Troop Buildup: An Analogy and a Rant

Among my other activities, I am a business owner. I’ve a store/gallery in Brooklyn, New York. It doesn’t make much money (not since the blows of the dot-com bust and then 9/11), but we get by.

Almost eight years ago, before things began to go sour for small retail (and believe me, they are sour, no matter what anyone tells you about the state of the economy), I decided to open a second store.

I opened it in a place hours away from New York, but where I had connections. I thought it would be fast and easy: get in, set up, see the money start rolling in, and get back to my major business back in New York.

That’s not what happened.

The only people who seem to shop in downtown State College, PA are students interested in tee-shirts and beer and their visiting parents–whose ideas of gifts, sad to say, were not the subtly scented soaps and sophisticated cards I sold so well in Brooklyn.

It was great at first: I rented a space and moved in, setting up a gallery upstairs above my spacious street-level shop. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Setting up my Brooklyn store had taken months and a huge investment. This was costing relatively little. I felt proud and, frankly, a little arrogant.

The expenses, though, soon started to pile up… but the income did not. Because I wasn’t able to pay as much attention to the store back in Brooklyn, that one started to get more expensive, too. I was making the drive back and forth weekly, trying to run both–and running each poorly.

The State College store, which I had had such hopes for, started to cost more and more. In Brooklyn, I hadn’t had to advertise (a strength of location); in State College, I did. Nothing seemed to help, though. I wasn’t covering the rent, let alone the cost of goods and other expenses.

After eight months, I pulled the plug on the store in State College. It was difficult. Not only did I have to break my lease (something I hated doing), but I had to admit defeat.

But I did. I returned to Brooklyn full-time, where I began to teach a little part-time, to begin to pay off some of the debt I had incurred over the past year.

Though it had been humiliating to fail, that failure, once I accepted it, led me to new projects and even a new career (though I still manage the store on a part-time basis, my focus now is on what has become a full-time teaching gig). Though I am still cleaning up the financial mess sparked by the State College venture, I am making progress–and it looks like the Brooklyn store, whose survival was doubtful for a time, may survive.

When I look back, I am so glad I did not continue the State College store. I could have. My line of credit was not yet exhausted when I closed it up. More money could have been poured in, and more time.

The store, however, was never going to make it there. More effort would not have changed that. All continuing would have done would be to increase my debt–and, likely, force me into avenues other than the one that led me back to teaching–which I am loving.

Many people, of course, have been through experiences similar to mine. When we look back, it’s with relief that we did finally pull the plug and get out. Sure, we had to break our promises to fulfill certain obligations, but we weren’t going to be able to fulfill them anyway, not in the long run. Getting out gave us the chance, among other things, to return our focus to our situations at home, situations that deteriorate gravely when we are too involved in something too far away.

Now the rant:

Why the hell is our government contemplating increasing troop levels in Iraq? We have failed there; everyone know it. All we are doing by staying, at this point, is pouring lives and money down the drain. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that–the country has even said it quite clearly in this last election.

Thirty thousand, fifty thousand more troops: That’s not going to help in Iraq any more that it would have helped my State College store survive for me to dump another thirty thousand or fifty thousand dollars into it. The store was not sustainable; the war is not sustainable.

There is no “victory” that we can achieve. There’s no “success” that the US can pull off. Ronald Reagan once said:

It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.

He was right. But would that be victory? Would it be success? No, not in Vietnam–and not, today, in Iraq.

The only “victory” or “success” we could achieve in Iraq at this point is destruction of the whole country. Only then will it be peaceful. That is, unless the US is long gone.

We have lost, we messed this up, big time. We never should have gone in there in the first place, for we never did have any chance of success. The new neo-con argument that we messed up the occupation is beside the point. Yeah, we messed it up, but the occupation was doomed from the start. You just can’t go into a functioning country and expect to change it through force. We may not have liked Saddam or his government, but the country was working a lot better then than it has been since. That’s the difference between the occupations of Germany and Japan and that of Iraq: Things had gotten horrible in Germany and Japan. The situation under the occupation was immediately better. No matter how we try to frame it, the situation in Iraq got immediately worse with the US invasion–and it could not have been otherwise.

I’m defeatest, you say? Damned right! I’d be stupid to be otherwise. To claim anything else but defeat in Iraq right now is naive or willfully blind.

Sometimes you just have to admit mistakes, bow your head, go home, and attend to business there. Call that “defeatism” if you want, but it’s the only realistic path.

America knows that. Almost everyone in America, that is, knows that.

Except these damned fools, waist deep in the Big Muddy and still saying, “push on.”

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