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But Is It Good for the Druze?

George Clooney and his future in-laws.

May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By LEE SMITH
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For many observers, Jumblatt’s turnaround—from Syrian ally to opposition leader, from a Soviet client in the 1980s to a friend of the Bush White House a decade ago—was evidence of an almost deranged opportunism. To the Druze it all made perfect sense. They are by necessity opportunistic—a small minority that must bend with the wind or be broken by it. Israel’s Druze community, for instance, discerned very early during the 1948 war for independence that the Zionists were going to defeat the Arabs and cast their fate with the former. They are among the Jewish state’s proudest citizens, fiercest warriors, and most active politicians. Syria’s Druze community has also subscribed to the power of the state—taking Assad’s side in the three-year-long civil war.

The Druze of Lebanon are different insofar as they stand on the sidelines of a political system designed to balance the country’s three largest communities: Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites. This affords Jumblatt what is effectively a permanent swing vote, and thus more room to maneuver and win concessions for himself and the Druze. Jumblatt is often called a “weather vane” as he is acutely sensitive to the region’s political winds. When he saw the United States unleash its military might in Iraq, he seized the chance and turned against his former Syrian overlords and jumped on the freedom agenda bandwagon. However, even after it was clear that neither the White House nor the international community was going to protect him, his Druze, or his country from Assad’s depredations, he continued to call out Assad and Iran and, closer to home, Hezbollah, which laid siege to the Chouf mountain fastness of the Druze in May 2008.

Thus, at a critical moment for the Druze, Jumblatt let fall the mask of the opportunist. He stuck his neck out in the knowledge that his enemies, Assad among others, have long memories and longer knives.

The leaders of minority communities throughout the Middle East, including Christian clerics, like some Western officials and analysts, say they prefer Assad to the Sunni-majority opposition because he protects minorities. Not Jumblatt. Two years ago he urged Syria’s Druze soldiers to stay at home and “refrain from participating” in the war to prop up Assad. “We must avoid being part of an axis against [Syria’s Sunni] majority in order to avoid future political repercussions,” he said, adding, “popular memory has no mercy.” His warnings were ignored.

It seems that no one is listening to Jumblatt these days—not about the dangers facing his Druze, especially in the midst of the Syrian conflict. I emailed him that Clooney’s engagement seems a golden opportunity. Here’s a man who advocates on behalf of Darfur and other foreign policy issues, and plays basketball with the American president, a close personal friend, Clooney claims. With Clooney marrying a Druze, maybe he could advocate on behalf of the Druze. Maybe after more than 150,000 dead in Syria, he could finally get through to Obama. Maybe Clooney could convince Obama to bring down Assad once and for all. “Please let me be far from the empathy of Obama,” Jumblatt wrote back, “and the butcher Bashar.”

Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author, most recently, of The Consequences of Syria (Hoover Institution Press).

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