The Deadly Diplomatic Cult of 'Restraint'
Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped and murdered. Their bodies are found in a rock pile near the West Bank city of Hebron. It is horrible. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says "Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay."
And from the wood-paneled office suites and limousine back seats of the diplomatic sphere -- from Washington, the European Union and the United Nations -- comes the usual chorus, urging that all parties show "restraint."
That call for restraint is prefaced, of course, by expressions of sympathy and condemnations of the murders. But there is always that culminating line -- the call for restraint -- which undercuts all the rest. There was no restraint involved in the terrorist triple murder of those teenagers. But the hollow diplomatic default is to demand that the Israelis refrain from striking the terrorist leaders who spawn these attacks. That's a brand of "restraint" that translates into an invitation for more terrorism.
From Secretary of State John Kerry, we hear that the news of murder is "simply devastating...a horrific loss.... We condemn this despicable terrorist act in the strongest possible terms" and "the perpetrators must be brought to justice." But then there's the thud of that closing line: "This is a time for all to work towards that goal without destabilizing the situation."
From the EU comes a statement expressing "profound sorrow." The EU condemns the killing of the three Israeli youths, sends condolences to their their families and friends, and professes to "share their grief." The EU further trusts that "the perpetrators of this barbaric act will swiftly be brought to justice." But then comes that inevitable disclaimer to round it off: "We call for restraint of all parties concerned in order not to further aggravate the fragile situation on the ground."
From a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comes word that Ban believes "there can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians." Ban hopes the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice, etc., etc., but then comes the ritual kicker: Ban "calls on all parties to abide by their obligations under international law and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation."
Changing the mindset behind this diplomatic cult of "restraint" is a tall order. But one place to start would be to demand that our high-minded diplomats practice some restraint of their own -- and alter the template for these statements. By all means, retain the condemnations, the expressions of sympathy and grief, and the calls for swift justice. But stop there. Show some genuine respect, not to mention decency and basic sense. Scrap the last line.