Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.
In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:
“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.
This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?
Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.