On the night before the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President Obama delivered a prime-time press conference to discuss the new war in Iraq, which is really the old war, as it never actually ended. It dropped from the headlines here in the US a few years ago, except for an occasional heinous act that got brief ink - a marketplace massacre that killed 150, or a mosque bombing that killed 80 would get some ink and then fade - but people have been dying in Iraq every single day since we stuck our booted toe into their sand eighteen months after the Towers came down.
And so, here we go again/again/again. The president made it abundantly clear that there would be "no boots on the ground" in Iraq, or in Syria, the next theater of this war that has been ongoing to one degree or another for twenty-four years...but here's a pro tip: "smart" bombs are not smart. They require troops on the ground to lase the intended targets, so the guidance systems on the bombs can find them. President Obama himself said on Wednesday night that some 150 airstrikes had been carried out against ISIS, ISIL or IS, whatever you want to call them. One assumes the US Special Forces troops hiding in a bush with the laser guidance apparatus wore boots while they augured the munitions in.
A few minutes into his press conference, President Obama stressed the need for US action in Iraq and Syria, but followed that imperative with, "We cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves," implying that sooner or later, Iraq must take responsibility for what the United States did to it, and clean up our mess for us. It was a startling echo of the words from another president, Lyndon Johnson, who said in 1964, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."
Not much has changed in 50 years. Two presidents, each with an inherited war, and events spiraling beyond control. We're working with our ally, Vietnam/Iraq, so they can take matters into their own hands, right? The war in Vietnam lasted some 25 years. The wars in Iraq have spanned almost exactly that same amount of time, and promise to go on and on. Nearly 50 years of warfare, for which a few people neither you nor I will ever meet get handsomely paid, and the blood runs into the mud, until we do it all over again.
But what do I know? Maybe airstrikes alone will work for the first time in recorded history to defeat a foe. Maybe the allies we've cobbled together - which the president, by the bye, was very careful not to name on Wednesday night - will actually hold together and rout ISISISILIS on the ground. After all, the enemy only has a huge stockpile of US-made weapons, made available to them by the Iraqi army you and I paid several billions of tax dollars to train and equip, weapons they abandoned when the first rounds were fired against them. Pretty awesome return on our investment, yeah? There was a joke about ARVN weapons during Vietnam: "Never been fired and only dropped once."
Like I said, not much has changed in 50 years.
So maybe I'm wrong, and the Wednesday night words of the president will prove prescient, and everything will work out fine...except, by my calculations, every time we drop bombs on a problem that was caused by us dropping bombs, we wind up dropping more bombs to try and solve it, and nothing ever gets fixed, but some people get paid, so the impetus to drop more bombs on the bombs we already dropped increases by order of magnitude, especially when we get the ratings-happy "news" media involved in the show.
There is some controversy over who actually said this, but the line is generally attributed to Albert Einstein. "The definition of insanity," goes the quote, "is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result." Whoever actually said it should be awarded the Nobel Prize, just like the president.
It has been thirteen years since the attacks of September 11, and this nation has spent every one of the 4,745 days between that morning and today in the grips of a media and politics and money-driven high panic. Millions upon millions have been killed, maimed, displaced or bankrupted in the process. ISISISILIS are bad guys, and no mistake, but there are a pile of nations on this planet besides us with standing armies, many of them with a far more vested personal interest in eradicating these lunatics than us. Their militaries are not exhausted like ours is.
"Our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden," said President Obama on Wednesday night, "but as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead."
Who is this "we," sir? You got a mouse in your pocket? I can only imagine the comforts that come with living in the White House, but for an enormous swath of the country you lead, the "blessings" you speak of turned to ashes in our mouths a long time ago. The money we are going to spend bombing the problems we caused by bombing the problems we bombed can be better spent creating jobs, repairing infrastructure, and educating our children to know better when a politician comes calling with platitudes about the excellence of the United States before announcing his intention to blow more stuff up.
We were excellent, I suppose. We certainly can be. It has been twenty-four years of this, with the twenty-five years of Vietnam still receding in the rear-view. Imagine if we had those 50 years back, and then imagine what we could do with 50 years unencumbered by profiteering warfare.
Maybe I'm wrong. Enjoy your new war, which is the old war. I'm sure it will all work out just fine.