Talking Down Terrorists

One of the early axioms of President Bush's war on terrorism was that terrorists can only be killed or captured, not converted to peaceful ways.

So it's a surprise this week that Mr. Bush called on Lebanon's Hizbullah guerrillas to "prove they are not a terrorist group by laying down their arms." He probably wouldn't say that to Al Qaeda, even though both groups have targeted innocent civilians.

One possible reason for this change is that Lebanon appears to be on the verge of removing Syria's dark hand over its government, and Hizbullah, which both sends rockets into Israel and provides social services for Lebanon's large Shiite population, will be a serious player in a revived Lebanese democracy.

Hizbullah leaders themselves seem torn over whether to give up their militia, as they would need to do if it wants to be a respected political party.

Israel, too, may soon have to follow Bush's lead and accept that Hamas, a social-services Islamic group that also backs attacks on Israeli civilians, may become a political force in Palestinian elections. They, along with other groups tied to terrorist attacks, are in talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a cease-fire as an initial step in the peace process.

Israel, however, wants Mr. Abbas to use force - as Israel might need to do to dislodge its illegal Jewish settlers soon - to disarm these groups. Abbas prefers instead to talk down the radicals and make them politicians.

Likewise in Iraq, elected Shiite and Kurdish leaders are trying to form a government that can be inclusive enough of the country's disgruntled minority Sunnis to quell the mainly Sunni insurgents.

Quenching the fire of terrorism with the water of democracy is the true endgame in the Middle East.

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