A little more than a week of Israeli bombing and American neglect has created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. In a country that just months ago was being written up in travel magazines as one of the world's next great tourist destinations, and where a fragile democracy was beginning finally to define itself as something real, hundreds of civilians now lay dead; thousands have been injured; airports, ports, bridges and roads have been destroyed; and an estimated 500,000 men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes.
Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross say they are "extremely concerned" that the situation in Lebanon is degenerating into chaos and dysfunction.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is expressing horror at what is becoming of Lebanon.
"The distress felt at the destruction not only of life but also the infrastructure so painstakingly rebuilt after years of conflict will, I know, be acute and reinforce the sense of helplessness at being caught up in a wider regional struggle," writes the archbishop in a letter to Lebanese churches. "My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal."
Unfortunately, neither the International Committee of the Red Cross, nor the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the Israeli anti-war community, which rallied several thousand critics of Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert's policies in Tel Aviv last Sunday, has sufficient international presence or authority to demand a halt to the destruction of Lebanon and of northern Israel – where the rockets of Hezbollah, which has so cynically and successfully provoked Israel, have killed civilians and done lesser but not insignificant damage to infrastructure.
President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. leaders who have that presence and authority have chosen a hands-off approach that effectively encourages the expansion of violence in the region. Their neglect of the crisis is the foreign-policy equivalent of the White House's initial response to the Katrina catastrophe of last year in New Orleans. By failing to move quickly or responsibly, they make a bad situation worse.
Most Congressional Democrats have been the president's willing accomplices in this neglect of duty. But a handful of House members, led by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, have stepped up. A House resolution, sponsored by Kucinich and cosponsored by close to two dozen other representatives urges "the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit the United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."
"The continuing violence in the Middle East is spiraling out of control and is on the verge of being full-out regional war in which there will be no winners," says Kucinich. "The US has a moral obligation to become immediately engaged and to try to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation. This Administration must seek an immediate cease-fire and return all sides to the negotiating table."
"The region urgently needs diplomatic assistance," the congressman adds. "The only way the US can reclaim its role, as a mediator is to speak and act like a mediator. Unfortunately, the Administration is making statements that only will contribute to escalation."
Kucinich is right. This is a testing time for members of Congress. Those who join Kucinich in calling for action to ease the conflict will be remembered as leaders – and as the true friends of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and a battered peace process. Those who fail to do so will deserve to be remembered – and vilified -- for their failure to act when a humanitarian crisis unfolded before the eyes of the world.