My neighbor Harold was squatting on his heels, talking at me, while I was under my truck, changing the oil. “Did you see that big sign Ralph put up in front of his house?” he asked.
“No, what’s it say?” I grunted, trying to loosen the drain bolt in the oil pan.
“’WIN THE WAR!’ in letters two feet high.”
“Do you suppose he’s getting frustrated?” I speculated. “Maybe he thinks the president needs a little prodding to get serious about winning this thing.”
“I believe he’s just flat-out delusional,” said Harold. “You can no more win a war on terrorism than you can a war against stupidity, or halitosis, or marital infidelity.”
“Maybe he’s just talking about the war in Iraq,” I suggested, digging my heels in and giving the socket wrench a mighty tug.
“In that case, I’m afraid he’s headin’ for a hurtin’,” said Harold.
“Who put this *#@$% thing on so tight?” I swore. “Hand me that hammer, will you? Why do you say he’s headin’ for a hurtin’?” I added.
“Come on, Ace,” he laughed. “You may not be much of a mechanic, but you’re not completely stupid. The chances of our winning the war in Iraq are about the same as my chances of finding a diamond in my coal shed.”
“How do you figure?” I said curiously, meanwhile giving the end of my wrench a tap with the hammer.
“Just add it up,” said Harold. “On this side you’ve got a worn-out group of invaders and a ton of mercenaries we call ‘private contractors.’ Their morale is bad and their attitude is worse. This side doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t understand the culture, despises the religion, disrespects the people, and doesn’t know who to trust. The Iraqi forces we’re supposed to be training to replace us are either AWOL half the time or secretly part of the resistance.
“This side left Iraqi weapons depots and storage facilities unsecured in the early days of the invasion, and the resistance has been well-supplied ever since. Plus, a big percentage of this side’s weaponry has been stolen and ended up in the resistance’s hands. This side disbanded the Iraqi security forces and created a huge pool of unemployed trained fighters for the resistance to draw on.
“The soldiers on this side have been fed one justification after another for the invasion, and all of the excuses have turned out to be bogus. Even the most patriotic are wondering why their lives are being squandered.
“The local people despise us for our arrogance and our ignorance, our itchy trigger fingers and our ineptitude. Conditions for them are constantly getting worse, not better—contaminated water, sick and dying babies, electricity only two hours a day, food shortages, gasoline shortages, huge unemployment, sectarian hatred enflamed, mosques and sacred sites destroyed, and over a million refugees just trying to survive. Iraq is plunging headfirst into chaos, and we’re the guys who threw them off the diving board.
“The few countries who were either bribed or browbeaten into becoming part of the ‘coalition of the willing,’ or who thought they would side with a winner and share the spoils, are melting away like polar ice caps.
"This side has spent five and a half years and half a trillion dollars already, and all we have to show for it is ruined lives, corpses, a recruiting bonanza for terrorists, an army on the verge of a breakdown, and a train wreck of a nation."
“Sounds like a winner to me,” I said, giving the end of the socket wrench a harder tap.
Harold was really wound up. “On the other side,” he said, “you’ve got a variety of resistance groups, well-armed, most of them Iraqis defending their homeland, able to move freely in and out of the general population. We don’t know who they are, what their command structure is, or where they’ll strike next. They know everything about our movements and plans, while we don’t have a clue about theirs. We’re shadowboxing in the dark, fighting phantoms and ghosts.
“They’re a classic guerilla movement, constantly improving its tactics. They’ll fight for as long as it takes to drive the foreign occupiers out. As soon as we secure an area and move on, they move right back in and take it over again.
“They’re passionate about their cause. They’re at home in the language, the culture, the religion, and the terrain. They’re not leaving. That sand is sacred soil for them. They’re fighting for Allah and country, mom and pita.
“Let’s face it, Ace. If you were a gambling man, which side would you lay your money on?”
Just then I drew back and gave the end of the wrench a huge ‘WHAP!’ with the hammer. The bolt flew out and a stream of dirty oil splattered my face.
“Whoo-ee!” yelled Harold. “I believe you were supposed to be trying to turn that bolt counterclockwise instead of clockwise, Ace. But you’ve struck a gusher there. Oil!”
“That’s what it’s all about,” I mumbled, trying to wipe the stuff out of my eyes. “Hand me a rag, will you? I can’t see a thing.”
© Tony Russell, 2007