"War wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing . . . in war there are no winners, but all are losers." So said Neville Chamberlain on the eve of the war he had sought desperately to avoid, but which his own blunders would bring about.
Chamberlain was mistaken. War ended Nazi Germany, though the cost was high: the Holocaust, the collapse of the British Empire, the Stalinization of 11 nations of Eastern Europe, 50 million dead and half a century of Cold War.
As this is written, Condi Rice has arrived in the Middle East, and the two-week Israeli-Hezbollah war, an artillery exchange by World War II standards, seems to be winding down. While final returns are a ways off, the first returns find few winners, except perhaps for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.
Nasrallah ignited the war in the north with the tunnel attack on the border outpost that resulted in eight dead Israeli soldiers and two captured. He evaded a bunker-buster attack in south Beirut; he still holds his two captured Israelis; and Hezbollah has withstood two weeks of bombing and shelling by Israel, and fired back more than a thousand Katyushas into Israel and longer-range rockets into Haifa.
While Iran's Ahmadinejad talks the talk about wiping Israel off the map, Nasrallah walks the walk. Among Arabs and Muslims for whom Israel is the great hate object, Nasrallah surely stands as tall today as any leader since Egypt's Nasser. Had the Israelis killed him in that recent air strike, Israel might today claim a victory in the war.
But it is hard to see what Israel has won. The shock-and-awe devastation of Lebanon -- smashed runways, power plants, roads, bridges, apartments, oil refineries, gasoline stations and buses -- may have awed Israel's enemies, but it shocked her friends. It is a puzzle why Israel, provoked by Hezbollah, attacked a democratic Lebanon whose government had not committed the act of aggression but had, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, condemned it.
And the war has exposed a deep wariness on the part of Israel to send her army back into Lebanon to fight Hezbollah, whose cross-border raid was a challenge to the Israelis to "come and get us."
Lebanon is the great loser. Tens of thousands of Westerners who had helped bring Lebanon back from the ruins of the 1970s and 1980s have fled. The Cedar Revolution that produced a democracy has been destroyed. With the death toll mounting, thousands wounded, and between 600,000 and 750,000 homeless or refugees, Lebanon has been set back 20 years.
There exists a danger that unless aid is gotten into Lebanon and the refugees are permitted to return to their homes, instead of being the showcase of Bush's democracy project in the Arab world, Lebanon could become another failed state.
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