Posted by: sean | February 28, 2007

Jumblatt and his neocon friends

Walid Jumblatt has found some new friends at the American Enterprise Institute, where he spoke on Monday. I’ve just listened to the recording of the event, and I was amazed at the panting idiocy of many of the questions and the self-righteous sycophancy of Comrade Kamal Bey’s son.

First of all, the fact that Jumblatt’s talk was at the AEI is in and of itself a pretty good bellwether of where his loyalties lie these days. Then there are the analogies to Nazi Germany (as noted by apokraphyte), with his talk of a looming threat of a pan-Syrian Anschluss (I’m not kidding, he really said Anschluss).

He then made some ridiculous remarks about how there is already a fair distribution of power in Lebanon, whereas we know that the Lebanese demographics are constantly changing (in favor of the Shi’a and against the Christians), and that as long as there is a sectarian power sharing plan in place, there will be periodic unrest, when one group realizes that they are getting the short end of the electoral stick considering how much of the Lebanese population their sect includes. (And this is obviously why there will be no census so long as the system is in place, since one group’s numerical strength can always be discounted as speculation, since there are no statistics.)

So Jumblatt’s remarks about Hezbollah wanting to “change the rules of the game” are disingenuous at best, particularly when we take into consideration how his father wanted to punish the Maronites during the civil war, because after all, Christian hegemony was part of the rules of the game then, right?

He does come clean, though, and talk about how everyone, from the Americans during their revolution to Allied Europe in WWII, needs political and military assistnace from time to time from outside powers. If anything, his political career shows that he has been a firm believer in this verity. The disgusting part is when he tries to give his request for American (and Western) aid a veneer of righteousness: “I will do anything to liberate my country from indirect Syrian occupation.”

Well, the part about him doing anything is certainly true, it’s just that the only thing you can truthfully say he’ll do anything for is trying to stay on top of the Lebanese political dog pile.

Finally, there are his unmasked calls for the toppling of the regime in Damascus. When I heard him talking about this, I couldn’t help but think back to the portrait of Jumblatt by Charles Glass in March’s Harper’s, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be available online:

…I wanted to talk about the recent war and Jumblatt’s challenge to Hezbollah, but he was preoccupied with Washington. Was Condaleeza Rice more influential than Dick Cheney? How could he persuade the Bush administration to help depose Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, weed out Syrian moles in Lebanon’s army and intelligence services, and overthrow the regime in Syria? Having abandoned his Syrian partnership in 2004, Jumblatt was without an outside backer to match Hezbollah’s friends in Damascus and Tehran. Israel was obviously not an option. The only viable counterweight, then, was the United States. He didn’t seem to mind that Washington had supported the Israeli invasion or that most Lebanese were opposed to its war in Iraq. When I asked how he could turn to a power that, in 1983, had shelled Druze villages in the Chouf Mountains from the battleship New Jersey, all he did was shrug, as if to say, “This is Lebanon. What do you expect?”

…At age twenty-seven [after the assassination of his father], Walid, whose political experience was limited to a stint as a journalist, found himself supreme leader of the Druze, chief of the Progressive Socialist Party, and nominal head of the combined forces of Lebanon’s leftist and Muslim militias. The Druze called him “the son of the pillar of the sky.” His first political choice was between vengeance, the feudal lord’s prerogative, and pragmatism, the duty of the modern politician. Walid sacrificed revenge. In June 1977, he made a pilgrimage to Damascus to meet President Assad. Assad said to him, “It’s strange how you look like your father.” “I still had my hair,” Walid told me, laughing a little as he patted his bald head. “I looked at him,” Walid continued, “and I felt, to tell you the truth, I knew that he killed my father, and he knew that I knew that he killed my father. And it was quite a strange feeling. And we sat. I didn’t feel hatred.”

How could he do it? He believed he had no other choice. “I knew that the war was not over,” Walid said. The right-wing Maronite militias were still powerful, so he had to find a way to strengthen his own forces. “In Damascus, we had a good friend, Hikmet Shihabi, the chief of staff,” he explained. “And I convinced Hikmet slowly to convey messages to Hafez al-Assad that I need weapons, that I need to be trained.” Syria provided Jumblatt with arms and trained his militia. Through the Soviet Union’s ambassador in Beirut, Druze fighters also went to Russia for military instruction. Walid estimated that the Russians supplied him, over the years, with some $500 million worth of weapons, ammunition and training. They even let Walid open a restaurant in Moscow. And thus Walid found himself becoming an enemy not only of the Maronites, but of Israel and the United States as well.

So all of Jumblatt’s self-righteous bluster should be taken for what it is, a gamble on which way the political wind is blowing in Lebanon. It’s especially ironic to hear him scoff at Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah, proclaiming to not understand how Aoun could betray his previously impeccable anti-Syrian credentials.

I was hoping that the question and answer session would be more interesting than Walid’s speech. And in a way it was, if you’re interested in the ignorant questions of American foul-weather groupies. There was at an attempt by Danielle Pletka to get Jumblatt to vilify Hamas as he’s vilified Hezbollah, but he was smart enough to side-step the conclusion she wanted to hear. (Incidentally, a much more interesting question would be why it was all right for him to participate in the resistance against Israel in a “state within a state” headed by the PLO but not for Hezbollah to do the same thing. And speaking of states within a state, it would be interesting to hear him defend his decision to ban the Lebanese flag and national anthem in the Chouf and his “war of the two flags” in West Beirut when Amal refused to take down the Lebanese flag.)

But the most idiotic question came from Stephen Morris from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, who said that he had just gotten back from Lebanon and was told that journalists could not go downtown to the opposition campground without the permission of the “illegitimate Hezbollah authority.” He then wanted to know if they were carrying weapons downtown and whether there was “any way in which people visiting Lebanon in the future can resist the power of Hezbollah thugs to detain them.”

I might be able to chalk this sort of thing up to not having been to Beirut, but Dr. Morris assures us that he’s just returned from Lebanon. So the only thing I can think of that would explain such a question is that he didn’t even bother to go downtown to look for himself. Since the sit in started in December, I’ve spent a fair amount of time at the protest and routinely cross it whenever I go from my apartment in East Beirut to West Beirut. (I usually cross by foot and get a cab on the other side.) And I can assure you that while I’ve seen more than my fair share of Hezbollah walkie talkies, I’ve never seen a single gun, and I’ve never been hassled or questioned by anyone there. On the contrary, I’ve been invited to sit down for tea or nargileh. But, one might argue, it’s different when you’re a journalist. Well, not in my experience, because I’ve gone on several occasions with a foreign photojournalist and a print journalist. We never asked for permission and were never stopped by anyone. So rather than actually, I don’t know, walking over to downtown to see for himself, Dr. Stephen Morris of the prestigious SAIS at Johns Hopkins decided to rely on other people’s accounts. This wouldn’t be such a sin if he had never been here, but seeing as how he was in Lebanon, it seems like pure laziness to me.

Finally, there were questions by two audience members asking about Chapter 7 intervention, presumably to forcibly disarm Hezbollah. Luckily this is such an outlandish and idiotic idea that I won’t even have to lose any sleep wondering if the UN would be stupid enough to try it. (Remember how difficult it was to beef up UNIFIL this fall, when all parties involved knew that the mandate would not include disarming Hezbollah? Can anyone think of any country, besides Israel of course, that would be willing to fight the party of God on its own turf? Neither can I.)

At the end of the day, though, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised by how uninteresting and uninformed most of the questions were. Considering the talk’s venue, that is.

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