Fiddling around while the Mideast is ready to burn

Mike Royko

October 01, 1990|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

YOU KNOW WHAT'S great about Americans?" asked Slats Grobnik. "We're so cool, that's what."

What prompts that proud observation?

"Well, just listen to what people are talking about."

Such as?

"They're talking about who's winning the football games, the baseball games, what they saw on TV, how was their vacation, how their cars are running, how the job's going, what the weather's like, how much sump'n costs. Yeah, that's really cool."

But those are normal, everyday topics of conversations. Why does it strike you as being noteworthy?

"Because if you listen to people, you wouldn't have a hint that we're gettin' closer and closer to a real war. And it looks like there's no way we can avoid it, and a lot of people are going to get killed. But do you hear people talking about that? Nah. We sort of say, 'Hey, what me worry?'"

Oh, I'm sure people are concerned.

"Who? Ted Koppel?"

Most people. They're aware of the growing tensions in the Middle East.

"Yeah? But are they really aware? Or do they think this is just another made-for-TV crisis where we put up some yellow ribbons for hostages, then the whole thing kind of fades away? You think people really know that when this thing gets going there's probably going to be thousands of American troops getting killed? Not hunnerts, but thousands. And that this could be the biggest land war since Korea?"

Well, there is still the possibility that it could be averted.


Saddam Hussein could withdraw from Kuwait as we're demanding.

"He won't do that because then he'll look like a loser and all the other Arabs will laugh at him and then he won't go down in Arab history as big heat."

Then maybe our blockade will be effective. Deprived of food and other necessities, he'll have to be reasonable.

"That sounds good, except they can grow enough food to scrape by for a long time. And there's ways stuff can be smuggled in to them. You know how long the blockade would have to last? Some of the GIs over there would have gray hair."

Then we might have to negotiate a settlement that is satisfactory both sides.

"Like what? President Bush says we won't settle for anything except getting Kuwait back. And Hussein says he ain't never giving it back."

Maybe Bush will change his mind.

"No way. Remember when people said Bush was a wimp? Professor George Will even called him a lap dog. Now he's acting like a tough guy and you can tell that he likes it. But if he pulls out, Hussein wins. Or if he just lets the troops sit there for the next year or two or three, Hussein still wins. So people are going to start saying Bush is a wimp again. And he's like every other president, worrying about what the history books will say about him. I don't know why presidents worry about that. More people read the National Enquirer than history books."

Assuming you're right, that conflict is inevitable, then maybe we can end it quickly with those quick, surgical air strikes the experts talk about.

"Bull. You don't win wars with any air strikes that are quick and surgical. This ain't like taking out tonsils, you know."

But we have air superiority.

"Yeah, we had all kinds of air superiority in Vietnam. We had air superiority in Korea. And before we landed at Normandy, we had air superiority over Europe. But where were those wars fought? Right down on the ground. Because that's where you fight wars. So forget about surgical air strikes. When this one gets going, it'll be down and dirty. The only time air superiority ended a war was when we nuked Japan."

Well, there are those who say we should consider . . .

"We should consider what? Nuking Iraq?"

I've heard readers say it.

"Then refer 'em to a shrink. We nuke Iraq and every Moslem in the world is crazy mad at us. And the rest of the world will say we're creeps. And Bush goes down in history in the same chapter as Attila or Dracula. Yeah, we'd look good. I can read it now: 'The United States, to preserve stability in the Middle East and protect its national interests, nuked Iraq, killing a few million innocent men, women and children.' Hooray for our side."

You sound alarmingly pessimistic. You seem to think there can't be a negotiated settlement, that war is inevitable and that it will be a terribly costly conflict with great loss of life.

"Yeah, great loss of life. That's what usually happens when two big armies come at each other with their bombs, missiles, tanks and bullets. With all these wonderful computers and high-tech gizmos, some old-fashioned things never change. Like when a bullet smacks you in the head, you die. When a bomb lands on you, there's nothing left but bits and pieces."

You paint a very bleak picture.

"Hey, don't worry. Be cool like everybody else. Just say: Hey, the president knows what he's doing or he wouldn't be president. And let's all call the local talk show guy on the radio so we can fax a cheery message to the boys over there. And, remember, if all hell breaks loose, this country has got a big supply of yellow ribbons. Besides, the timing looks good."

What timing?

L "The experts say the shooting won't start for a few months."

Why is that good?

"It won't screw up the playoffs, the World Series or the Super Bowl."

That's a relief.

"See? You're learning to be cool."

Or stupid.

"Either way, it works."

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