So declared President Bush Monday during a speech at the State Department.

“Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis,” the president said at the State Department after a day of meetings with his top defense, diplomatic and national security advisers.

Whew! Let me tell you what a relief it is to hear that. I haven’t felt this secure since Bush informed us that major combat operations in Iraq had ended back in May, 2003. The only thing missing from the event this time was a showy banner with a catchy slogan. Guess in the midst of celebrating this great victory for Israel, Rove forgot to call the printer.

But wait a minute…it seems that Hezbollah, Israel’s partner in warfare this past month, has declared victory too. How can this be? What’s a neo-con to do? Surely there can’t be two winners in this thing?

But there can perhaps be two losers, and maybe more. For certainty, the civilian populations of both Lebanon and Israel have been losers in this contrived conflict. It is they who have suffered the most deaths, not their military or paramilitary counterparts. It is they who have to struggle through the bombed out cities as they try to go about daily life. It is they who will be burdened with the financial costs of warfare as their governments tax them to rebuild and rearm. Yes, the biggest losers in this whole macabre game of geopolitical chess are the civilians. But they are not the only losers.

Lebanon as a country striving towards their version of democracy has suffered a great set back. Even if they were only a shadow of what we consider democracy to be, they were a primarily peaceful and beautiful country that has been unfortunate to be in the hotseat between Israel and those who have chosen to seek that country’s demise. With a decimated infrastructure and a populace able to see clearly who holds the real reins of power, the elected government of Lebanon is likely to slide towards the doctrines and practices of less progressive (okay- downright regressive) Islamic theocracies who have helped keep Hazbollah afloat all these years. For those Lebanese who are not Muslim, the times ahead could be troubling at best. And for those Lebanese who are Muslim, but not theologically insane and murderous, being subjected to a harsh Islamic rule may not be all they ever dreamed of.

Israel loses too, as her previously presumed infallability on the battlefield bears the stain of hundreds or thousands of civilian deaths caused needlessly in an action that should have been relegated to stalwart law enforcement practices instead of the raining death of bombs. The bravado of Prime Minister Olmert at the beginning of the conflict, that he would cripple Hezbollah, has put a stark spin on the falsity of political rhetoric, leaving the beleagured Israeli population back where they started- surrounded by people who hate them and who now have more courage to strike.

America also goes down swinging in this latest effort to bring about a ‘rebirth in the Middle East.’ Although a thinly veiled sideline player in this conflict, the U.S. once again miscalculated the amount of prestige and power she now has in that region of the world. Strangely, even after all the failures in Iraq, President Bush still lives in a reality bubble, where all is grand in the White House Magic Mirror. And no matter what the evidence bears or the rest of the world thinks, the mirror still tells George he’s the fairest of them all. America’s loss in this affair is a continued downswing in her own credibility. But (thanks to this Bush Administration) your reputation is already near the floor, it’s harder to get much lower. So at least our loss isn’t as great as the others.

Iran, ostensibly the biggest backer of Hezbollah also gets a little dirt on her nose too, if only because the whole conflagration has caused an increase in blustery talk from the Bush regime. Whether or not Iran really wants to go head to head with the U.S., their role in supplying Hezbollah with military arms and finances only adds fuel to the fire that they are indeed part of an ‘Axis of Evil.’ As if in cahoots with King George the Dunce, every word and action from Amedinijad brings the possibility of armed conflict between the two nations more likely, if only because they are being led by two undersized bullies at the sandbox.

The simple truth is this- nations that attempt to fight terrorist groups with conventional warfare will not be victors, even as they destroy much of those terrorists’ means of fighting. The costs in civilian lives will always be too dear in a world where warfare isn’t the public’s first choice for solving problems. The costs in infrastructure and materiel is too great to bear over a long term. And the loss of those things will only ensure that more of the affected civilian populations will join forces, either ideologically or practically, with the terror groups. The terror groups seem to understand this, just as they understand that conventional western governments will almost always choose the path of war against them, given enough time and provocation.

Gee, the more I look at things, the more it seems that maybe Hezbollah did come out the winners this time. After all, they do get to keep their weapons. They aren’t releasing the Israeli soldiers. And they’re still around to fight another day. Oh, and they are getting a lot of publicity too. Maybe even becoming hero-like to similar groups in the region and the world. And all because of an act that was criminal murder and kidnapping. Funny thing is that if Israel simply put Mossad on the trail of the actual perpetrators, much of this could have been avoided, or at the very least, delayed.

And who know what that delay may have achieved? Perhaps the nation of Labanon would have slowly purged the militant mullahs from their midst. Perhaps Hezbollah would have eventually become only a political band instead of the political-military apparatus it is now. Perhaps instead of another failed state in the Middle East, we would have realized an ally on the way to a more free and open system of government. But it seems we may never know now, and all because our President has advanced the use of war asa surrogate for diplomacy.

Hezbollah defeated? If that’s what defeat looks like, I’m sure glad they didn’t win.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)