Walid Jumblatt has long cultivated a reputation for spotting the angles before anyone else. As international pressure mounted on Syria in 2004, Jumblatt joined the vocal opposition to Lahoud’s rule in a move that broke with several years of close ties with Damascus.
In 2009, following the Lebanese parliamentary elections and the much-touted (but ultimately ill-fated) rapprochement between Damascus and Riyadh, he announced his return to sister Syria’s welcoming arms in a crass press conference at the Beau Rivage hotel.
The first move placed him in the vanguard of the burgeoning “Independence Intifada”; the second was what made it possible for Hizbullah and its allies to bring down the Hariri government earlier this year.
In light of his track record of political treachery prescience, what are we to make of Jumblatt’s recent statements about events in Syria and Lebanon? He has been very vocal of late in his calls upon the Assad regime to implement dramatic reforms, and recently criticized Hizbullah as the main obstacle to the Lebanese cabinet formation. I don’t think we should make too much of these moves, but they are certainly intriguing.
I spoke this weekend with a friend who is a political insider in Beirut, and he argued that Jumblatt’s statements suggest a belief that the Syrian regime is heading for another severe bout of isolation, no matter how things turn out in the short term. If the regime can turn the corner on the opposition, it will face a steady campaign of demonization from the West and possibly even certain key allies like Turkey. If it can’t stem the protests, the future will be even bleaker.
This isn’t to say that Jumblatt is contemplating a shift back to March 14th, which no longer exists in any meaningful form anyway. But it does make one suspect that his current allies’ confidence and sense of purpose has been deeply eroded by the events in Syria.