Since the beginning of recorded history there have been lots of wars and none has ever totally achieved its stated goal. There have been civil wars, extortionate wars, war of attrition, religious wars, colonial and liberation wars, proxy wars, Cold War, and dynastic wars. Either way one looks at it, wars are generally deemed lose-lose situations. And because wars are unpredictable, there are rarely winners since both sides suffer mental and physical harm. And no one who has ever been to a war or witnessed wars would ever wish for another war, save for a mad man. Sadly and unfortunately, the world is full of mad men, rogue regimes and leaders possessed by hubris with a willingness to send young men and women to their early death.
Wars are atrocious. From Cicero to St. Thomas Aquinas, and from Hugo Grotius to Immanuel Kant, Timothy Jackson, Sari Nusseibeh and George Weigel, scholars up and down the ages have written about wars — especially “just wars.” St Augustine for instance justified war if (1) one was defending against unprovoked external aggression; (2) recapturing things taken, i.e. territory; and (3) punishing those who committed egregious harm, i.e. genocide. In recent years the United States Catholic Conference averred that “force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations.”
By executive order, government fiat or a declaration by Congress, war can begin. In other words, it is easy to start a war; but, putting a stop to war is very difficult because of the ensuing enmity, negotiations, jostling and hustling of positions and boundaries. And even when there is cessation of hostility, provisions has to be made for lasting peace (peacekeeping) between the warring parties. Also, individual nations have to care for the wounded in addition to paying compensation to the families of the deceased. It should also be noted that rebuilding the infrastructures can sometimes task a nation’s economy. And in fact, ten to fifteen years after cessation of hostilities, most African nations have yet to recover from the ravages of war. Angola and Mozambique are cases in point. And indeed, some believe that Nigeria is yet to recover from the 1967-70 civil war.
As destructive as wars are, they are also unpredictable. For instance, no nation that started a major war, either in the twentieth or twenty-fist century, has ever emerged victorious. Germany and Austria-Hungary that started World War I went down in defeat; Saddam Hussein lost during the first Gulf War, and the United States is no where near victory in the ongoing war; Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen were the losers for starting the Balkans war in the 1980s; and the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war which lasted almost five weeks has turned out to be a draw. What did Israel gain? Instead of swapping two prisoners, they have now lost face, lost about fifty soldiers and dozens of civilians in addition to incurring loss of revenue and damaged infrastructures. How wise is that?
They expected to deliver a knockout blow to the jugular vein of the Hezbollah. That didn’t happen. In the end, Israel would still have to engage in prisoners’ exchange. As a result of the unintended consequence of the war, Hezbollah and its leaders are about to ride into town on a horse back — seen as heroes within and outside of the Middle East. But is this the end of the skirmish? I doubt it! Not as long as the root cause of the war remains unsolved. Somehow, I also doubt if Israel would allow Hassan Nasrallah to “go and come at will.” Even so, the universal lesson here is this: unless you attend to the root causes of a problem, no amount of cosmetic surgery would do. That is to say that even if Nasrallah was/is eliminated, Hezbollah and HAMAS and the underlining problems would not go away.
Although it is too early to tell, most analysts are likely to declare the Israeli-Hezbollah skirmish a draw: no victor no vanquished. And here is why: (1) The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert gravely underestimated the tenacity, the might and intelligence of Hezbollah and its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah; (2) the Israeli government did not consider or anticipate the ensuing global outcry to the war, and also assumed that the Israeli public would give the government a carte blanche approval to go to war; (3) Olmert wanted to prove to himself and to the Israeli public that he has what it took to be an Ariel Sharon, and like Sharon, he could squash Hezbollah. Unfortunately, he forgot two things: he is not Sharon; and Sharon failed in his attempt to asphyxiate and then decapitate Hezbollah.
And finally, Olmert blindly followed the advice of President Bush (with the hope that, somehow, Iran and Syria could be lured into the fight). If Iran had taken the bait, Tehran would have been leveled; and Damascus made to beg for her life. Bush was willing to just “slap and forgive” Syria; but not so with Iran. Nothing short of an overkill of Iran would have satisfied Bush. But somehow, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran) and President Bashar al-Asad (Syria) wised up to the calculation and “stayed away.”
Did Hezbollah and her backers think Israel was going to engage in an all out attack when they kidnapped the two or three Israeli soldiers? I doubt it! In all probability they thought Israel was going to look the other way and may be agree to prisoners’ exchange. After all, Ehud Olmert is not Ariel Sharon; and so they mistook him for a “softie.” This was a blunder on the part of Hassan Nasrallah: a misreading of his adversary’s character. For that reason Lebanon has lost millions of dollars in tourist revenue, incurred damages to bridges, homes and other infrastructures. But more than that, hundreds lost their lives and thousands more became refugees in their own country. A whole lot of people would be angry at Hezbollah for bringing their “house down.” Now and for the next three or more years, they have to rebuild a country that was just coming of a protracted civil war.
There are lessons for all parties to learn here. And in fact, some of these lessons may not be apparent for two or more years. In the end though, the Israeli government must rethink its hastiness to go to war. Looking at the larger picture however, one thing is clear: the State of Israel must grant statehood to the Palestinians in order to put a stop to these circle of war-peace-war-peace. What is needed is a permanent peace. And this can only come about if Tel Aviv recognizes the right of the Palestinians to self government. After all these years, I still do not understand why Israel would want to keep lording over their neighbor. It simply doesn’t make sense.