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.