Across the Bay

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wolfowitz, Jumblat and Lebanon

The most revealing thing about all the anti-Bush, anti-war demonstrations the other day was how in the Arabic-speaking ME, they were negligeably small -- almost token -- and passed really unnoticed, overshadowed by much more important local issues. To me, that's the first sign that the broader aim of the American enterprise in the ME is working: It has shifted focus and attention inwards. That's the beginning of the solution.

On a similar note, in recent days, Paul Wolfowitz has gotten a lot of bad press in light of his nomination for the World Bank job. For instance, read that nitwit Juan Cole's vitriolic post the other day when he accused Wolfowitz of seeking to "reduce the Arabs to poverty." But yet again, the exception happened in the ME. Wolfowitz was present at meetings and a dinner when the Maronite Patriarch visited Washington. He was interviewed for An-Nahar by Hisham Melhem who gave him a rather favorable review highlighting his dedication to democracy in the ME. Wolfowitz, by the way, said that the US "is not seeking to cause trouble in Syria. However, Syria's policy must not lead to chaos and trouble for its neighbors." But Wolfowitz didn't conceal his support for emerging Syrian opposition groups: "in all honesty, if the Syrians (in the opposition) are in need for political support and encouragement, I personally don't object to that... However, the most important thing right now is to get the Syrians out of the Lebanon -- military and secret services -- at soon as possible, and in a decisive and sure way. And we must pressure them to stop encouraging killers in Iraq and supporting them, and to stop aiding those who are trying to hamper the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Wolfowitz said that previous US policy in the ME was erroneous because "it didn't focus on the centrality of freedom and democracy in the Arab world and the broader ME, as it was interested in stability and security." Now, "American influence is moving in a different direction, and this is a factor that has contributed to what the region is witnessing today. It's a contributing factor to the efforts of the peoples of the region and what they're doing for its own interests. The US cannot create these movements. All it can do is support its goals for empowerment and democracy."

Michael Young, in a piece in the NYT that profiles Druze leader Walid Jumblat, made reference to Wolfowitz as well. By now, Jumblat's statements (both negative and positive) about Wolfowitz have been well publicized:

A case in which Jumblatt admitted to me that he was wrong involved Paul Wolfowitz, the United States deputy secretary of defense. In October 2003, he publicly regretted that Wolfowitz had not been killed in a rocket attack while in Baghdad, referring to him as a ''virus.'' This led to a revocation of Jumblatt's U.S. visa. Recently, however, Jumblatt told the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that the success of the Iraqi elections represented ''the start of a new Arab world.'' When I asked whether he was ready to apologize to Wolfowitz, Jumblatt answered, laughing, ''Yes; I already have.'' American officials, well aware of the Druse leader's mercurial nature, never severed contacts with him, and Wolfowitz himself recently saluted Jumblatt's ''courage'' on Lebanese television. For Jumblatt, extremism in the service of self-interest is no vice.

Michael has more:

Asked whether it is true that he once with wicked humor offered the conservative Maronite Christian patriarch a copy of Eduardo Galeano's leftist critique of the industrialized world, ''Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World,'' Jumblatt answered yes and brought out two books he was currently reading. Both were utterly unexpected in that barren intellectual vale populated by most Lebanese politicians: ''At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities,'' by Jean Amery, and ''The New Meaning of Treason,'' by Rebecca West. He added that he is a great admirer of Robert D. Kaplan, whose hardheaded pessimism has so often been anathema to Jumblatt's left-wing soul mates in the West. Jumblatt is forever complicating his secular, leftist image.

Michael's brief comment at the end about Lebanon and Jumblat is worth pondering:

Jumblatt's pragmatic ecumenism is common among Lebanese, which helps to explain why followers of Lebanon's once-hostile militias have been demonstrating together against Syria since Hariri's murder. Perhaps it is one reason that Christians have forgiven Jumblatt for what he did to them, even if they do not forget; another is that the Lebanese system of communal compromise is propped up by amnesia, necessary since few emerged from the civil war looking good. A third is that Walid Jumblatt, given his experience, versatility and influence, is perhaps the only national leader the opposition still has.

Jumblat's change of heart has been doubted and dismissed by many. The similar dismissal of the sudden sense of unity among previously warring groups in Lebanon is related in that both fail to understand the complicated dynamics of Lebanon. Michael summarized in that short passage above. The last line about Jumblat as national leader is very important. For one, it shows how a leader of a small minority in Lebanon (the Druze are anywhere between 5-7% of the population) can be a national leader. That shows how even proportional representation sometimes masks the actual value of a group, but that's also why I am a strong opponent of majoritarianism in Lebanon.

But this national stature also makes Jumblat a ripe target for assassination by the Syrians, which is what he himself has said repeatedly. Terje Roed-Larsen has recently expressed fears of more assassinations in Lebanon. The last time people expressed fears of assassinations, and warned Syria of avoiding that route, Hariri was blown up.

Jumblat's stature as a national leader is something Hasan Nasrallah can only dream and fantasize about. He's trying to prop himself as the new national leader (the rational voice of dialogue and the guardian of the "national resistance") in the post-withdrawal era (and trying to recapture the brief mythical moment in 2000), but the only image he's succeeding in painting is that of a (pro-Syrian) Shiite za'im: the very object of his contempt, and, if he continues on this road, the contempt of the rest of the Lebanese.