The loathsome government of Burma is an extreme example of an all-too-common phenomenon. Too many people in power have a cruel desire to control everything in the society they are meant to serve. They wish to manipulate the media, send out only positive images of themselves, and exclude, punish or destroy anyone who wishes to disagree with them. The military junta produce ludicrous television pictures of a happy people gratefully receiving aid from the army, at a time when thousands are close to death without shelter, without enough clean water or food, and prey to disease. They seek to ban any foreigner from coming to their country to help, as they fear they will send back words and pictures reporting the truth, and fear they will expose the gross inadequacies of the regimeâ€™s response to such a major human tragedy.
I admire the bravery of the anonymous BBC reporter who has sent back vivid and worrying words to describe the tragedy unfolding in the delta. I admire the patient work of the humanitarian organisations, trying to persuade the military government that they should be allowed to help. I regret the clumsy, attention-seeking intervention of the Lib Dem leader, Mr Clegg, who suggested dropping food supplies from helicopters or planes without the permission of the Burmese government. Has he checked that the military regime would leave such planes unmolested and not treat them as enemy aircraft? Has he thought about the problems of the terrain in the flooded delta, and how difficult it would prove to retrieve many of the large packages sent from the skies? How would he prevent the junta seeking to intercept those parcels which could be reached, and taking them for their own purposes? Did he not hear the impatience in the response of those who are trying to negotiate an agreement with this dreadful government? We all share his wish to do something, but believe the international community can do more if it works with, and through, people on the ground in Burma.
The Burma regime is clearly paranoid. It remembers that the US, EU and UK have all condemned it in the past and have imposed sanctions. It fears they will use this opportunity to expose it and will be intimidated by proposals for unilateral western intervention. It naively believes it can control the information, words and pictures coming out. Fortunately, in a footloose world where westerners are already in Burma for other purposes, and in a world where there are so many cameras, mobile phones and communications equipment, pictures and information will flow out to tell the rest about us of the sad plight of so many Burmese.
The international community wants to help, and can help. To help effectively the regime has to be persuaded to take in not just more food and water, but also equipment to deliver the supplies to the dispossessed, and technical assistance to begin the recovery. That cannot be done by aerial bombardment. It can only be done by negotiation.