The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Nikki Haley Puts Iran “On Notice”

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On notice, taking names, the world is watching — these all belong to the language of threat from what is clearly the most militarily powerful nation on earth. 

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is rapidly becoming one of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary’s favorite sources. This is unjust, because there are many deserving candidates. Fortunately, we appear five times a week, so we can make room for others. But Haley has been talking a lot recently and her use of vocabulary commands our attention.

France24 reports the latest example of Haley’s politically creative use of the English language. Speaking about the recent riots in Iran, she stated, “The Iranian regime is now on notice: The world will be watching what you do.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

On notice:

About to be disciplined by humanity’s unique inquisitorial authority on morals and civilized behavior

That authority is none other than the US, as recently redefined by its CEO and Grand Inquisitor, Donald Trump. When a nation represented in a collegial institution takes names of sovereign countries while threatening retaliation for their failing to act as vassals; when it puts sovereign governments “on notice”; when it indicates it is “watching” (i.e. judging), it begins to resemble all the known features of the notorious Spanish Inquisition, including the implicit claim to be speaking in the name of the true religion (in this case, free market capitalism and its corporate gods).

Contextual note

It was in the context of Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, violating previous UN resolutions, that Haley warned every country in the world that she would be “taking names.” Telling Iran it is “on notice” follows the same logic — that of an aggressive, presumptuous, unforgiving authority, with no sense of empathy, understanding or diplomacy. Trump has replaced Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “speak softly but carry a big stick” with “threaten loudly and risk having to use your big stick, even though it will most likely be suicidal.”

Historical note

According to the Urban Dictionary, the expression “take names” is associated with an extreme form of authoritarian discipline, training in the Marine Corps. The example cited is “My Drill Instructor could kick ass and take names.”

The standard meaning of “put on notice” is to give “warning of possible future dismissal or reprimand. It is a stern admonishment, which only makes sense if it is given by a hierarchical authority. In the context of geopolitics, there is no notion of hierarchy. Haley’s language is that of an authoritarian boss, in this case — because she is working under the authority of former reality-TV star, Donald Trump — the language of disciplining an apprentice (the title of Trump’s TV show).

Even more interesting is Haley’s use of the expression, “the world is watching”. Here is its actual history as reported in The Atlantic:

“The phrase ‘the whole world is watching’—a pithy warning that an incident was testing America’s commitment to its values, before an international audience that would hold it accountable—was first used as part of the civil-rights movement in the 1950s, particularly during the fight to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. But the slogan’s most iconic moment came in August 1968, when it was chanted by demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago who were protesting the Vietnam War, among other grievances.”

We were left wondering whether this is an intentional attempt to tell the American nation that the logic of the civil rights movement has been replaced by that of an international police state. Where protesters were formerly drawing the world’s attention to powerful authority’s abuse of the weak, the expression has now been appropriated to express the most powerful nation’s intention to impose its arbitrary “justice” on a weaker nation.

On notice, taking names, the world is watching — these all belong to the language of threat from what is clearly the most militarily powerful nation on earth. That this expression of policy may be one of the more worrying aspects of “American exceptionalism” is confirmed by the remarks of French Ambassador François Delattre, who insisted that, contrary to the impression Haley wished to create, the “events of the past days do not constitute a threat to peace and international security.”

In contrast, it is worth noting the sad irony of the British position, attempting obsequiously to align with the US position after Britain’s self-exclusion from Europe, but not having the courage to do so frankly: “It is right and proper — indeed, our responsibility … to assess whether a situation like this could become a threat to international peace and security” were the words of the British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft. One may legitimately ask the Brits: When do you expect to finish your assessment?

In some ways, this is a repeat of the 2003 scenario when George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. France doubted the reason and the utility of Bush’s aggression. Tony Blair, as British prime minister, followed the leader after “assessing” that the leader — the US commander-in-chief — must be right.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: A. Katz / Shutterstock.com

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