; estimates range between 200 and 2,000.
Thousands have also been arrested and many monks have reportedly been
tortured, their monasteries ransacked. From a media angle, no revolution
could be as sentimental or appealing. But, of course, it takes more than
tens of thousands of monks leading hundreds of thousands of the country’s
poor in mass rallies to make Burma relevant for long.

Western leaders, aware of the criticism that awaits them, have paid the
necessary lip service, but little else. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
decried the use of violence against protesters and demanded European
sanctions. President Bush declared that Americans “stand in solidarity with
these brave individuals”. Israel, on the other hand, denied its military
links to the junta, despite much contradictory evidence. It justified its
unwillingness to influence the situation on the grounds of nostalgia—
Burma was the first South Asian country to recognise Israel. The UN sent its
envoy to Burma to meet General Than Shwe and Ibrahim Gambari was left
waiting for days before he was allowed to express the concerns of the
international community. And that’s that.

Burma is as important to China as the Middle East is to the US. China cares
more about the political stability of its neighbours than human rights and
democracy; the US cares about such a nuisance insofar as its ability to
serve its own militaristic and economic interests is affected. China is the
world’s fourth largest economy, and will soon be the third; its holds $1.4
trillion in reserve, mostly in US treasury bonds. Its sway over the global
financial system is undeniable, and under no circumstance will it allow
America a significant role in a country that shares with it a
2,000-kilometre border. The US, on the other hand, pays lip service to
democracy in Burma, and its continued “support” of opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy is aimed at maintaining a
foothold in Burma for a future role, should the relationship between the
West and China turn sour.

Humanitarian imperialism has proved more destructive than the injustices it
supposedly eradicates. But expect none of that in the case of Burma, because
intervention does not serve the interests of the influential parties—not
the West’s, or China’s, or Russia’s. We may see a few sentimental meetings
between Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of the generals, and perhaps a
few gestures of goodwill by the latter, at the behest of China and the West.
But they will bring no sweeping reforms, nor meaningful democracy or human
rights. These can only be achieved by the people of Burma, their monks,
civil society activists, and by ordinary people.

If Iraq has been a lesson of any worth it is that the Burmese are much
better off without American bombing raids or British napalm in the name of
intervention. True reforms and democracy can only come from within, from the
closed fists of the determined dispossessed. Indeed, Burma is not Iraq, and
Thank God for that.

-Ramzy Baroud (http://www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and
journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A
Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).