One of the great mysteries in Hollywood is how bad films get made. After all, no one sets out to make a bad film. And most major films are made by professionals with a proven track record, backed by savvy investors. But occasionally these film professionals make an “Ishtar” or a “Town & Country.” Not having a finished script before shooting is often a big part of the problem. Stars and directors who have gotten so big that their aides don’t dare criticize them is probably also a common problem.
The same conundrum exists with regard to bad public policy. Regimes that seemed to have some real successes, whatever their failings, can sometimes just start behaving in completely self-destructive ways. (Witness the US Republican Party, which has morphed into a strange combination of populism and big capitalism that does things damaging to the people and to big business, like refuse to lift the debt ceiling).
Self-defeating policy dominated today’s foreign policy news. To wit:
The Syrian government, having failed to quell dissent over a period of four months with its heavy-handed tactics of repression, engaged in heavy-handed tactics of repression again on Tuesday in Homs, leaving some 13 dead. Homs has seen demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands. Shooting people there is a little unlikely to calm things down.
The Israeli navy intercepted an aid boat heading for the Gaza Strip with humanitarian provisions for Palestinians there, the majority of whom are children. Israel as the occupying power is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on occupied territories, insofar as it is engaged in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people laboring under its military occupation. (Although Israel withdrew troops from Gaza, it controls Gaza’s land borders, sea and air and so is seen by the UNSC and other international authorities as the occupying power). Although it is legal for Israel to keep weapons out of Gaza, it is illegal for it to prevent Palestinians from exporting their made goods and for it to keep the Palestinians there deliberately living on the edge of humanitarian disaster. Over half of Palestinians in Gaza are food insecure as a result of Israeli policies. The Gaza blockade is a black eye for Israel, and Tel Aviv’s “success” in preventing aid ships from reaching the strip is actually a huge public relations failure. If fact, the serial news stories that Israeli actions generated, of pressure on Greece, sabotage in Turkey, and now piracy on the high seas, kept the illegal and evil Gaza blockade in the news for weeks.
In the face of powerful opposition from the Yemeni public, injured president Ali Abdullah Saleh keeps talking about returning to power in Sanaa from his hospital room in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The opposition in Yemen has formed no less than two transitional shadow governments in preparation for a post-Saleh state, and any attempt by Saleh and his corrupt relatives to remain in power will only provoke more turmoil and violence. Not only is it self-defeating for Saleh to dream of returning to dictatorial power, it is dangerous and absurd for the opposition to establish two transitional councils, one for the youth groups and one for more established parties. The opposition can only succeed if it gets its act together.
The Bahrain government is charged by Human Rights Watch with prosecuting physicians who treated wounded dissidents during the demonstrations last spring. Hint to Manama: physicians would be betraying their oath if they didn’t treat wounded people. Also, hint to Manama: You are making yourselves look odious in the eyes of the world, and eventually that is going to hurt you.
Col. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya appears to have sought guarantees against being tried for war crimes should he step down, in contacts with US diplomats. (The US has not signed on to the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Qaddafi, and so could theoretically sidestep the indictment). But Qaddafi now says he will continue to defy the ICC and the United Nations Security Council (which had strictly instructed him to stop attacking his dissidents, an order he ignored), and he will attempt to remain in power. Seldom does one man have the chance to save so many lives and prevent so much suffering as Qaddafi could, if he would just recognize the inevitable and go into some sort of exile. But Qaddafi is one of the world’s great egoists, and he’ll fight to the last child in Tripoli.