Ballots and Boycotts

Tom Friedman has an interesting piece today called “Ballots and Boycotts.”

In trying to think through whether we should press ahead with elections in Iraq or not, I have found it useful to go back and dig out my basic rules for Middle East reporting, which I have developed and adapted over 25 years of writing from that region.

Rule 1 Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning’s paper is out.

Rule 2 Never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person who is supposed to be doing the conceding. If I had a dime for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I would be a wealthy man today.

Rule 3 The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure that they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 4 In the Middle East, if you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all – people there won’t believe it.

Rule 5 In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away – unless the coast is completely clear.

Rule 6 The most oft-used phrase of Mideast moderates 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 7 In Middle East politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, “How can I compromise?” And the minute it becomes strong, it will tell you, “Why should I compromise?”

Rule 8 What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in Arabic, in Hebrew or in any other local language. Anything said in English doesn’t count.

Sounds about right.

FILED UNDER: Middle East
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.