Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Pitfalls of Power

It is often the case that triumphant powers develop tendencies that make them vulnerable to weaker challengers.

As they achieve repeated successes, they soon become to believe that, by constantly reapplying the same formula, they will continuously be able to achieve success by the same means. However, their once-novel methods soon become “conventional” themselves, and a form of “doctrinal complacency” sets, reinforced by the ever increasing success. Such was the case in July 2006, when Israel’s ossified, conventional thinking led to its defeat at the hands of a challenger who espoused novel, unconventional approaches.

This is the case of Hezb’O today; its victory in July 2006 led it to an increasingly dominant position in Lebanon. This “new dominant” shows signs of increased confidence in the value of its past policies, since they led to so many successes. Indeed, after July 2006, their demonstrations and tent city led to the blockage of the country’s normal processes, allowing a continuous land grab and now a power grab.

However, in doing so, Hezb is only exacerbating a “power dilemma”; the success of its offensive policy will create ever stronger incentives to strike first, since a successful attack will usually so weaken the other side that victory will tend to be relatively quick, bloodless, and decisive. This is what happened during their invasion of Beirut in May 2008, when it lead to cowing of Hariri’s, and more crucially, of Jumblat’s Druze.

As it continued in this conquest phase, Hezb has consolidated “internally” by eliminating or sidelining “barons”, and is now expand “externally”. Its “external” expansion is now carried out as part of the elections, in which they are leading Aoun’s electoral offensive in the Christian. Whatever the final result, ShaterHassan’s allies would be sure to score quite a few points.

But Iran’s power grab over Lebanon will be far from secure, and the downside will come soon enough; as the successes accumulate, Hezb’s doctrines will be increasingly informed by the rose-colored lens of previous victories. Repeated victories make this offensive approach an easier choice because of the belief in the possibility of quick victory as well as the belief that failure to act will expose them to unacceptable risk.

This doctrine of action will become increasingly rigid, and the party will become ever less likely to change and adapt. As previous victories are celebrated, a culture of victory is increasingly emphasizing certainty in outcomes. Because this certainty belies the complicated sets of factors that allowed victory in previous engagements, Hezb is increasingly developing a “static conception” of political struggle that does not allow for change on the part of its adversaries. Soon enough, those adversaries will learn to exploit the weaknesses thus exposed, exposing dominants to defeat at the hands of inferior parties.

Regardless of the result of this upcoming election, little will fundamentally change because of both the institutional dysfunctions of Lebanon and the contradictions of regional power equilibriums. But time may choose for all; not only will there be less Iranian cash in the future, but at the present rate of consumption and decline, Iran is facing oil shortages and may even become unable to export much more oil by 2014. true, Saudi Arabia is not doing much better, but they’re not the ones challenging the United States for regional dominance.

However, we’re still a long way from Kansas; if time is the fire in which we all burn, we Lebanese are the ones closest to the flames.


Nobody said...

But time may choose for all; not only will there be less Iranian cash in the future, but at the present rate of consumption and decline, Iran is facing oil shortages and may even become unable to export much more oil by 2014.

You will be probably relieved to know that Syria is already finished as an oil exporter, this very year.

ghassan karam said...

Although it is always true that nothing is permanent and in a neo Hegelian way the "new reality" read Hezbollah, will immediately create a counter point that will eventually bring it down it is equally true that "in the long run we are always dead" !!!


Thanks for your insightful article Jeha. As Gebran Sons had said before, May 7, when Hizbollah used its arms internally and attacked the media was the day it committed political suicide. It may hold to power by brute force, intimidation and via proxy for a while, but its arms lost legitimacy for ever and it is only a question of time before Lebanese and Shiaa reject Hizbollah's militia. Let me add that I'll go further and say that Hizbollah may even loose its political dominance within the Shiaa. Courageous respectable Shiaa voices will be asking for full accountability of its actions, its North-Korean tactics, isolating Shiaa and making them stranger in their own land. The irreversible fall from grace of Hizbollah has just started. Finally, let us watch this weekend the repercussion of Lebanese elections on Iranian elections. We may be in for a big surprise!

Lalebanessa said...

Shoo ya Jeha,Lebanese elections, Iranian elections and revolution, and still no posts? Weinak mkhabba?

worriedLebanese said...

Interesting analysis. Probably the most insightful I've come across lately regarding Hezbollah. It's a bit too dens though. I believe you should expanded, it could yield some interesting hypothesis!

It's true that your discussing Hezbollah and its battles. But don't you think it would be interesting to distinguish between these battles:
- Hezbollah vs. Israel
- Hezbollah vs. March XIV (basically Hariri/Jumblatt).
- Hezbollah vs. rival Shiite political forces (including Amal)

Hezbollah doesn't seem to have the same strategy regarding all its battles. Don't you agree? And some of them are primarily military, others are residually so...

As for the geopolitical approach, it ignores the internal dimension: Lebanese, Shiite, 3amili and Beqa3i... they complicated the game by adding new points that can have an incidence on the judgement of the actor (ie Hezbollah) and predictions on his conduct.

As for this culture of victory, I'm not sure it runs that deep. Your judgement is based on Hezbollah's declarations (esp, Hassan Nasrallah's speeches). But don't forget that his is part of their communication strategy, one that is highly manipulative and readjustable... I'm not sure it runs that deep. In case of war with Israel, Hezbollah knows that it will be fighting a battle for its existence...

WorriedLebanese said...

Darn! I wrote you a rather lengthy comment yesterday. But it seems it's lost in cyberspace.
I really don't have the courage to rewrite it.
So I'm going to skip the congratulatory part and go straight to the main point I was trying to make.
I don't believe Hezbollah suffers from the "Power dilemma". And I'm not sure it approaches all its conflicts (with Amal, with Mustaqbal, with Israel, with Shiite dissenters, with Fadlallah...) in the same way.
As for its "culture of victory", I'm not sure they buy into their own propaganda.

But I still find your frame very interesting, and I'm sure it will yield more results if the different issues that are amalgamated here (geopolitical, religious, military, social, political) are approached independently.

thanks for sharing this analysis.

Nobody said...

Hi Jeha

Long time no post. Everything is fine with you?