Juan Cole: Top Self-Defeating Moves in the Middle East

Roundup: Historians' Take

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

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, and was the site of a 1982 massacre. Shooting people there is a little unlikely to calm things down....

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