May 24, 2007


The US government wanted to start a television station in Iraq. They built a studio. They budgeted $63 million a year. They hired managers and staff and set up a Board of Governors to manage the managers. They started to broadcast. Naturally, the broadcasts were in Arabic.

None of the managers understood Arabic. None of the Governors understood Arabic.

And so, the US television has recently devoted hours to advocating terrorism, because nobody in management has any idea of what the people on the air were saying. State Department spokesmen repeat that management is doing "a very good job."

Why do things like this happen? I mean, it can't be very hard to staff a television station where some of the managers can watch the broadcast. You're in the State Department, you need to find someone to run an Arabic TV station for you. In all of the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia, surely you could find someone who is a real expert on Arabic entertainment. How hard could it be?

I met an Egyptian movie star at a dinner party in Somerville a couple of months back; there must be dozens of people you could ask. You could scour the film world, the television industry, academe. I bet there are university courses about Arabic TV. (Here's one at the American University of Cairo)

It's not rocket science and it's not an emergency. Can you staff a TV station without experts? Sure -- if you have to. In my dad's letters, there's a nice note home about how the young 1st Lt. Dr. Bernstein designed and built a shower house, somewhere in the Philippines. Did he have any knowledge of architecture, construction, plumbing? He did not. Is it sensible to have a surgeon design your showers? Yes: if you want to take a shower and your men want to take a shower and the architects and engineers and plumbers are all on some other island fighting some other war. In a pinch, sure: have the surgeon build the showers.

But we've been running this TV enterprise since 2004; surely they could have found staff by now?

The natural conclusion is that they wanted to "lose" the "war". Republicans do this all the time with other government projects: they appoint incompetents and grifters to run programs because then we'll all see what a bad idea those programs were. But this is Bush's War, and nobody believes more than Bush in the value of having your own TV network.