Hazem Saghieh

Regarding the Language of Strength, Ours and Others'

While the political rhetoric developed by Iran and the organizations affiliated with it has been around for a while, both in the Middle East and across the globe, it has never been utilized quite so gratuitously. Every day, we hear: We have struck and will strike… we have killed and will kill, we hit the target and will continue to hit targets… if you return, so will we…

Although Tehran and its proxies are burning this rhetoric with the frequency of its use, and at lightning speed, it seems that its resonance with followers has not declined significantly. Even more bewildering is the fact that successive Israeli strikes on Damascus and the areas around it (where the forces of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, as well as the Assad army, "are fully equipped and prepared") have not compelled the "village thug" to make any adjustments to his rhetoric, nor have they changed the way his audience receives it. Neither the pace of the declarations nor the pace at which they are being believed is slowing down.

This rhetoric has become among the most produced commodities in a region that produces little. So long as the "enemy understands only the language of strength" and this enmity is forever, we have no choice but to pound it with this rhetoric in perpetuity. In all likelihood, with the nuclear deal negotiations entering what looks like a coma, we will be hearing a lot more of it in the near future.

It is not difficult to understand why those pushing this narrative have clung to it and bored us with redundant reiterations of it. The need to subjugate people and perpetuate that subjugation is the fundamental incentive for sticking to the language of strength, though shared doctrines and kinship ties, both of which are opiates of the masses that buy this narrative, are also used in this vein.

The extent to which the target audience is prepared to believe, despite everything, despite reality consistently running up against what is being said, is more difficult to comprehend.

Their loyalty, which is largely the result of shared sectarian and kinship ties, is more blind than blindness itself. Like all other fealties of this sort, it hinders rationality and all forms of comparison and accountability. A role is also played by other factors that stem from the broader environment and its recent history, with frustration and dismay propelling demands for victory, which it is claimed that strength brings. The degree of desperate dismay, here, is no lower than the degree of blindness. Of course, the need to adapt is always part and parcel of believing in lies, either by virtue of simplicity and powerlessness or for fear of the punishment inflicted on those who do not believe the narrative of strength and victories.

These factors are often accompanied by two influential facts. First, the use of force is not presented as a necessity imposed by an invasion or occupation. It is presented as a glorious thing in and of itself, regardless of its grounds; indeed, it is associated with an essence that consists of dignity, courage, manhood and other qualities of this sort. Second, the use of force is separated from its supposed goals in a similar way to its separation from its supposed reasons. Thus, no one is sure what objective must be achieved for Lebanon's resistance to end or for Iran to stop "avenging" the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mossadegh.

This use of force is dissociated from history, that is, from particular causes and goals. The persistence of this dissociation from history, among other things, eloquently speaks to a scarcity of real achievements and a tendency to stand still as conditions deteriorate. For this reason, we will "keep fighting" and "keep liberating" until we meet our maker.

Compounding our bewilderment at the capacity of strength to mesmerize is that we are discovering, as the Russian-Ukrainian war goes on, that strength is not always strong, or that there are stringent limits on the strength of using force. This war was, in a sense, an eloquent lesson on those limitations: the West cannot provide the Ukrainians with all the military aid it wants to give them for fear of a larger war that some believe would turn into a Third World War. As for the Russians, with all their military might, they are advancing by the millimeter because of an array of considerations and calculations, as well as their operational limitations (a witty jab has been making the rounds: We thought that Russia had the second strongest army in the world; it turns out that Russia has the second strongest army in Ukraine). The limits of force are compounded by the role that science and technology play in wars: the more prominent this role, and its prominence is increasing, the less potent force in its raw sense, Iranian or Russian, becomes, declining in favor of another conception of force. We recall that the adoption of guerrilla warfare tactics and the rise of protracted popular wars of liberation were born out of a desire to preempt such a shift and create a safeguard against it. Numbers, willpower, and nature were depended on to undermine the role that science and technology play in war.

However, we are no longer in the era of Spanish resistance to Napoleon, nor are we in the same era which witnessed the Algerian French war or the Vietnamese American war. Anwar Sadat, when he was Gamal Abdel Nasser's Vice President, heard his boss declare that "what is taken with force can only be retrieved with force." However, when he succeeded him, he got Sinai back with diplomacy and retrieved the city of Taba through international arbitration. As for force, which was embodied in the October War, it was deployed as a mere tactic within the overall peace strategy.

Moreover, strength advocates are not always wrong to say that wars continue after the end of their military battle. However, this always works in contradictory ways: in Algeria, for example, where the failure to make robust achievements continues, tensions with France have taken different new forms. Vietnam, where more robust accomplishments have been realized, has gone a long way in reconciling with its past and yesterday's Yanky enemy.

In the end, we have to admit that the "weak" whom the US defeated, like the Germans and Japanese, are immeasurably better off than the "strong" who defeated the US, like the Afghans, who followed in the footsteps of the Cambodians, Cubans, and North Koreans. For this reason, out of concern for the Iranians who are dealing with enough as it is, Tehran would be better off containing its glorification of strength and not taking its defeat of the US to the end.