Several global events since our last issue appeared pose difficult dilemmas for peace activists and democratic political leaders. Consider, for example, the ending (we hope) of the civil war in Sri Lanka. Or, for another conundrum, the street protests in Iran against the apparently fraudulent election of a demagogue. Both give us pause.
Could any peacenik endorse either the government or the Tigers in Sri Lanka?(Answer: probably not.) But then what did one wish for during the final weeks of the war? A ceasefire? That is certainly the instinctive tendency of peace proponents, but there are strong arguments against it. The previous ceasefires just gave the Tigers (who richly deserved being labelled as "terrorists") time to recoup losses and continue the battle for several more years. If there is no real prospect of negotiating genuine peace, the fastest way to end the bloodshed, with the fewest casualties, is for one side to win decisively, very quickly. Bob Rae had tried to promote a federalist solution to the conflict but he failed. Hence the second choice would be a fast, decisive victory. Indeed, studies of the durability of peace indicate that wars are most likely to stay over, rather than resume, when one side wins conclusively--but only if that victor is prepared to be generous and accommodating after the war ends. The Sri Lankan government displays continuing vindictiveness, which bodes ill. Besides, in the preceding weeks, up to 20,000 Tamils were held as hostages by the Tigers, but shelled by the Sri Lankan army. Who could choose between those two sides?
And after the fighting, while up to 300,000 Tamils are held in internment camps, what can the outside world do to help? I'd promote a truth and reconciliation commission, staffed by foreigners, to hold both sides accountable for their war crimes. (Fat chance!)
Finally, what about Iran? Presumably most of our readers favor the liberals who have demonstrated almost entirely nonviolently against the stolen elections. We want to help democrats, though we realize that our assistance can be only symbolic.
But most of us also favor Barack Obama's campaign to revive good relations with Iran. He admitted that the US overthrew a previous, elected Iranian regime, and now he wants to show that he will not meddle in their politics in the future. If he stands up to Ahmadinejad, even rhetorically, he will forfeit the progress he was hoping to make toward peace with that wild man. But how can he stand back and refrain from taking sides, while people are being beaten and even killed for the sake of values that he, and people throughout the liberal democracies, share.
What would YOU do?