Monday, August 28, 2006

Who Won? Redux

A couple of weeks ago I opined here that the real winner in the Israel-Hezbollah war was Hezbollah. Iranian born author Amir Taheri disagrees. He asserts here that Hezbollah was hurt far more seriously than they have been letting on.

Taheri says, “Hezbollah may have won the information war in the West. In Lebanon, the Middle East and the broader Muslim space, however, the picture is rather different.” Taheri discusses Hezbollah’s post-war tactics in Lebanon to buy endearment to its cause from the Lebanese people. It was an attempt to prove “that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth it.”

Taheri contends that the Lebanese aren’t buying it, and neither are Muslims throughout the Middle East. He says that a burgeoning middle class in Lebanon has moved public sentiment more toward optimism and away from martyrdom over the past 30 years. Many Lebanese are quite upset about being played as pawns in Iran’s grand scheme via one man’s autocratic control of a political party with foreign-supplied weaponry.

That one man, Hassan Nasrallah, who will likely have to spend the rest of his life in hiding, now contritely admits here that his provocation of Israel was a mistake. Oh, he still pounds his chest and tries to repeat the mantras of victory, but the people he’s trying to impress aren’t buying it. Hezbollah pulled out all the stops and threw everything it could muster into the battle only to have its host country devastated, its military capabilities drastically reduced, and its credibility crushed.

Perhaps Musims in the Middle East aren’t quite as easily manipulated as conventional wisdom in the West dictates. Taheri quotes Egyptian columnist Ali al-Ibrahim, who writes, “Hezbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States. But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory.” It says something when even Egyptian journalists can see the bias in the West’s MSM.

Israel, on the other hand, is undergoing its own post-war anxiety. Although Israel crippled its enemy, Israel’s failure to quickly and decisively win the war was a de facto defeat. As the country struggles to figure out how it should deal with threats to its very existence, the political battle looking in the rearview mirror at the war is resulting in its own set of casualties. It may take some time for this process to work itself out.

So from the current vantage point it appears that there were lots of losers in the 2006 summer war: Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Israel, to be sure. Iran? Syria? That’s difficult to say at this point. Their neighbors now regard them with far more suspicion than before the war, and perhaps that is what is desired. It seems obvious that Iran at least views this little skirmish as just a data point in a larger strategy.

Wars are a messy and unfortunate business. It sometimes takes months or years to really understand the outcome of a war. It took quite a while after Corwallis’ defeat at Yorktown before anyone realized that the Revolutionary War was over. It took Britain six months to acquiesce, and British forces did not relinquish all of their holds until more than two years after the rebel victory at Yorktown. Even then the British continued to bully the fledgling United States for years. Those actions indirectly led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and also led directly to the War of 1812. So, one might even argue that the Revolutionary War really wasn’t complete until the conditions prescribed by the 1814 Treaty of Ghent were implemented in 1815.

Likewise, our current vantage point may be too close to provide adequate perspective on the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. But one thing seems certain: it’s much easier to see the bad in it than to extract any good from it.

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