If at First You Don’t Fail, Try, Try Again

First, he said it wouldn’t be easy to fix. Then it will take “a long time.” At the UN this week, it became “ten years.”

I don’t share the President’s optimism.

At the risk of being called a defeatist, or realist, I have been suggesting in my debut as a couch war correspondent, this war against ISIS and/or ISIL, is not a piece of cake. I am no military expert, but based on history, IMO it will not take a decade, but a generation, or an eon, whichever is longer.

As we know, Sunni and Shia have been fighting each other for over 1,400 years. These people are serious dudes, sore losers and sore winners. They don’t do armistices, peace conferences or commissions investigating root causes of differences of opinion. It’s just my way—or the highway, laced with IED's.

So it’s not going to be as swift as ending Gulf War I and Gulf War II.

The optimist in me says it could be a quickie, like the Peloponnesian War. That one— between Athens and its empire versus The Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta—lasted only 35 years (431-404 BC). If we are lucky.

What we are seeing in action in this the third week of Gulf War III is the Escalation Principle. The way the old diplomatic trick works: you get the people in at the bottom and they can’t get off the moving staircase until the end, wherever it might be.

The President said “no boots on the ground.” Following the escalator principle, already we have gone from the mere original 450 pairs of boots the President promised to Defense Secretary Hegel this week deploying 1st Infantry Division troops, upping the boots number to almost 1,400 pairs, presumably a down payment on the 5,000 boot pairs already mentioned for training purpose in Syria. It’s only a small leap forward to the 600,000, who made Kuwait safe for democracy in Gulf War I.

What gave us the idea, one might ask, that dropping a billion dollars of bombs on The Levant would make democracy a more popular option in the rats nest of geopolitics and religious fanaticism called the Arabian Peninsula any more than supporting any autocratic state that would take our money?

You may have heard, Mister President, of what happened in Vietnam when every night our B-52’s were dropping their payloads on the gooks on their bicycles in the jungle.

But who am I to lecture you?

I realize some of my readers must be shocked by my singular lack of patriot fervor for our stepping up as middleman between these two peoples pledged to kill each other until the end of time, or whatever lasts longer.

I seem to recall our president’s election promise to keep us out of the area. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize, if I’m not mistaken

Of course, he wasn’t the only president to make promises that weren’t met. The revered Woodrow Wilson, for example, campaigned in 1916 on a promise to keep our boys out of the conflict in Europe, aka World War I.

Even FDR was reluctant to go to bat in World War II, despite the righteousness of the cause. As a Roosevelt scholar reminds me, Secretary of State Stimson said to Roosevelt back in 1941, and I paraphrase, “You’ve got to let the arms makers make a profit.”

Not that there is anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might put it. The war worked then to cure the depression and it might work again.

In the Peloponnesian Wars, however, the fighting between Athens and Sparta caused poverty all over Greece. And I worry about Gulf War III.

In miracles of accounting science, our budget balancing Republican freaks never seem to count the Gulf Wars trillions in the deficit. We only see red ink when it comes to social issues, like unemployment benefits to those lazy layabaout welfare cheats living on the dole, or health coverage.

And I may be just a worrywart this time around. As the old crack duck shooter, Dick Cheney, assured us in 2003, “we could always get the Iraqis to pay for the whole thing.” It’s time for Mister Republican to step up to the plate, retroactively.

IMHO, a coalition of the unwilling—the oil companies whose ass we are saving in all the Gulf wars —should be billed for them in their entirety since they are principle beneficiaries of this kind of corporate welfare. It would be an expense account item on their bloated balance sheets.

Not that we don’t have a tradition of Uncle Sam sending in the Marines and other boots on the ground in Nicaragua and other Banana Republics when corporate interests were threatened by nationalistic revolutions. Ask not what United Fruit can do for your country, but what your country can do for United Fruit was our slogan back in the Roaring Twenties.

All of this is ancient history, Mister President. It would assure me, and I’m sure all loyal Americans, if you can tell us this: what’s the plan?

Will this intervention work? Or will it make things even worse? Yes… No… Maybe… Don’t Know… (Choose one)

It’s probably a military secret, but it would make some of us feel a lot better if you’d just give us a hint.


Marvin Kitman
Sept. 26, 2014

Marvin Kitman was the media critic at Newsday. His column, “The Marvin Kitman Show,” began on Dec. 7, 1969, a day that still lives in infamy, according to network executives. On April 1, 2005, he stepped down from his position of power. As he explained, “Newsday gave me a tryout, and after 35 years we decided it wasn’t working out.” He is the author of nine books.