Michael Totten

Strong Horse, Weak Horse

Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, was for a time the most strident and defiant leader of the Beirut Spring, or Cedar Revolution, that ousted Syria’s occupying military dictatorship in 2005. But in 2008, Hezbollah and its allies in Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party invaded Beirut and the Druze mountains southeast of the capital. Jumblatt was then compelled to turn against his allies in the “March 14” movement and temporarily join Lebanon’s pro-Syrian bloc. Fortunately for him and his community, he was only forced to do so at arm’s length.

The Arab world’s Druze do not have their own state. Like the Kurds, they are fragmented and live as minorities in more than one country. In each place they side with the strong horse—to use Osama bin Laden’s phrase for the most powerful leader around—in order to stay out of trouble. Israeli Druze are pro-Zionist. Syrian Druze are, or at least have been so far, with Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon’s political scene gets rebooted every couple of years, so the Druze there shift around all over the place. You can always tell which Lebanese faction is dominant because they’ll have Walid Jumblatt on their side.

Jumblatt has been slowly inching away from Damascus again for some time as the revolution against Assad has continued to spread and to grow. The Druze chief’s transistion is nearly complete. He is now openly calling for regime-change in Syria.

Assad has been therefore demoted, at least in his backyard, from strong horse to weak horse. Out of desperate necessity, Jumblatt’s political instincts are more finely calibrated than just about anyone else’s around, and he is convinced that the butcher of Damascus is on his way to becoming the ex-horse or even a dead horse.