December 14, 2009

Hizballah's Tired, Derivative New Manifesto

This weekend, I went to the local coffeeshop to read two documents which I had previously skimmed but to which I wanted to devote more attention and felt deserved a closer reading. The first is the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2025 report, a paper that has gotten a lot of attention in policy circles for its blunt conclusions regarding the future environment. The second is Hizballah's new political manifesto [English, Arabic], a long-awaited update to the 1985 "Open Letter".

Reading the two documents in tandem was striking. First, there were some similarities. Both documents, for example, were quite bearish on the United States of America. The NIC report predicts a multipolar world in 2025 in which the United States is still the strongest but not the dominant power. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm—will decline and US leverage will become more constrained". 

The introduction to Hizballah's new manifesto, meanwhile, states that "it's possible to say that we are amid historical transformations that predict the retreat of the US role as an omnipotent power, the break of the unipolar system and the historical immediate demise of the Zionist entity".

[يمكن القول: إننا في سياق تحولات تاريخية تُنذر بتراجع الولايات المتحدة الأميركية كقوة مهيمنة، وتحلُّل نظام القطب الواحد المهيمن، وبداية تشكّل مسار الأفول التاريخي المتسارع للكيان الصهيوني]

But whereas the NIC report -- together with most serious scholars of international relations -- is preparing for a post-American world, Hizballah's manifesto reveals a myopic obsession with the United States and an inability to view the politics of the Middle East through any lens other than American hegemony. At times, the manifesto reads like someone threw Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrineir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0805079831 into a blender with Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survivalir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0805076883 and hit "purée". What results is an incoherent, derivative mess. Take this peach of a section:

"The most dangerous aspect in the western hegemony -- the American one precisely -- is that they consider themselves owners of the world and therefore, this expanding strategy along with the economic-capitalist project has become a "western expanding strategy" that turned to be an international scheme of limitless greed.


Savage capitalism forces -- embodied mainly in international monopoly networks of companies that cross the nations and continents, networks of various international establishments especially the financial ones backed by superior military force have led to more contradictions and conflicts -- of which not less important -- are the conflicts of identities, cultures, civilizations, in addition to the conflicts of poverty and wealth."


إنّ أخطر ما في منطق الهيمنة الغربي عموماً، والأميركي تحديداً، هو اعتباره منذ الأساس أنه يمتلك العالم وأنّ له حق الهيمنة من منطلق التفوق في أكثر من مجال، ولذا باتت الإستراتيجية التوسعية الغربية - وبخاصة الأميركية - ومع اقترانها بالمشروع الإقتصادي الرأسمالي إستراتيجيةً عالميةَ الطابع، لا حدود لأطماعها وجشعها.

إنّ تحكّم قوى الرأسمالية المتوحشة، المتمثلة على نحوٍ رئيسٍ بشبكات الإحتكارات الدُّولية من شركات عابرة للقوميات بل وللقارات، والمؤسسات الدُّولية المتنوعة، وخصوصاً المالية منها والمدعومة بقوة فائقة عسكرياً، أدى الى المزيد من التناقضات والصراعات الجذرية، ليس أقلها اليوم: صراعات الهويات والثقافات وأنماط الحضارات، إلى جانب صراعات الغنى والفقر.

You'll note I am including the Arabic text here. I do not want you to think this dog's dinner is some trick of translation. [And I myself am excerpting from the translation provided by Hizballah.]

Now there are two possible explanations for why Hizballah dedicates an entire third of their manifesto to whining about American hegemony after the rest of the world -- including U.S. policy-makers -- got the memo that U.S. power is on the wane. The first explanation is that Hizballah is simply saying, like a good proxy, what they think the Iranians want them to say. Iran wants to frame all tensions in the region in terms of U.S. hegemony, which allows it to avoid talking about internal tensions and answering questions like why all Iran's Arab neighbors can't buy U.S. weapons systems fast enough in the face of Iranian ascendancy. (Even though that's kind of tough to do on a day when -- oh, irony -- U.S. oil companies get frozen out of Iraq's largest oil rights auction in years.) And lord knows, it serves the interests of no one in either Iran or Hizballah to start saying something real about the security environment in the Middle East, because that would mean talking about things like Saudi-Iranian tensions, Saudi-Syrian tensions, Sunni-Shia tensions and a host of other politically sensitive topics that might offend your sponsors or further upset sectarian tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere. Focusing on the American imperial project is, intellectually and politically, a lot easier. This means, of course, that an organization that's plenty brave on the battlefield is pretty cowardly when it comes to rhetorically confronting, head on, what's really going on in their country and in their region.

There's something else here, though. Reading the manifesto alongside the 2025 report, I came to the conclusion that Hizballah is, while steadily maturing as a military actor, still hopelessly immature as a political actor. There is absolutely zero introspection in this manifesto, and whereas the NIC report was war-gamed in countless planning exercises and workshops -- including one held in China, for goodness sake! -- and arrived at conclusions most U.S. policy-makers would find inconvenient at best, Hizballah's manifesto reflects an organization that basically sat down among themselves to write a bunch of stuff that confirms all previously held assumptions and takes no brave or ground-breaking stand on any major issue confronting the Middle East.

If you look at Hizballah's flag, you'll note it says "The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon" at the bottom. Once upon a time, though, it read "The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon". I think they changed this because it made everyone so nervous. Well, everyone can sleep easy, because there is nothing revolutionary about this militia-cum-political party anymore. Hizballah is just as much a part of the calcified political landscape of the Middle East as Hosni Mubarak. This cliché-spewing manifesto -- "American terrorism is the origin of all terrorism in the world", says the organization that popularized suicide bombings -- only serves to confirm that. Maybe this manifesto was intended to appeal to Western leftists -- until, presumably, those leftists remember Hizballah is a religious fundamentalist organization. But the effect is to make Hizballah seem stuck in 2003, unable to confront the hard internal challenges facing the Middle East as a region and still reliant on a U.S. bogeyman to justify all its actions and rhetoric.