Sunday, December 24, 2006

Middle East Politics

You can't play Middle East Politics unless you know the rules. Thomas Friedman lays them down for reporters and other interested parties.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Middle East, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, South Korea or Germany ­ not Iraq.

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all,­ they won’t believe it.

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I could paper my walls.

Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning’s paper.

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.

Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab politicians is: “We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas ­ like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It’s the South vs. the South.

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, “I’m weak, how can I compromise?” And when it’s strong, it will tell you, “I’m strong, why should I compromise?”

Rule 10: Middle East civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam Hussein used to be the iron fist in Iraq. Now it is America. If America doesn’t want to play that role, Iraq’s civil war will end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

Rule 12: The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: America’s first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For Americans, democracy is about protecting minority rights. For Arabs, democracy is about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do.
Which pretty much covers it.

8 comments:

Some othe dude in Israel said...

eh, I could write it better than Friedman. I should really open my own blog.

Does it pay the bills Mr. Simon?
Is there any profit from it?

M. Simon said...

Sometimes it pays the bills.

Sometimes I go for months without a nickel.

Unfortunately this is one of the no nickel months.

Some othe dude in Israel said...

Thank you for your reply.

Do you mean, people contact you after seeing your post, and pay you to publish it?

I'd like to blog stuff that is more comical, cartoons, haikus. I guess I should do it in Hebrew as well as English.

M. Simon said...

People send money when they feel like it.

Usually in response to a begging post.

I haven't put up such a post lately. I hate to beg.

magnant said...

There are many issues influencing the Middle East Politics today.

In the wake of September 11th…

I drafted a positive, 17-page memoir that I sent to a few friends at Christmastime to counter the growing prejudices that began to surface then. It was based on my memories of working in Iran in 1971. In 2005, I decided to expand those memories into a novel that I called The Last Transition... which was also intended to address the growing issues of globalization and Internet security.

In January 2006, after I had received my first printed copies of the original 275-page story, Iran had just jumped into the headlines with its opposition to the UN's ongoing nuclear inspection program. Then in April, Seymour Hersh’s article in The New Yorker magazine warned of the ‘planned US air attacks’ on Tehran's nuclear enrichment facilities. He saw this as a replay of the war in Iraq and it made me realize that my story was incomplete. This motivated me to complete my fact-based adventure, which is now is now a 470-page book and a free PDF download for anyone at http://web.mac.com/magnant/iWeb/Last_Transition/

My main theme is a positive one, insisting that it only takes one person to make the difference. I recognize that there are difficulties in getting smart people involved with these somewhat enormous problems, so I have used a novel to lure in readers to show them some of what is, in fact, going on around them. I kept the original title, but now I address the need for a more secure Internet in this broader context of the Middle East and with the greater stakes of no war with Iran!

Unfortunately, the real issues of Iran, Iraq and Israel are not going to simply go away by themselves anytime soon. It is time for more concerned people everywhere to get involved with these issues...

Peace on Earth…

Bob Magnant

Some other dude in Israel said...

thanks again.

it does not sound promising.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Simon. This is decent for Friedman....

Had heard this quote before:
“It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”

I dunno. I think we very well understand that Arabs suffer from incredible penis-envy, I just don't think the Arabs understand it at a conscious level. Until they understand it, we have to treat their sensitive egos with kid gloves. Or am I way off?

M. Simon said...

Gabriel,

I put a post on that point: Fighting For Self Esteem.

You make this point:

Until they understand it, we have to treat their sensitive egos with kid gloves. Or am I way off?

You are way off. Your statement previous to the above is closer to the mark:

I think we very well understand that Arabs suffer from incredible penis-envy, I just don't think the Arabs understand it at a conscious level.

I think we have to pound it into their sorry heads and asses.

To the effect: You are a sorry, small dicked, uncivilized people.

Once they have been totally humiliated they will either change or disappear.