Musings: San Diego & Syria

| July 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Personal Note: The two issues that follow are not connected, for one is parochial and the other paramount, but in the mercurial nature of my mind these musings arose when I sat down to compose July’s column for the Sentinel:

The Contretemps between Mayor Bob Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was wholly predictable. Why is anyone surprised?

I have a long association with the mayor, beginning when he ran for the school board, but I happened to like our city attorney, and when he ran against Mike Aguirre, I endorsed him.

But the predictability of their quarrel(s) should not have been missed by anyone knowing either gentleman (although missed it was); not because there are differences in their political philosophies, although difference there are, but the current cause is found in the powers of both offices – mayor and city attorney.

A strong city attorney’s office has long been a quirk of San Diego government (and California), especially given that in the modern era the office of mayor was anything but, as true power belonged to the city manager – chosen, not elected.

Mark Mitrovich and I played a significant role in the city’s transitioning from council/manager to strong mayor, with Jerry Sanders being the first beneficiary of strong mayor powers, even though he opposed the transition and spent $2,000 trying to defeat it, but became its greatest champion once he found how greatly it expanded his powers as mayor. Strange how that works, don’t you think?

Mike Dukakis, who served as governor of Massachusetts for 12 years and ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1988, asked me once why we in the west have elected city attorneys? It’s unheard of in the commonwealth and in much of the country, the governor said.

John Hickenlooper, then mayor of Denver, came to San Diego to speak to The City Club, and I invited a small group of civic leaders to meet the mayor over breakfast at the University Club (and set up afterwards a private meeting with Mayor Sanders).

At the breakfast the mayor asked, “Why do you have an elected city attorney? The city attorney of Denver works for me; he’s not an independent office holder, nor should he be.”

But San Diego isn’t Denver and the west isn’t the east, but if I’m making the decision the city attorney is appointed and works for mayor/council.

If you argue, but this is how we’ve always done it, I would suggest you’re one taco short of a full combination (as Senator Simpson might say), because arguing to retain a system because it’s “the system” is idiocy.

It’s true that when John Witt was city attorney the issue seldom came up because almost everyone loved John Witt (as I did). But that was before Mike Aguirre and Jan Goldsmith became objects of controversy (and by linking their names I do not mean to suggest they’re similar, they’re not).

Mark and I gave thousands of pro bono hours working to change city government and if others want to take up the cause and change city attorney from elected to appointed we will cheer them on – but from the bleachers.

Syria and Bashar al-Assad is the major foreign policy conundrum facing US foreign policy and the president is taking a beating over his handling of the issue.

The president’s major antagonist on Syria is John McCain, who is still angry about losing to Obama in ’08, and whose solution to every foreign policy problem is a military solution.

I’m sorry, senator, but if you want to end the bloodshed in Syria then drop Atomic bombs on Damascus and blow it into hell, that will quickly end the Assad regime and the Syrian problem.

And, while we’re at it, why not drop a few more on Pyongyang and the problem of Kim Jong II also goes away.

By such action we eliminate two major foreign policy concerns, frightened the hell out of Iran and the Taliban, alarm Russia’s Vladimir Putin sufficiently to return New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and, best of all, no American soldiers die in Syria or come home armless or legless.

Am I serious? To this extent: We cannot impose our will upon other nations. It didn’t work in Vietnam. It failed in Iraq. And it is failing in Afghanistan.

In our hubris we forget we represent but four percent of the world’s population and it is monumentally dumb to think we can tell the other 96 percent what to do with their lives.

And yet there are those stupid enough to lobby for military solutions when there are no military solutions absent using the ultimate weapon of mass destruction – Atomic bombs.

If you think that’s crazy then tell me why you think its okay for one percent of our people to fight our dirty little wars? Why you think its okay that 6,648 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (through June 24) or 50,000 have come home wounded in body and soul because they are faceless and nameless and are made up mostly of the underclass, the young men and women who saw no future serving strawberry shakes or two tacos for .99 cents at Jack-in the-Box and chose instead four tours of duty in Kandahar (and I like Jack-in-the-Box).

The one percent that chose instead to put patriotism before profit so your daughters and sons wouldn’t have to; so that while you fretted about your daughters and sons college tuition the son and daughters of the one percenters were coming home, not in robes and tassels draped mortarboards but in body bags; while you fussed over whether you needed a second SUV the wives and families of our second and third and fourth deployment soldiers left behind stood in lines collecting food stamps so that little Billy and Bobby wouldn’t go hungry that night.

If the 6,648 who died bloody in that vast wasteland expanse of desert and rock, of camels and women haters, of turbans and Taliban, is of zero consequences in your life, then consider that these two wars have cost the United States of America more than $1,500,000,000 (, dollars wasted that might have saved our schools from further degradation and infrastructure from collapsing, provided health care to the uninsured and lowered student loans. You can do a lot of good with $1,5000,000,000.

If you are so stupid, as it appears John McCain is, to believe Syria would be different, that the “lessons” of Iraq and Afghanistan would enable us to find common ground and bring the Sunnis and Shiites together, then you should stop reading here because you are disconnected from the reality we face and no measure of either logic or history will persuade you otherwise.

From the time of Alexander the Great to Britain’s incursion into Asia, from Russia to the U.S., the super powers have mindlessly believed they could rule Afghanistan and other tribal nations, forgetting Rudyard Kipling’s words in The Young British Soldier Boy,

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.

Have a nice summer.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,

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