Bribery has been a way of life in the Middle East for more than a thousand years. Nothing gets done without it. Whether you call it mordida (the bite), un pot-de-vin, or just bribery, nowhere on the planet is it as universal as in Middle East. There, under the term "bakshish", it controls every form of business or government service. You cannot get a job without bakshish, roads don't get built, you can't sell so much as a date on the street without bakshish.

Buy stock? Oh no! A powerful person (or people) simply takes 10% of the stock and agrees to pay for the stock when the accrued dividends match the stock price at time of "purchase"; in addition he gets a seat on the board of directors PLUS a salary. In exchange, the business won't have tariff problems, labor problems, or any problems. Judges take money from both sides and routinely rule in favor of the biggest bribe (he keeps both bribes); hospitals have two sections, one for the people who have paid a bribe and one for those who have not.

Hospital doctors are the ones who paid the most in bribes to the government guy in charge of hospitals, business executives are where they are only because of bakshish, army officers, artists whose works are shown, and so on, pay bakshish. It seeps into every facet of society. This has been going on for thousands of years. When you pair bakshish with the "shame/honor" of the society at large you have hell on earth. Any criticism of a doctor puts shame on the doctor. To regain his "honor" he will go to the guy above him, the one to whom he paid bakshish in order to get his job in the first place, that guy will go to the "Main Man" who will go after the man complained about and he will go so far as to put him in jail. Nobody cares if the patient dies....unless the patient had paid bakshish to somebody much higher than either of them, etc., etc., etc.

It is a nightmare because any complaint is shame. Praise is honor. Everyone walks the line of shame, honor, bribery. Naturally everybody lies in that society. It is the only way a man can stay alive. The main reason everyone comments on the extreme politeness of Arabs is that every word is measured in honor/shame/bakshish. Who are you really? This is who I am (pretend). This food is good (because I might be killed). Everyone honors everyone and lies like hell to get what they may want. If your son wants a government job and goes to your tribal leader to ask for one the tribal leader cannot say "no", because a "no" would shame both his family and his position as leader of the tribe. He has to "see what I can do". Then he may have to go to the head of another tribe who works in the correct section of the government. Haggling is done. If the government guy already "owes" a favor then the deal can be done relatively quickly, perhaps for a consideration later. Otherwise a deal must be made so that nobody is shamed. The unqualified kid becomes an official for the right consideration and everybody has honor. The parents of the kid "owes", the kid "owes", the tribal leader looks strong, the father of the kid looks like a strong parent and so on. It is a society built on lies.

Right now we are in a place where the Saud Family in Arabia tells Americans one story and a completely different one to the Arabs on TV at home. This is normal. Nothing wrong with it. What is really going on? Honor is going on. The Arab people know what was told to Americans and by telling the opposite story to them on TV the Saud family shows "honor" by both lying to the Americans and getting away with it AND lying to the people at the same time.

But suppose the Saudis tell us the truth and lie to their own people? That's OK too, the Saudi prince shows he can conduct smart business. The Saudis may have made a secret deal with Powell a long time ago by telling Powell that they would have to lie to their people but that they are telling the truth to Powell. Rice's recent visit validates the old deal.

Get it? Arabs lose wars because their generals are only there because of bakshish. Their scientists are there for the same reason. There is not one aspect of their lives where competence is the criteria for position. Period.

So the power/shame dialectic demands that somebody within Iraq is allowing people to steal. Reports persist that our tax money is being systematically stolen before it gets to where it's supposed to. Somebody will take over in Iraq and that somebody must have the army on his side. Why not one of the current generals? Corruption in the USA? Well there is some local stuff but media and politicians shrug and tell us "Chicago." When in doubt just point to Chicago. OK.