Who won? 

When war doesn’t work

Sitting here in Montana, it’s tough to decipher the tsunamis of propaganda flowing from the world’s political leaders these days. It can certainly be argued that, thanks to the Internet, we have more media, more source material, and greater access to global information than humankind has ever enjoyed in its long and checkered history. But just look at the latest example of man’s inhumanity to man in the recent war between Israel and Lebanon and try to answer one simple question: Who won?

The war started just over a month ago when Hezbollah guerillas, not the Lebanese army, conducted a daring cross-border raid and captured two Israeli soldiers. Initially, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said they were holding the prisoners “in a secure place” in hopes of initiating a prisoner exchange with Israel. Nasrallah also warned Israel against attempting to recover the soldiers through force of arms, saying: “In any case, any military operation will not lead to the recovering of those captives. The only possible way is through indirect negotiations and then an exchange.”

But Israel’s new Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, announced he was having no part of any negotiations or prisoner exchanges and instead, calling the abduction “an act of war,” Olmert launched a massive attack upon Lebanon.

While it’s difficult to keep track of the various political groups, guerrilla fighters and warring religious factions in the Middle East, it is important to note that Hezbollah is not the Lebanese government. The organization was formed to resist occupation following Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in the 1982 Lebanon War. Since that time it has evolved into a political party as well as a militia and undertakes an extensive social development agenda. Currently, Hezbollah holds 14 of 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament, seats it won in the 2005 general election.

The world reacted with horror to the ferocity of Israel’s response. Using the “shock and awe” technique of massive aerial and artillery bombardment that was supposed to pacify Iraq when the United States employed it at the beginning of the Iraq War, Israel targeted Lebanon’s infrastructure, destroying power plants, roadways, bridges and communications centers, inflicting hundreds of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, columns of Israeli tanks and soldiers rolled into southern Lebanon on an announced mission to destroy Hezbollah’s ability to launch missiles into Israel and create a buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel.

Using the most modern armaments available, supplied by the United States, Israel did indeed manage to devastate southern Lebanon—but it did not manage to stop the flow of Hezbollah rockets. Instead, the barrage increased to hundreds per day, driving terrified Israelis out of their homes and into bomb shelters.

Initially, a number of key Arab nations denounced Hezbollah’s raid, a position that may have affected the eventual outcome had the hostilities come to a quick end. But although the United Nations and world leaders begged the United States to implore Israel to stop the attacks, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were adamant that Israel “had a right to defend herself” and refused to seek any restriction on the Israeli incursion into Lebanon. President Bush, who seems to have no concept that throwing the gasoline of open warfare on the fires of the Middle East may not be the best route to long-term regional stability, declared that Israel’s battle with Hezbollah was really part of his Global War on Terror and, as such, ought to continue until Hezbollah was subdued or destroyed.

But as time rolled by and the deaths and atrocities mounted, not even the head-in-the-sand position of the Bush administration could stand against world pressure. Within weeks, Condoleezza Rice was sent back to the Middle East to reverse the U.S. position and seek a cease-fire. The U.N.-brokered truce, which took effect only on Monday of this week, is regarded, by all indications, as tenuous at best.

In the perhaps temporary cessation of open hostilities, President Bush has jumped to announce that Israel “won the war” and claim that the invasion advanced what he calls the U.S. freedom agenda. Now, despite massive international desire to turn down the heat, Bush is aiming his animosity and threats toward Iran once again, saying: “We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapons it seeks.”

President Bush can attempt to put a happy face on the outcome, but from most indications he is in the tiniest minority. As Israeli troops and tanks left southern Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed “a great victory” in the war. Indeed, the Israelis found Hezbollah’s resistance to be considerably tougher than expected. More-over, Nasrallah’s profile within the Arab world—and the larger world of Islam—has risen meteorically to hero status. It’s tough to understand how anyone could call this outcome a victory for our so-called freedom agenda.

But as political leaders argue about who won, a toxic oil slick resulting from the bombing of a power plant on the Lebanese coast is spreading throughout the Mediterranean, more than a million people have been displaced, and analysts say Lebanon has been set back 20 years by the destruction of its infrastructure. Meanwhile, Israel remains surrounded by enemies who, if anything, hate them more and fear them less now than they did before the invasion of Lebanon.

So who really won this war? As with most modern wars, it would appear that no one wins much for long—no matter your god, your politics or your ideology. What is becoming undeniably clear is that war is an outmoded tool for solving international conflicts. In any war these days, the planet and its people do nothing but lose.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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