YOU KNOW, those old-timers really knew what wars were about," said Slats Grobnik.
What old-timers do you have in mind?
"Guys like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon. They knew what winning meant."
"Looting and plundering and putting your flag in the ground and saying: 'OK, this is now my turf.' Like Napoleon. He'd take over a country and make one of his relatives king. Made it a family business."
What brings in these reminiscences?
"The way we do it. We used to be pretty good at it. When we kicked around the Indians and the English and the Spanish and the Mexicans, we had something to show for it. We took land, turned a profit. But now I'm not sure what we're in it for. You see what's happening in Panama?"
You mean the flow of drugs?
"Yeah. We go down there and have a war. Sure, it wasn't a big deal of a war, unless you were one of the people who got killed, in which case it was probably the biggest deal of your life. But no matter how you cut it, it was a war because we had soldiers in there shooting. So now what?"
Now we have the hated Gen. Noriega in a Florida jail, standing trial for being a drug lord.
"That's what I mean. We go there and make the biggest drug bust in history and bring him back. So does that mean that we cut off the dope? Nah. Just the opposite. I read in the papers that now even more of the stuff is going through Panama on its way here. Does that make sense?"
I suppose that could dim the joy of victory.
"It's screwy. It turns out that when Noriega was running Panama, he liked to know who was running dope. And if any independents tried to move stuff without kicking in, he nailed them or he tipped off our people. Now with him in jail, Panama's government is wimpy, the cops are on the take, the soldiers are loafers, and it's every man for himself. So the drug business is booming. Is that what we went in and shot up Panama City for? To open up the drug market down there?"
If you believe in free enterprise, it could be seen as a step forward. But remember, Noriega incurred President Bush's wrath by being a tin-horn tyrant.
"So what? Some of our best friends have been tin-horn tyrants. I haven't figured that one out yet, why Noriega was a likable tin-horn tyrant when Bush was running the CIA and when he was vice president, but then he stopped being a likable tin-horn tyrant when Bush got to be president. Noriega probably ain't figured it out yet, either."
He appeared to have stopped being a reliable tin-horn tyrant and became erratic. We've always asked that of our friends, that they be reliable in their tyranny.
"But I still want to know what we got to show for that war? The drugs are flowing, and because the government is weak, there's more crime than they ever had before. What kind of victory is that?"
As they say in the sports booth, a win is a win, and a bloop single looks like a line drive in the box score.
"Yeah, and that's got to be one of our bloopiest singles ever. And now they're starting to add this up in the Iraq war, and I'm wondering about that one too."
You can't be suggesting that wasn't a decisive victory.
"Sure it was. We really went in there blasting. We not only killed a lot of Iraqi people, now it looks like we killed almost as many American troops as the Iraqi army did."
Friendly fire. An unfortunate byproduct of war.
"But what do we got to show for it, except giving politicians and bubble-head disc jockeys and their bubble-head audiences an excuse to wave yellow ribbons?"
We have freed Kuwait and disabled Saddam Hussein's war-making machine and protected American interests. We accomplished our mission. That is cause for pride.
"Uh-huh. So when was Saddam's trial for war crimes? When was his funeral? Did I miss something in the news?"
No, he is still in power. I guess you could say that was a regrettable oversight on our part.
"Yeah, I'd say so. And you're sure that he can't stir up trouble no more?"
There are international inspection teams in there right now making sure that he will no longer be a danger.
"Oh, yeah, I read about them. It's sort of like sending in crossing guards and meter maids to keep an eye on the Mafia."
Some people are hard to please. What did you expect?
"I dunno. But I remember when Gen. MacArthur stood on the deck of that ship with the Japanese. The paper they were signing wasn't no book contract or deal with an agent to go on a speaking tour. And Ike wouldn't even shake hands with the German general who surrendered."
President Bush didn't shake hands with Saddam.
"Maybe not. But I bet Saddam feels like we blew him a kiss."