Top Self-Defeating Moves in the Middle East

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.

10 Responses

  1. Ahum , methinks you are mixing up Homs and Hama. Hama saw big demos the last few weeks, and is the site of the 1982 massacre. Homs is where the last few days many people were killed, although at this moment it is not very clear who is doing the killing.

  2. Number 216 in a series of columns on revolutions in middle east and Africa. They summarize events in various countires and provide many links.

    Some may want to follow this on a regular basis.

    link to

  3. Making a good film, book or an article is kind of a mystery. Making a bad one is much easier – in the end, one can copy/paste something or hire a ghost.

    By this logic, I am not surprised by what is going on with US default – they just can’t do this right. As for the rhetoric, we are lucky to have Paul Krugman’s explanations of its meaning:
    link to

    As for the Middle East situation, remember that Israel has no foreign policy, it is all internal politics. Apparently, same is true about Obama admin – it just projects its internal troubles to the region.

  4. Here’s what happens to perfectly good movie ideas. If by some miracle, they survive the winnowing process and land on the desk of someone with actual “green-light” power, the actual horror begins.

    Development Executives, of which there are too many, will start poking their noses into project. This would be the same project that they loved enough to buy, but now feel the need to change. Part of it (maybe 5% of it) is actual concerns over the project, story problems, problems with competing movies, etc. Most of it, though, is about making sure the Development Exec in question gets noticed by either the Hollywood Press or their bosses.

    “See that (otherwise ridiculous) idea in the movie? That was MY idea.” That sentence/thought is the cause of more box-office pain than anything.

    When the Director is hired, he or she will bring on their own writer to the project they previous loved the day before to make even more changes. Then should a high-profile enough Actor or Actress be brought on, they too will bring their own writer to adjust the project they loved for them.

    All this before one foot of film is shot, where circumstances like weather, money delays, actor tantrums, location problems will also change what you want to shoot and how.

    So, in a nutshell, that’s how bad movies get made, and made routinely. The process of their creation is under constant assault of self-sabotage. You used the term “self-defeating”, but its really all the same thing.

    The question always is, how long does it take for the people in power to get it through their heads that the game has changed on them? How many lives will be lost in the process.

    At least there’s not much at stake when Hollywood makes a bad movie or TV show (just a billion here, a billion there, but sooner or later we’ll be talking Harry Potter money). In the Middle East, there are real lives at stake.

  5. This discussion of “self-defeating” assumes that the “self” the dictators want to benefit is their nation.

    This is like saying that the self-interest of corporate chieftains would prevent them from doing anything harmful to the companies they manage.

  6. “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.”

    The potential for the eastern massacres, that so riveted us several months ago and begot “shock and awe junior”, has diminished significantly. In its place is a robust civil war.

    Must the suffering be inevitable as long as Qaddafi remains in power? If framed as a fight to the finish then one could hardly say Qaddafi alone is responsible for all the carnage. Seems to me that if suffering is really a concern (it not always is, eg Iraq), then a little truce making diplomacy might make a difference.

    And I don’t recall reading anywhere that Benghazi brigades will be showered with flower petals when they reach Tripoli. They might be, just haven’t seen words to that affect.

  7. When studios make a dud, they must know it’s bad before they distribute it. But they advertise it and put in theatres anyway, knowing audiences will feel ripped off. They want to make every dollar they can. They’ve invested way too much. Studios are willing to make us suffer through a “Renaldo and Clara”. Bad governments are willing to kill us.

  8. I have not been reading what is going on the the ME for a few months now. But just now I saw a headline at Yahoo when I went to check me email that said, The US and France no longer insist that Quaddafi must leave Libya. I really have no idea if Quaddaif rearming in power is a blow for or against justice. I do see it as a retreat for the US.
    So I just had to show up and glow a little.

  9. It’s about near to impossible to find a decent government in the Middle East, so it’s not entirely astonishing to find a plethora of lousy policies.

    Despite that, the authoritarian regimes of the area have an impressive record
    in staying in power. They ARE able to remember that regimes based on repression are best served, in times of vocal public demonstrations of dissatisfaction by increasing the repression.

    As long as the people are fearful and have no hope of things improving…things don’t improve.

    I doubt that what you call “self-defeating ” actions by the Syrian government are being undertaken for any reason other than the government knows that it will not endure through any other course.
    They’re either gonna kill to retain control or crumble.

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