Was it Tacitus who said, "Defeat is an orphan while victory has a thousand fathers"? Whoever said it, the dictum now applies to the latest war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasted of a tactical victory, a day after the United Nations Security Council ordered a ceasefire. President George W Bush has also claimed another victory in his own global war against terrorism, without telling us how or why this was the case.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah went further by claiming "a strategic victory" which, taken literally, means that his movement is now in a position to crush not only Israel but also "Global Arrogance", i.e. the United States, in the near future.
A "strategic victory" comes when the initiative passes irrevocably into the hands of one side and against the other. Churchill spoke of "strategic victory" after Allied forces had landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944. Truman spoke of "strategic victory" after US planes had dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
By those standards, it is hard to see the basis for Nasrallah's claim.
Claims of victory have also been made on behalf of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic and President Bashar al- Assad of Syria.
In Tehran, the foreign ministry spokesman asserted that Israel had suffered "total defeat", implying that Ahmadinejad's promise of "wiping the Jewish stain of shame off the map" was soon to be realised.
Some Western commentators have echoed that claim, pointing to what they see as an Iranian success against the United States in a proxy war. They believe that Tehran is now in a stronger position to face the diplomatic coalition led by the US on the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Also in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali- Akbar Mohtashami, the man who created the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, claimed "victory", presumably for his own genius in setting up the
There have been even more bizarre claims of victory.
Political allies of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora see the way the war ended as a victory for his government. None, however, takes the trouble of spelling out in what way this might be the case.
We have also had claims of victory on behalf of the United Nations, the rubber stamp used to bestow an appearance of legitimacy on the most hypocritical of compromises.
Beyond officialdom, debate about "who won" has raged in the Arab world and Israel, not to mention the Western media.
Some Arab writers have continued a long tradition of self-deception that represents every defeat as victory. Others, a new breed, have manifested acute symptoms of self-loathing. Like anti-American Americans who see every evil under the sun as a result of US machination, these anti-Arab Arabs are always ready to think the worst of their people and deny the Arabs any credit whatsoever. A similar situation can be observed in Israel where Jewish self-loathing seems to have a growing constituency.
The Western media have been divided across traditional party lines. Anti-American newspapers have hailed Hezbollah's victory while supporters of the Anglo-Saxon alliance have tried to portray Israel as the victor.
One British newspaper speaks of "a convincing victory" for Hezbollah while another claims that Israel "won by achieving most of its objectives."
When all is said and done, however, such claims and counter-claims are irrelevant. The reason that the protagonists know in the heart of their hearts, what the real situation is. Even those who are delusional genetically know, deep down, whether they have won or lost.
So, what is the ordinary citizen to think of all those claims and counter claims?
The first point that merits consideration is that the world today seldom allows war to do its job to the full.
War occurs when two or more adversaries realise that there are no other means of resolving a political conflict. The task of war is to help the adversaries discover each other's threshold of pain. Once one adversary is pushed to that threshold he would surrender, allowing the war to end with a clear winner and a clear loser.
Nowadays, however, war is not allowed to continue until that threshold of pain is discovered. In most cases, the so-called "international community", symbolised by the UN, intervenes to stop war before it has done its job. As a result, in the past five or six decades, the world has become full of inconclusive wars each of which has bred an even bigger conflict. The mini-war fought between Israel and Hezbollah is no exception.
It was the continuation of their earlier war in 1996, only on a grander scale. The "international community" did not allow the 1996 war to do its job to the full and come up with
a winner and a loser. The result was this latest war. This is exactly what has happened again, this time with the new UN-sponsored ceasefire. Because neither side was pushed to his threshold of pain, there is no winner and no loser. And, this is a recipe for a bigger war sooner or later.
Let us consider some questions?
Was Israel hurt enough to think of surrendering or at least to change its overall policy in the Middle East?
What about the United States? Has Bush been hurt enough to abandon his
"Greater Middle East" plans or, at least, stop pushing Iran's back to the wall on the nuclear issue?
Has the Islamic Republic been hurt enough to realise that it cannot challenge the American script for the Middle East through proxy wars?
Has Hezbollah been hurt enough to understand that it cannot offer the Lebanese Shi'ites long-term leadership by dragging them into what is essentially a duel between an aggressive US administration and a defiant Iranian leadership?
The answer to all the above questions is: no.
Israel could have continued to fight for many more months, if not years without its people thinking of running away from the Middle East. Also, Israel has the firepower to blast the whole of Lebanon out of existence had the war pushed it closer to its ultimate threshold of pain.
The US, too, was nowhere close reaching its threshold of pain, even in purely political terms.
Hezbollah could have continued to fight for many more months. Nasrallah's private army was firing an average of 80 missiles at Israel. At that rate, Hezbollah could have continued the missile attacks for at least six months before it ran of supplies. Even then its losses could have been easily made good with fresh supplies from Iran, enabling it, theoretically, to continue attacking Israeli civilian targets forever.
As for Iran, financing and arming Hezbollah represents a very small investment in a big confrontation. The Islamic Republic could keep Hezbollah, and many militias like it, alive for years.
While we cannot be certain who won in this mini-war we can be certain that none of the protagonists were pushed anywhere close to their respective thresholds of pain.
That, however, is not the case with the people of Lebanon who will have to pay the price of the conflicting claims of victory made by the various protagonists. They did come close to their threshold of pain and were clearly not prepared to see the war continue much longer.
That may well be the only good news to come out of this tragedy. Those who wish to plunge Lebanon in another war for whatever reason may have to think twice before they pull the trigger.