Winning or losing?

Michael Totten guestblogging at Instapundit writes that
Brett Stephens, Ralph Peters, and National Review think Israel is losing the war in Lebanon. That also means Lebanon and its rising democracy, as opposed to Hezbollah, are losing the war.

Let's start with the National Review piece, which begins:
We may not be losing in the Middle East, but we certainly aren’t winning.

Leaving aside the semantics of whether this says what Michael says it says, the NR piece argues that time is not on Israel's side.
But the administration is under extreme pressure to join the rest of the world in dictating an end to the Israeli offensive. For a vivid illustration of this, look no farther than secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been showing the strain of getting knocked around by other foreign ministers for the last two weeks.

Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the underlying assumption - that, as in the past, Israel will be able to continue its offensive only until the political momentum builds to stop it - may be wrong in this case. As this blog reported this morning, there are indications that international anti-Israel sentiment isn't quite what it once was:
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers called on Tuesday for an immediate end to hostilities in Lebanon, watering down demands for an immediate ceasefire at the insistence of the United States' closest allies in the bloc.

A joint statement adopted at a rare August crisis meeting of the 25-nation EU said the ministers called for an immediate end to hostilities to be followed by a political agreement for a sustainable ceasefire, French Foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

The convoluted formula was agreed after four hours of talks as Israel intensified attacks on Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and vowed to step up ground operations, defying calls for a ceasefire.

An initial draft circulated to the ministers by the EU's Finnish presidency said flatly: "The Council called for an immediate ceasefire."

However, Britain, backed by Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark, insisted on the alternative wording and unanimity is required for EU foreign policy statements.

This clearly doesn't signal a worldwide outbreak of philo-Semitism, but it does suggest that the old rules may be due for modification this time around.

The NR piece goes on to point out that Bush's objective of a multinational force in southern Lebanon may prove unachievable, especially given that (as our friend Lebanon.Profile at LPJ has been reminding us) support for Hezbollah in Lebanon is on the upswing. NR goes on to speculate that "Israel might be forced to settle for another long war of attrition with Hezbollah."

Well, yes, a lot of things might happen:
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to "expanded ground operations in Lebanon," after an early morning vote by the Israel's security cabinet. Senior officers in the Israeli Defense Force have pushed for deploying Israeli troops as far north of the Litani River, but the Israeli government has been vague on this point. If the IDF pushes to the Litani River, this would be a shift in strategy from a week ago.

This post at CTB was linked on Seraphic Secret, which earlier cited the Bret Stephens piece.

Stephens declares:
Israel is losing this war.

This is not to say that it will lose the war, or that the war was unwinnable to start with. But if it keeps going as it is, Israel is headed for the greatest military humiliation in its history. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israelis were stunned by their early reversals against Egypt and Syria, yet they eked out a victory over these two powerfully armed, Soviet-backed adversaries in 20 days. The conflict with Hezbollah--a 15,000-man militia chiefly armed with World War II-era Katyusha rockets--is now in its 21st day. So far, Israel has nothing to show for its efforts: no enemy territory gained, no enemy leaders killed, no abatement in the missile barrage that has sent a million Israelis from their homes and workplaces.

I'm having trouble following the logic here. The enemy is still able to fire katyushas into Israel - that clearly means that Israel has not won yet. To me, this means that Israel needs to keep whacking away at Hezbollah until the terrorists are no longer able to fire so much as a bottle rocket. But there's something else that's bothering me here ... I just can't quite put my finger on it. Shall we read on?
On July 12, Israel sat behind an internationally recognized frontier, where it enjoyed a preponderance of military force. It had deterrence and legitimacy. Hezbollah's cross-border raid that day was widely condemned within Lebanon and among Arab leaders as heedless and provocative. Mr. Olmert's decision to respond with massive force enjoyed left-to-right political support. He also had a green light from the Bush administration, which has reasons of its own to want Hezbollah defanged and which assumed the Israelis were up to the job.

But it seems they are not up to the job. The war began with a string of intelligence failures ...

Wait! It's all coming back to me now. You know, I could swear I've heard this someplace before. But back to Stephens: he goes on to argue that Israel is mistakenly pursuing a strategy that "assumes that Israel can take its time against Hezbollah" and relies heavily on airpower. Again, I think recent events cast doubt on both of these assumptions.

Stephens' final point is Peters' main one: Qana. Here's Stephens: '... in Qana ... an Israeli air attack reportedly caused the deaths of at least 27 people, including 17 children.Yes, Hezbollah bears ultimate responsibility here for deliberately placing its military assets among civilians. Yet the death of those children should be counted as a crime if Israel's purposes in Lebanon are basically feckless.' And Peters: 'THE airstrike on the Lebanese village of Qana has been a tragedy for Israel. A publicity debacle, the deaths of 57 civilians united Israel's enemies, complicated American support - and may lead to a cease-fire that rewards Hezbollah. The Qana attack can't be excused. But it can be explained.' Peters' "explanation": 'All efforts to make war easy, cheap or bloodless fail. If Israel's government - or our own - goes to war, our leaders must accept the price of winning. You can't measure out military force by teaspoons. Such naive efforts led to the morass in Iraq - and to the corpses of Qana.'

What a lot of silliness. Did anyone doubt for a minute that Hezbollah, when grown desperate enough, would be willing to manufacture a well-timed Israeli "atrocity"? Heck, you can even gauge the timeframe when each article was written by looking at the casualty counts: Ralph Peters must have written his column earlier, before the casualty count was revised downward.

The deaths of innocent women and children in Qana are a great tragedy, and the people responsible need to be held to account. But it is much too soon to draw any sweeping conclusions about "the myth of antiseptic techno-war" and similar blather found in Peters' column.

The basic assumptions of these three columns are (1) that international pressure will force Israel to abandon its mission before meaningful success is achieved; (2) that Israel has committed itself to a primarily air-powered campaign against Hezbollah, crippling its own chances of success; and (3) the incident at Qana represents a propaganda coup for the enemy, for which Israel has only itself to blame and from which Israel cannot recover. My armchair analysis is that all three of these assumptions will be proven wrong.

One thing everybody agrees on is that the fight needs to be taken to Damascus and Tehran. And I think it will be - not because we are losing, but because we are winning.