Saturday, April 9, 2011

Arab Leaders Can't Do the Math

Politicians--all self-appointed, one may note--in the Arab world have recently been teaching us all lessons in how to win the love and support of the people. You achieve this by establishing clear rules that create an ordered society.
For example:

  1. You may not criticize leaders, all of whom are better than you;
  2. You may not demonstrate;
  3. You may not seek hospital care if injured, especially if by gunshot; 
  4. You may not apply for a job in your local police force (all positions are reserved for foreigners);
  5. You may not attend a funeral.

Clear rules applied to all citizens lead to a happy society. The penalty for those who disobey is to be shot.

Now let us consider the mathematics of such a system of governance. Let us say that one social deviant who wishes to break the core rule exists (there's always a loser in every crowd). This loser makes a sarcastic remark and is shot. Problem solved? Well, not quite. He turns out to have a couple brothers, who are also such losers that they now get angry, so they demonstrate. Both are shot but not killed so their relatives take them to the local hospital, which is promptly bombed. This eliminates the two losers, not to mention a whole bunch of other potential losers. Think of this as a small-scale version of preventive war.

Brilliant as the theory of preventive war is, the practice varies, and so with bombing hospitals. All those losers and potential losers in the hospitals turn out to have relatives and friends. I don't know how many people are willing to attend a funeral after a loser is shot by the government, but let's guess (the point is, the politicians don't know either!!) it is "three." Now, for every loser properly shot for disobeying the rules the government established to maintain a peaceful society, we have three people illegally attending a funeral.

Do the math (you have an advantage here because politicians can't). A hospital may have 200 patients. So what started as one loser shooting off his mouth has now become 600 losers at a funeral, and when the government is forced to shoot at them, not only do they (if still alive) get angry, but so do all of their loser friends and relatives. This is called a side effect. You should not blame the government: government leaders, after all, are just politicians, not mathematicians. Politicians do politics so they understand the idea of enforcing rules, but they are not mathematicians so they do not understand the side effects of shooting people.


Anonymous said...

Speaking for the much maligned dictators, whose labors are becoming harder every day, for the last 50 years, they have based policy on the calculation that a little repression would yield a great deal of stability. That calculation, for 50 years, proved correct in one country after another.

True, since January, there is some evidence that the old calculation may be failing, but it still works in Iran, Israel, and Bahrain. The Syrian, Yemeni, Jordanian, and Saudi dictatorships remain in control, Gadaffi is fighting a draw against the whole Western world, and even in Egypt, democracy remains under attack by a triumphant and dictatorial army, so exactly who is it who "can't do the math?"

Some foreign tanks, a bit of blood in the streets, a few hospitals the broad sweep of history, these are but details.
--Devil's Advocate

William deB. Mills said...


While it is hard to argue with your individual points, they are still cheap shots. I was making a serious argument - that Mideast regimes (yes, including Israel and Iran [my apologies for failing to make that clear]) are creating a lot of needless trouble for themselves because they can't do the math. They react in incompetent ways that provoke precisely what they are trying to prevent. That is not just immoral, it is stupid. Bombing hospitals and arresting children are stupid, counter-productive, unprofessional tactics.

Saudi and Libyan tanks may look more effective (especially when supported by Washington), but those tactics as well will, I predict, induce some very large chickens to return home to roost.

As for the continuing dictatorship of the Egyptian army, its tactic of scheduling a constitutional vote was a smooth move for the would-be dictators while its tactic of shooting up democracy demonstrators at Tahrir this week will probably prove to have been as dumb as Mubarak's behavior at the end. Tantawi has now needlessly made himself a target.

I stand by my words: Mideast leaders, from Ahmadinejad to Netanyahu to Mubarak to Assad to Saleh to Abdullah, cannot do the math.