Asking the Tough Questions

May 15, 2008 10:58 a.m.

I had not seen this interesting OpEd on Myanmar by Robert Kaplan in today’s Times. Kaplan approvingly sifts through the arguments for mounting an “humanitarian invasion” of Myanmar, but nevertheless says we must realize that our invasion and possible overthrow of the government could lead to unforeseen complications. “It seems like a simple moral decision: help the survivors of the cyclone,” he writes. “But liberating Iraq from an Arab Stalin also seemed simple and moral. (And it might have been, had we planned for the aftermath.) Sending in marines and sailors is the easy part; but make no mistake, the very act of our invasion could land us with the responsibility for fixing Burma afterward.”

It’s hard not to have a lot of respect for Kaplan’s willingness to play the devil’s advocate’s role and point out that our coming Burmese invasion may not be a bed of roses after all. More seriously, though, I’m surprised that it’s so easy to publish this kind of hooey as if the last five years had never even happened. Here, meanwhile, Matt Yglesias answers those pushing for an invasion by noting two big potential pitfalls in the present international context — legitimacy and sustainability, as Matt goes on to note.

But I have an even simpler idea. Why don’t we not invade any more countries for a while?

I know that will strike some as too flippant or isolationist. But it’s not meant as the former and I’m confident it is not the latter. Many of our foreign policy thinkers seem to be developing the kind of character damage suffered by children who can buy the best toy every time their parents go to the mall — the inability to distinguish between necessities, simple wants and the mere desire for kicks which is born of pervasive moral boredom. Add to this the fact that we are now managing two foreign occupations — one of which is going poorly and a second which can only be described as a national catastrophe of historic proportions — and you see the true level of the disconnect.

It’s not simply a matter of having our hands full. More than this, it’s an obliviousness to the reality of the downsides of our proposing to invade or actually invading countries more or less for the hell of it — both in the sense of creating a more dangerous global political environment and the squandering of material resources and global political capital in advance of actual threats to our security we will likely face in coming decades. In the 90s, when most of our global rivals were flat on their back, such thinking may simply have been arrogant and short-sighted. Now it’s just nuts.

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