Posted on August 21, 2006 in Washington Watch

The war on Lebanon is over, but only in a manner of speaking. It was an unnecessary war that left in its wake death, destruction and unresolved issues all around.

Listening to the overblown rhetoric emanating from all sides, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. From Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s preposterous claim of “unprecedented” accomplishments, to one Arab commentator’s horrific pronouncement that “today is a day for celebration and unprecedented joy,” it is all so indecent.

Olmert and his Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, will, it appears, have their day of reckoning. How fickle the public mood! These two inexperienced leaders had seen their approval ratings soar as they battered and strangled a captive Gaza Strip. But 35 days of Lebanon and they plummet back to Earth.

With Israel’s left and right opposition challenging the government’s performance in Lebanon, the debate that should have occurred before the war will now take place. Where both sides agree is that this conflict resulted in defeat for Israel. And it did. If the aim of the assault was the dismantling of Hizbollah and change in Lebanon forced by Israel’s hand, this did not occur. What this war did produce in much of Lebanon is intensified hatred for Israel (and, one might add, the United States) and a strengthened challenge from Hizbollah to the country’s political system. In Israel itself, there is only the enhanced insecurity that comes from the awareness that nothing has changed for the better–the Palestinian issue is still unresolved and Hizbollah has not gone away.

There are calls in Israel for a Commission of Inquiry to assess what went wrong. Regardless of the outcome of such an effort, one thing is clear: the grand designs of Kadima have come to a bitter end.

One can say that Nasrallah and his movement held their own on the battlefield, but the cost was so great that only those driven mad by anger or despair, or those who are dimwitted ideologues could find cause to celebrate.

I know that there are some in the Arab world who reject describing Hizbollah’s “operation ” as a reckless adventure and who object to the call for an end to the group’s “state within a state” status. But any clearheaded assessment of Lebanon’s needs and its future must conclude that the time has come for change.

Lebanon has no reason to celebrate, not while its dead remain uncounted and its infrastructure is in ruins. Lebanon must rebuild politically and physically and it, too, must have its day of reckoning. The country needs an internal dialogue and a strengthened and unified central government, now more than ever.

Maybe the most outrageous rhetoric of all has come from President George W. Bush who inexplicably termed this war “a pivotal moment in history.” Ever the political “spinner” in the face of defiant facts, the President acts like a man who believes that his words create reality. Tragically, however, he may be right this time, but not in the way he intended. This war may be the “icing on the cake” for the mess he has made of much of the Middle East. Buried under the rubble of Beirut’s southern suburbs alongside the bodies of innocent Lebanese are Bush’s visions for a “new Middle East” and his post 9-11 public diplomacy project to improve the US image throughout the Muslim world. Clearly the US also needs its day of reckoning.

I said from the beginning of hostilities that, “no good would come from this war,” and it has not. I also noted that with pathologies on all sides, restraint and a clear vision forward were required. Tragically, they were not forthcoming. The result in death and anger and insecurity are everywhere apparent. It was not a “pivotal moment.” There were no “unprecedented accomplishments.” And there are no reasons to celebrate.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

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