Copyright The Washington Post
Monday, July 17, 2006; Page A15
Before things can turn a corner in the Middle East, we need the diplomatic equivalent of electric-shock therapy. We may need $100 oil to jolt the Europeans and the Chinese. We may need the Russians to be told that they can forget joining the World Trade Organization. And we’re going to need something dramatic to reward India, whose response to terrorism last week was exemplary.
The India-Israel comparison is startling. Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists shower rockets on Northern Israel and carry out a raid that inflicts eight deaths and two abductions. Israel justifiably responds by bombing the headquarters of the Hezbollah leader, but it also rains fire on Beirut’s airport, roads and apartment towers, destroying the props of a new and hopeful Lebanon.
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Almost everybody understands that failed states are good for terrorists. With their bitter experience of the Palestinian territories and the Lebanon of old, Israelis ought to grasp that better than anyone. But their leaders seem determined to re-create a failed state to their north. They complain that the Lebanese government has failed to rein in Hezbollah terrorists, then destroy the infrastructure that provides that same Lebanese government with its only chance of functioning.
Now consider India. Coordinated bombings in Bombay commuter trains kill 182 people and wound hundreds. On the same day a grenade attack at a bus station in Kashmir injures at least six tourists. The Indians announce that a new incarnation of a Kashmir independence group called Lashkar-e-Taiba is the main suspect in the Bombay attacks. Just as Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s ruling coalition, the group operates openly in Pakistan and is said to be backed by the country’s intelligence services.
India’s response? No reprisals, no bombings. No threat to cut off diplomatic communications with Pakistan and no massing of troops on the India-Pakistan border. Instead, the Indians tell Pakistan that a forthcoming meeting of foreign ministers must be postponed. And they seek support from the Bush administration and the United Nations to get Pakistan to clamp down on the terrorists.
They certainly had better get that support. Israel’s iron-fist approach is partly a poor bet: a gamble that bombing will smash the terrorists’ structures, even though they are more likely in practice to smash civilian ones, radicalizing the Arab world and undermining the moderates who seek peace with modernity. But to be fair to Israel, its military offensive also reflects the absence of a viable diplomatic option. There already is a U.N. resolution calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed, but the big powers show no interest in applying the muscle to make disarmament happen.
So the challenge in the Middle East and beyond is to show that diplomacy can function. In the wake of the Bombay attacks, Pakistan is a good place to start: China, a traditional Pakistani ally, should join with the United States in telling Pakistan to close down its jihad network. Until now, of course, China has regarded India-Pakistan tensions as a strategic plus. But it needs to update its worldview. Trade and investment between China and India are growing, and China depends on imported oil. War in India, or the emboldening of Pakistani jihadists with links to the Middle East, is not in its interest.
But Pakistan is only a beginning. On every major security challenge, from North Korea’s missiles to Iran’s uranium enrichment, diplomacy is undermined by Chinese, Russian and sometimes Western European foot-dragging. These powers are happy to criticize unilateralism and belligerence at every turn. But when there’s a chance to make diplomacy work, they call for U.S. leadership and hide behind the curtains.
There’s a direct causal link between this freeloading irresponsibility and Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. The Chinese and Russians ensure every day that diplomacy is limp, and then they sound surprised when Israel chooses the military option.
Western Europeans lament the fact that the Bush administration, its energies sapped by the Iraq war, has not shown much appetite for the shuttle diplomacy that brokered the last Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire in 1996. But if France and others had not undermined sanctions on Iraq in the late 1990s, the case for the military alternative would have been weaker — and the war might not have happened.
Even today, many of these freeloaders see mayhem in Iraq as America’s problem. You’d think that chaos in a major oil exporter, with the potential to seed extremism all over the Middle East, would alarm all responsible governments. But the freeloaders think it’s a joke. Pressed over the weekend about democracy in Russia, Vladimir Putin quipped that he didn’t want a democracy like Iraq’s.
It’s going to take something drastic to change this mind-set. But until it changes, diplomacy will be weak; there will be more wars and more radicalization of extremists. I’m not sure what that mind-set changer ought to be. But maybe it’s going to take $100 oil to shock the Chinese and the reluctant Europeans into seeing that Islamic extremism does hurt them. And maybe it’s going to be necessary to block Russia’s quest for membership in the World Trade Organization, which Putin pressed aggressively last week. Why should the Russians expect the benefits of international trade if they won’t contribute to the security that underpins it?