ASEAN, Not the US, Can Help Myanmar

Interventionism will only harm southeast Asia

ASEAN, Not the US, Can Help Myanmar
Photo by Isaac Cantrell (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement)

As the people of Myanmar struggle with how to survive under a new military regime and that regime struggles with how to not murder the people under its authority, Western commentators have done what they do best with violent tragedy in southeast Asia: Profit.

Perhaps there has been no more vacuous and self-serving a response to the tragedy than that made by the editorial board of The Washington Post in their recent opinion piece arguing for a tough US and UN responses to ongoing violence in Myanmar. Rigid sanctions and an international military effort justified by the UN’s so-called “responsibility to protect,” the editors argue, is necessary.

Myanmar, the editors argue, cries out for Western intervention.

The editors accuse Myanmar’s new regime of waging “endless wars against insurgencies,” while proposing a solution that encourages military and economic interference by governments that have spent the last 20 years waging war against insurgencies.

On all accounts, the editorial board seems most interested in disguising this hawkish grandstanding as sentimentality. Indeed, they even go so far as to offer up that old chestnut of interventionist wisdom: Think about the children.

Well, what of the many children beheaded in Mozambique earlier this week? What of the 12,000 children killed in Syria over the past 10 years? What of the 3,000 children slaughtered in Yemen’s brutal conflict?  Is the US to continue to deploy its already thinly spread military anywhere in the world that there is a tragedy in need of policing?

And therein lies the rub.

The editorial board’s prescription is no more than a blank check for endless interventionism. It is adventurism disguised as good Samaritanism.

Put simply, it is the same nonsense that has dragged Americans into near-objectiveless combat operations since 1955. The selfsame nonsense that has led to a US military presence in more than 150 nations and a trillion-dollar annual defense tab. The editors’ military suggestions would result in chaos, and their sanctionphilia would not harm the military of Myanmar, but only the working people they claim to care for.

The many crises in Myanmar must be addressed swiftly and strongly. But they must be addressed by the peoples of southeast Asia.

To this end, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, is the best bet for restoring a peaceable order and bringing law and justice back to Myanmar.

If the US or the international community more broadly must intervene in Myanmar, they ought first seek to strengthen the economic and military capacities of ASEAN, so that those regional partners who are affected most by Myanmar’s current state of flux have an increased capability for bringing this conflict to a swift end.

Western commentators should do themselves a favor and abandon their war-brained thinking. The US does not belong in Myanmar, and arguments to the contrary ignore the complex cultural ties and desire for political autonomy shared by the many nations of southeast Asia.

In reflecting on the hubris of such kneejerk calls to have the militaries of the most powerful nations on earth attempt sort things in out in Asia, it is useful to recall the words of the American statesmen Elbridge Gerry, delivered originally at the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

“A standing army is like a standing member,” Gerry said. “It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.”

Alas, it appears that both Min Aung Hlaing and the editors of The Washington Post have roused themselves to that very temptation.

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