Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No More Foot-Dragging

NYT Editorial

Nearly two weeks into the bloody conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finally made it to the region. We’d like to believe that means Washington is now urgently committed to finding a way to halt the fighting.

Ms. Rice’s surprise first stop in Beirut was intended to show support for Lebanon’s embattled democracy. Her pledge of humanitarian assistance is welcome, but it is far too little and extremely late.

What the people of Lebanon and Israel urgently need is a cease-fire followed by the swift deployment of a well-armed force with a mandate to aggressively keep the peace. That must be accompanied by an international guarantee that Hezbollah will be forced to halt its attacks on Israel permanently and disband its militia so Lebanon can regain control of its borders and its sovereignty.

The White House has resisted calls for a cease-fire, arguing that a return to the situation that existed before the latest fighting would not bring lasting peace. While that is true, we fear that what the administration has been doing is buying Israel more time to pound Hezbollah and Lebanon. Since July 12, hundreds of Lebanese civilians have been killed and nearly a score of Israelis. For all that dying, there is little sign that Hezbollah — which fired 100 missiles into Israel on Sunday — has been so deeply wounded that it can’t rebuild quickly. Ms. Rice needs to make clear to Israel that more civilian deaths in Lebanon won’t make Israelis safer.

What is needed now is the sort of aggressive diplomacy and international coalition building that the Bush administration typically disdains. And it needs to come together in days, not weeks.

The United States and its allies must start aggressively soliciting contributors for a peacekeeping force. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain first raised the idea to Mr. Bush more than a week ago, and was brushed off. Such a force will need to be well armed and be given a robust mandate so that Hezbollah will have little choice but to retreat. The United States has already made clear it won’t be sending its own troops, and rallying others for such a dangerous mission will not be easy.

After her sessions in Israel, Ms. Rice goes on to Rome, where she will meet with Arab and European officials. She needs to use these discussions to win support for a United Nations resolution authorizing such a force and strengthening its call — so far unheeded — for Hezbollah to disarm.

Ms. Rice has no plans, apparently, for a surprise visit to Damascus. At a minimum she must urge European and Arab allies to make that trip. They must deliver a united message that isolation and scorn is the price Syria and Iran will pay for continuing to abet Hezbollah, and that Israel will not be restrained until Hezbollah is restrained.

As eager as Arab leaders are to see Israel halt its attacks and Hezbollah contained, that tough talk will be difficult for rulers who always prefer to sit on the sidelines, and now have to answer to their increasingly angry populations. That is why Ms. Rice should be willing to make compromises of her own and travel to Damascus. All this needs to happen quickly. There has been too much foot-dragging and too much dying already.

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