Fred Hiatt argues that Burma’s leadership is just as tyrannical’s as Iraq’s under Saddam:

In case you haven’t been following the news from the other side of the world, she is the leader of pro-democracy forces in Burma, a lush, predominantly Buddhist nation of Southeast Asia. At the moment she is thought to be in Insein Prison, the terror center outside Burma’s capital, where dog kennels have been converted to torture cells and prisoners are forced to beat each other bloody for the entertainment of guards.

If Saddam Hussein’s rule was monstrous, the regime of Burma’s junta is no less so. Ethnic cleansing, rape as an official tool of repression, heroin and HIV/AIDS as primary exports, a vast security apparatus spreading fear throughout society, slave labor — Burma’s got it all.

But Burma has something that distinguishes it from most totalitarian systems, too. In Iraq, Hussein’s apologists could claim, up to the very last minute, that the Iraqi people loved him. You could scoff at the claim, but you couldn’t absolutely prove it false. In Burma, you can declare with mathematical certainty that the regime is illegitimate: It lost a 1990 election to the National League for Democracy, which won 82 percent of parliamentary seats even though its leader — the same Aung San Suu Kyi — was under house arrest at the time. Those elected were never permitted to take their seats. Quite a few, in fact, ended up in Insein.

Given all that, you might ask why regime change is not on the world’s agenda.

Well, of course, regime change is never on the world’s agenda. The last time there was a consensus international effort to rid the world of an evil dictator was 1945. Since then, murderous tyrannies under Joe Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, the Kymer Rouge, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, Papa Doc Duvalier, Fidel Castro and others have met no real resistence from the UN. In a handful of cases, like the recent war in Iraq or the longstanding effort against Castro, a US-led effort was mounted. Because tyrannous regimes have an equal vote with the democracies in the UN General Assembly, and the former outnumber the latter, it is virtually impossible to build international consensus for violating state sovereignty to topple monsters.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.