Game Over for Bush’s War of Ideas

wolves

The media loves to wring its collective hands over each new droning video sermon released by Osama bin Laden or Ayman Zawahiri, but it is the release — to unprecedented box office success — of the Turkish movie “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq” that heralds the failure of the Bush administration to win the “battle of ideas” that is has insisted is so central to its “global war on terror.” The reason is simple: The average Joe everywhere from France to China, and all of the developing world, pretty much loathes U.S. foreign policy; but even in hotbeds of anti-American sentiment nothing quite matches the entertainment allure of American action movies. Al Qaeda’s video production values are no match for those of Jerry Bruckheimer, but “Valley of the Wolves” signals a shift — now audiences in the Muslim world (and beyond) can find a Bruckheimer-esque package of thrills, explosions and near misses, and vicious goons whose diabolical deeds crank up the audience for emotionally satisfying revenge fantasies in which the Rambo types deliver the bad guys their comeuppance — except that this time, the bad guys are the U.S. military; the wronged innocents are Iraqis; and the avengers are Turkish special forces going to war with their NATO ally. (You can get a sense of the movie’s narrative, and watch some clips if you can get them to play in your browser, on the movie’s web site.) In other words, American-style action flicks need no longer be a guilty pleasure for the angry youth of the Muslim world; now there’s a genre of action movie that resonates with their world view.

Indeed, Turkish prime minister Erdogan is reported to have seen the movie and recommended it to friends, while his wife attended a premiere and described it as “a beautiful film.”


An Abu Ghraib scene is staged for ‘Wolves’

You can already imagine the Turkish producers weighing up sequels: A Turkish Rambo blows up Israel’s West Bank wall and restores Palestinian access to Jerusalem, or a Turkish James Bond character infiltrates the Danish press and uncovers a neo-Nazi conspiracy to use cartoons to provoke a war between Islam and the West. The possibilities are endless.

And let’s not even talk about “The Night Baghdad Fell,” an Egyptian satire that is drawing record crowds to Cairo’s cinema’s with its depiction of a U.S. invasion of Egypt. (I’d hesitate a guess, here, that at least some of those are repeat-viewers desperate for a second look at the movie’s sexual fantasy scene involving U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice as a bellydancer — spare us the action figures…)

It is not just the fact of these movies, but their commercial success that indicates just how badly the Bush administration has lost the battle of ideas in the Muslim world. Muslim civil society appears to be hungry for an emotionally-satisfying revenge fantasy to release the anger that has built up over everything from Iraq to the Danish cartoons, and they’ll pay to see movies that deliver. The commercial logic of the movie industry suggests that “Valley of the Wolves” may spawn a genre.

This entry was posted in Annals of Globalization, Situation Report. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Game Over for Bush’s War of Ideas

  1. John Robertson says:

    . . . and into this mess now gallops the feckless Karen Hughes to spread her good cheer about US intentions in the Muslim World (and did I indeed read that she’s going with no journalists in tow?). And Bush is soon off to visit Pakistan, where tens of thousands demonstrated today to protest the Danish cartoons? I suppose that to cancel or postpone such long-planned visits would hardly seem manly to an administration that prizes in its diplomats – even its female ones – a kind of rhetorical testosterone (I can barely picture Condi Rice as a belly-dancer, though I’ll keep trying) – but isn’t Ms Hughes now pretty well set up to be punching bag?

  2. Tony says:

    Punching bag, indeed, but as I wrote last summer on Hughes’ mission, the administration has actually recognized that the fundamental problem is not that the Muslim world misunderstands U.S. policies, but rather the actual policies themselves. The administration grants that 80 percent of the Muslim world is intractably opposed to those policies, so their target is to influence the other 20 percent (who presumably can be seduced into embracing the U.S. despite its policies!) Even then, it doesn’t seem to be working, does it? If the makers of Hollywood-mimic action movies have now started making the U.S. the diabolical bad guys, it’s not hard to imagine that Karen Hughes’ vacuous homilies about Americans loving their children, just like Turks and Arabs so, are not exactly going to win hearts and minds.

  3. Goes to show that humiliation remains one of the most powerful forces in human nature. Bush treats the Muslim world with dripping condescension. To dispatch the monumentally ignorant Karen Hughes to the middle east to preach about the goodness of American values would be like sending George Bush to the annual convention of the Modern Language Association to lecture about prosody. Staged buffoonery.

  4. Tony says:

    Right. And frankly, from what I’ve seen, Condi isn’t much better. She’s a more competent PR person than Hughes, but my sense is that she makes Madeleine Albright (the quintessential megaphone diplomat) seem like a good listener. And as you say, the administration’s style is to lecture everybody and tout this vacuous slogans and hopelessly simplistic positions. I have no doubt that those whom she meets in the Middle East and Europe have a hard time taking Rice any more seriously than they’d take Hughes. They have to indulge her, of course, because of the power she represents, but I’d say her ability to persuade anyone in the region to follow the US lead on anything is negligible. It’s patently obvious, for example, that on the IAEA, they only managed to get the support of the likes of India by a combination of threats and bribes. And they constantly mistake other countries decisions to act in their own interests in concert with the US as support for its positions, e.g. China in relation to North Korea. Which means they never seem to take account of the limits of that cooperation, and where those countries diverge with the U.S. — as has been the case on North Korea, where China’s agenda is quite different from Washington’s, and will be the case on Iran, too — and certainly on how to deal with Hamas.

  5. Florestan says:

    It’s not just Bush’s sophomoronic “vision thing” which is pusing Turkey back into anti-Western hatred. It is also the millenia long religious schisms of a Europe mired in it’s history. It is a major tragedy because Turkey is the best hope in the Islamic Near East for a modern and democratic state.

    Attaturk broke the power of the mullahs to establish a secular modern state. Erdogan has earnestly and as far as I can tell honestly implemented economic and human rights reforms in pursuit of EU membership. This kind of integration is by far the best hope for spreading tolerance, stability, prosperity and thus democracy. Bush’s unilateralism and parochial militarism prevents him from understanding this, and the right wing Barvarian Catholicism of the CDU/CSU thrives on schism and resulting conflict.

  6. Pat S. says:

    My Army friend who went to Istanbul for the weekend found the Turks to be extremely welcoming, and also noted that when he asked about the movie, everyone around agreed that it was very silly. At least that’s a slight positive.

    As for the negatives, you are spot on about Condi Rice. Tony, I was half expecting a post on her new announcement of aid to the Iranian opposition and how it’s a complete boondoggle. To openly link your desired outcome with American support is perhaps the stupidest thing that could be done in the Middle East. Subtlety, anyone?

  7. Tony says:

    Yeah, Pat, you’re right about that. It’s a kiss of death for anyone to accept that money, and not only because of the response of the authorities. There’s a strong nationalist sentiment at work right now because of the nuke issue. But when I read that announcement, I just laughed — anyone remember the $198 million allocated to Iraqi democracy projects in the late 1990s? Most of it went unspent, much of what was spent went to fund the likes of Chalabi, and look where that got anyone…

  8. lolaone says:

    Hi Tony, You just Know that Condi (anyone out there remember a comic strip called Dondi?), has SHOES to match her “belly dancing” ensemble. Have you noticed how W manages his flock? Even the really savvy people are put into jobs unsuited to their talents,or knowledge base. Condi,Chertoff, W, Brownie etc. Karen Hughes is nearly as tactless as W. She was his personal Press Blocker, chosen because she is an overbearing personality,surprised that she wasn’t sent to the U N. Your columns are timeless!

  9. Unquestionably imagine that that you stated. Your favourite reason seemed to be at the web the simplest thing to take into account of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while other folks think about issues that they just don’t understand about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also outlined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , folks can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thank you

  10. Attaturk broke the power of the mullahs to establish a secular modern state. Erdogan has earnestly and as far as I can tell honestly implemented economic and human rights reforms in pursuit of EU membership. This kind of integration is by far the best hope for spreading tolerance, stability, prosperity and thus democracy. Bush’s unilateralism and parochial militarism prevents him from understanding this, and the right wing Barvarian Catholicism of the CDU/CSU thrives on schism and resulting conflict.

  11. what are you talking about ?

  12. Ataturk was a leader until you have printed in gold letters the name of the benchmark ten of which I am sure erdo?anla were alive would have forced

  13. ccav says:

    If the makers of Hollywood-mimic action movies have now started making the U.S. the diabolical bad guys, it’s not hard to imagine that Karen Hughes’ vacuous homilies about Americans loving their children, just like Turks and Arabs so, are not exactly going to win hearts and minds.

  14. ccav says:

    I suppose that to cancel or postpone such long-planned visits would hardly seem manly to an administration that prizes in its diplomats – even its female ones – a kind of rhetorical testosterone (I can barely picture Condi Rice as a belly-dancer, though I’ll keep trying) – but isn’t Ms Hughes now pretty well set up to be punching bag?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>