Austin Bay

How many people have died in Burma (Myanmar) since Cyclone Zargis struck the South Asian nation on May 3? Last Tuesday, Burma's dictatorship officially put the death toll at 34,000, with another 30,000 missing. The United Nations estimated 60,000 dead. Western governments and media argued 100,000 dead might be a better figure, once the statisticians account for casualties caused by disease and displacement.

Add "delay" to the disease and displacement -- in the case of Burma, delay caused by a dictatorship resisting aid efforts (most from Western nations) and emergency supplies.

Burma's regime is pursuing a modified "Darfur strategy," at least the Darfur political strategy as pursued by Sudan's dictatorship in Khartoum. For the last three years, the Sudanese government has been resisting, thwarting, dodging and blocking international relief and peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, carefully relenting -- by an inch or two -- when the public and economic pressure reaches a momentary crescendo.

The Burmese junta knows the script.

Enter U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Expressing his frustration and anger at the junta's next-to-nil response to the cyclone disaster, Ban said: "This is not about politics. It is about saving people's lives. There is absolutely no more time to lose."

Correct on saving lives and doing so quickly. As for "not about politics"? Complete baloney. Ban knows it, but he makes a diplomat's gesture to the murderers in hopes of achieving the immediate goal of providing aid to 2 million destitute survivors.

President George W. Bush called the military junta "isolated or callous." He's pulling his punches, too, for the same reason as Ban. "Paranoid, brutal, calculating and callous" is a much more thorough description of dictatorships in general but especially criminal regimes that leverage natural disasters as genocidal weapons.

Terrible examples litter the 20th century. With starvation as the weapon, Stalin's Russia mass murdered Ukrainians in the 1930s. Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan's various "intra-state" wars are more recent cases. Saddam Hussein's regime created an ecological disaster by desertifying the splendid agricultural marshlands of the lower Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in order to destroy Shia Arab communities.

After Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid coordinator, said, "If we let them (the junta) get away with murder we may set a very dangerous precedent," essayist Romesh Ratnesar wrote in Time magazine that it was time to consider invading Burma, or at the minimum violate Burmese airspace (and sovereignty) by air-dropping supplies to the victims.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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