War? - what is it good for?

That anyone born after 1900 believes that war can be used as a tool to achieve desirable ends is something I'm often amazed by. Yet war is more popular than ever. As the Israelis demonstrated after the ceasefire in Lebanon, air strikes are like potato chips: you always think that just one more will do.

The latest rumpus got started when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. Incidentally, eight more Israelis were killed in the same raid, and it says something about the Middle East that no one considered that fact important or, in the case of many media outlets, even worth mentioning. So Israel went to war to crush Hezbollah and get the two soldiers back.

The result? Hezbollah has become a major player in the Islamic world, emerging from the conflict far stronger than it was before. And the captured soldiers are still in its custody. This is about par for the course when it comes to war, which has never accomplished the aims of those who get involved in it.

Let's review the past century. The Allied aims in the First World War were to check German imperialism and make self-determination possible for all of Europe's peoples. Oops. Twenty years later, they gave it another try and did, indeed, stop German expansion, as well as give Japan the first taste of nuclear war, but the Allied war aim of self-determination for all the world's peoples was lost behind the Iron Curtain and in wars of decolonization. So much for the Last Good War.

In the 1950s, Britain, France, and Israel tried to wrest control of the Suez Canal from Egypt. Total failure. In the 1960s, the U.S. tried to bring the wonders of western civilization to Vietnam. The only result was millions dead. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union tried to bring the wonders of western civilization to Afghanistan. No dice.

In that last war, the U.S. backed the Afghan insurgents and helped pay the way for volunteers from other Islamic countries who wanted to fight the Russians. They taught eager young Iraqis, Iranians, and Saudis (including a fellow named Osama bin Laden) how to organize guerrilla cells and make bombs. The U.S. hoped its trainees would help rid the world of communism. Eventually, they rid the world of the World Trade Center.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in order to make that country a province of Iraq. No one had to reprint any maps. In 1991, the U.S. went to war with Iraq in order to make Saddam Hussein stop being a bad boy. It didn't work. Now the U.S. has invaded Iraq to turn it into a peaceful democracy. The only person on Earth who thinks the invasion of Iraq was a success is U.S. president George Bush, and I think when he looks in a mirror his reflection disagrees with him.

The other war aim of the U.S. was to provide an example of peaceful democracy that would spread through the Middle East and end the strife that has plagued the area. Five years ago, the Middle East was as close to peace as it had ever been. As of this past month, there were at least three active insurgencies (if you include Saudi Arabia, where bombings and firefights still erupt now and then) and one full-scale war. Not what you would call a good job.

War never gets the results you want. North and South Korea have not been reunited. Serbia does not retain control of the territories of the former Yugoslavia. Argentina has not taken over the Malvinas, which Britain can still call the Falklands. Chechnya has not given up thoughts of independence. Kashmir continues to be divided between India and Pakistan.

There is one, and only one, certainty about the results of war. There will be lots of dead young men, and usually lots of dead babies, too.

There is absolutely nothing else you can count on, but you can always count on that.

The conflict in Lebanon illustrates the bankruptcy of the Israeli strategy of continuous warfare with the Arab world. Israel has long hoped that if it wins enough battles, blows up enough buildings, assassinates enough leaders, and generally sprays enough bullets and bombs around, the Arabs will leave it alone. Instead, its enemies get angrier and angrier, and Israel's security is in ever deeper jeopardy.

I find it hard to understand war's continuing and growing popularity, considering the hundreds of times it has been tried without ever working. And I would have thought that, given their long experience with it, the Israelis would be less apt to give it one more attempt. What they should do instead is hope that Hezbollah someday goes to war to achieve its aims.