Red-robed Buddhist monks who would never raise a hand in anger will give the military junta in Myanmar all it can handle. Armed with moral authority...

Red-robed Buddhist monks who would never raise a hand in anger will give the military junta in Myanmar all it can handle. Armed with moral authority and the culture’s deep respect, they are a force.

As many as eight monks may already have been killed by a government unnerved by the vast size of the protests and the tenacity of the opposition. Dissidents and ordinary citizens were inspired by monks who continued to turn out after being told to stay in their monasteries. Initially, the marches, which have drawn 100,000 protesters into the streets, were about increases in fuel prices. But frustrations tap into what a joint statement by the European Union and the United States called a “19-year reign of fear.”

Another nascent democracy movement in 1988 was brutally crushed, and the tendrils of another search for political freedom became evident.

President Bush announced the U.S. would tighten economic sanctions that are already cinched down pretty snug. Protest leaders called for international sanctions, which do not always sit well as a tactic when independently imposed from the outside. Local dissidents calling for them provide an indisputable imprimatur.

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The United States watches this upheaval from an interesting emotional and political distance. Even the involvement of a religious community in a political struggle takes on a measure of detachment with no obvious U.S. interests at stake.

The clashes in Myanmar take place in a global neighborhood where the U.S. is largely on the outside looking in, with precious little political and economic influence.

This is virtually a case study for how the political and economic influence of two emerging powers — India and China — can be used to restore peace and avoid bloodshed. How will they exercise their diplomatic skills and economic might to quell a nasty, disruptive fight in the neighborhood?

There are lives to save. How does China negotiate a conflicted role as peacekeeper and as a central government worried about democratic aspirations of its own populace?

International concern is being articulated in various ways. There is also palpable curiosity about how the neighborhood deals with a bloody, domestic dispute.