Criminal Justice

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Walid Jumblatt: Which way will he go?

Lebanon's political situation took the usual turn for the worse Friday as Walid Jumblatt announced his support for the Syrian/Hezbollah faction that is attempting to gain control of the government. This is a major reversal for Jumblatt, the strong man of Lebanon's 200,000-strong Druze population, who earlier in the week had been voicing his support for acting Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Hariri's liberal government collapsed two weeks ago after 11 pro-Hezbollah cabinet ministers quit over a U.N. investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

For more on Jumblatt, who has generally taken the side of justice since the murder of Hariri, read Reason contributing editor Michael Young's 2006 interview. That interview was done during a seemingly more dangerous time, when Hezbollah was murdering people* left and right. The current dustup, which Hezbollah precipitated in anticipation of last Monday's delivery by the U.N. of sealed indictments in Hariri's murder, has so far remained political rather than violent. But it's still being hailed as a catastrophically chaotic crisis that has pushed Lebanon to the unprecedented brink of a disastrous abyss. Every day is Groundhog Day in the Middle East.

Pretty in yellow.

As with most government shutdowns, the main visible result of the standoff has been to demonstrate the uselessness of government. To the degree that Lebanon can ever be called a functional society, it continues to function. My kids didn't even get a day off from school.

Nevertheless, Jumblatt's move – should it result in a win for Omar Karami, the 76-year-old former premier favored by Hezbollah to succeed Hariri – is unfortunate news. Although the identities of the accused murderers have not been revealed, the U.N.'s list of indictments is expected to include a number of Hezbollah members and/or other Syrian stooges in Lebanon. The goal of the so-called March 8 movement – a catch-all including Hezbollah, other Shiite politicians, Syria-oriented organizations and random non-entities like the Maronite opportunist Michel Aoun – is to put an end to the murder investigation. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to "cut off the hand" of anybody who attempts to probe the murder any further.

Jumblatt's move to the Syrian side is shrouded in mystery. Michael Young speculates that he has been threatened**. This is the mirror image of a conversation I had last week (when Jumblatt was still in the pro-Hariri camp) with an Orthodox Christian leftist, who claimed that Jumblatt had been close to endorsing the Hezbollah candidate until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forced him to change sides and queer the deal. No doubt when things settle down the conventional wisdom will be that it's all Israel's fault.

Laser-like focus on the problem at hand.

Less clear is whether Jumblatt can deliver enough votes to get Karami in office. Here is some useful handicapping of his ministers – not all of whom are expected to vote the Hezbollah line tomorrow. Jumblatt is a smart enough politician that he may have made this move knowing it wouldn't take, and on the face of it he has a lot to lose if Syria comes back into Lebanon in force. And a government built on the power of Hezbollah – which is more adept at killing people than at governing – would be bad news all around.

For more about Hezbollah you can read my long-ago interview with Party of God politician Mohammed Fneish – who barely spoke above a whisper the entire time I talked with him. My soft-spoken old pal has most recently been employed as something called the "Minister of State for Administrative Reform," and has been doing some waffling of his own. Here he is early in January dismissing claims that the government was about to collapse. And here he is blaming the collapse on – who else? – the United States.

Mohammed Fneish puts another audience to sleep.

Hassan Nasrallah will be delivering an address about the situation later tonight, and if history is any guide it will be a long one. A country is free in inverse proportion to the length of its political speeches, and in Lebanon nobody ever talks for less than an hour.

Is there any reason for Americans to care about all this? The facts-on-the-ground argument is that we have no choice because our government clearly does take an interest. Since Lebanon conspiracists are fond of claiming that the timing of events always proves something conspiratorial, here's my effort: It's beard-strokingly intriguing that all this activity with implications for Syria and its clients is happening just as the United States has sent an ambassador back to Syria for the first time in six years. If you wanted to claim that this is all kabuki and that Assad has already agreed to cough up some fall guys for Hariri's murder, well, weirder things have happened.

I also note, without necessarily agreeing with, the case that classical liberals have a moral interest in a free Lebanon. Back in 2007, Michael Young made an eloquent case for Americans to take Lebanon's crises to heart in his column "Liberal Lebanon: Worth saving, or the hell with it?" I have been solidly in the "hell with it" bracket pretty much since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, and I sincerely wish I could delete all the above information from my head to make room for useful data like the rules of Hurling or figuring out how all those people get cats to play pianos on YouTube. For my money, the elder Hariri, a self-made billionaire strongly supported by Saudi Arabia (whose contest of wills with Syria and Iran is the backdrop for all these troubles), was too good for the country he resuscitated. From my 2005 Hariri obit:

Unlike the self-promoters, family legacies, D.C. con artists, holy men, and stupid grandsons who make up the bulk of the Levant's political class, he was never content merely to talk about the region's problems or enlist foreign patrons to serve his ends. Since 1979, thousands of Lebanese attended college courtesy of Hariri Foundation scholarships. The media empire Hariri built to further his business interests—including the Future television network, al-Mustakbal newspaper, and the only Lebanese radio station I was ever able to listen to for more than five minutes, Radio Orient—set a consistent example of open and diverse media in a country where you still need a government "license" to report about politics. Throughout the war, Hariri maintained construction projects (frequently destroyed) in his birth city of Sidon. In the postwar period, he dwarfed even these projects with his Solidere organization and its massive project to reconstruct downtown Beirut. The heavy-handed methods of Solidere in the 1990s, and the organization's virtual monopoly on local construction projects—roughly coinciding with Hariri's terms as prime minister—were nobody's model of a truly free market (i.e., one that operates through voluntary contract rather than government gamesmanship); and the buildings that resulted are frequently ugly, gaudy, unwelcoming, or all three. But considering the alternative, it's impossible to gainsay Hariri's achievement in Beirut. It's also impossible, considering the measureless obstructive strength of Lebanese society, the structural sickness of the country's economy, and the hostility of the Syrian occupiers to any and all displays of initiative, to imagine anybody else who would have been capable of it.

Not surprisingly, these efforts earned Hariri many enemies. To leftists and Islamists, he was too pro-American. To neocons, he was too anti-Israel. The Group for Advocacy and Holy War in the Levant purports to have hated him for his ties to the Saudi monarchy. And the vast population of Lebanon regarded his achievements as vast populations always do: with jealousy, trash-talk, and spite. There was a surreal pattern throughout the nineties, of seeing a ruined capital turn into a functioning city while friends and neighbors tirelessly grumbled about the arriviste Saudi who had ruined their country.

I have been less impressed by Hariri's son, and when I encountered him very briefly last year he failed to sweep me off my feet. He has also made some pretty embarrassing missteps during the U.N. investigation (as has the American ambassador to Lebanon). Still, he has been dogged in opposing Lebanon's legion of petty tyrants and in trying to get some measure of justice for his father and the dozens of others murdered in the the last decade. The movement represented by Saad Hariri is by far the best option for Lebanon and the Middle East more broadly.

*All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, etc. But this is a place where no murder investigation is ever allowed to happen, and the Syrian response to the U.N. investigation has been a pretty strong demonstration of the premise that the guilty flee when no man pursueth.

** Correction: I originally wrote that the alleged threat came from Assad. Young did not specify where it came from.

NEXT: The Breakthrough That Wasn't

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  1. Thuggish Hizbollah, caught up to its usual murderous ways, wanted to take its ball and go home when people started to pin their actions on them. Waaah.

  2. “Boycott Zionism”


  3. If I were Lebanon I would sue Israel something serious. They certainly got the worst of that “Europeans plop down in the middle of a foriegn land and declare a nation” thing. Between the Palestinian refugees, the several invasions (resulting in the creation/legitimation of radical groups like Hizbollah and incredible human and infrastructure damage) and such it’s remarkable they still have the trappings of a liberal democracy that they do.

    1. Blame the U.N. for creating Israel*, MNG.

      *And people have been bitching about it ever since.

      1. If they’d go back to those UN borders there might be less bitching…

        1. Less? Maybe. Ending? No. Nothing will satisfy the most virulent anti-Israel fucktards.

          1. Sure, but why embolden them and glorify them by letting Israel get away with what they do, and our dime to boot!

            1. Why not shame surrounding countries for refusing Palestinian refugees, thereby glorifying and amplifying the anti-Israel cause?

              BTW, I’d agree about the “our dime” part, but only if we ceased ALL foreign aid.

              1. Well said.

                Israel absorbed a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries after these people were tossed out without any possessions.

                The Arabs didn’t accept the UN borders back then and are only interested them now as they would lead them closer to their ultimate goal.

              2. Because when someone kicks someone out of their nation we usually blame them rather than the neighboring nations for not taking the people in?

        2. MNG|1.23.11 @ 1:26PM|#
          “If they’d go back to those UN borders there might be less bitching…”

          Let’s tell the anti-semites they can attack Israel, get their asses kicked, and we’ll just force Israel stick to the old borders!
          You can start a war and not lose any land!
          That should, well, start a few more wars.

          1. MNG and his misnamed Human Rights Watch are sick entities. MNG’s Human Rights Watch exists to bash the Jewish state and use that bashing to get money from the Saudis to show how anti-Semitic they are.

            In keeping with their mindless anti-Semitism, they had someone named Mark Garlasco on and this sickie bashed Israel while collecting and selling Nazi memorabilia. When his cute hobby was discovered, only then did the misnamed Human Rights Watch suspend Mr. Garlasco.

            MNG is not to believed on anything as regards Israel.

            “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

            1. Bullshit!!! Garlasco, a published expert on WWII memorabilia, was unfairly Godwined because he pointed out that IDF claims didn’t jive with the actual timer settings they were using on their willy-pete arty rounds.

          2. “You can start a war and not lose any land!”

            You think it is appropriate to keep land won in a defensive* war? So we could have kept Italy and ruled it as long as we wanted, moving our folks in? Hundreds of years ago Locke pointed out why this was indefensible…

            *It’s hard to paint the 1967 war as a defensive one as Israel struck first.

            1. Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba before the Six-Day War started. The blockade was an act of war.

            2. MNG|1.23.11 @ 6:40PM|#
              “You can start a war and not lose any land!”
              You think it is appropriate to keep land won in a defensive* war?”

              You think it’s appropriate to guarantee aggressors that their actions won’t be punished?
              Don’t bother with sophomoric bullshit about Italy; grasping at straws is an admission, not an argument.
              Go away, bozo.

        3. No there wouldn’t, my Nazi friend. The Muslim/Arab savages would just take it as a sign of weakness; however, that Nazi collaborator who funds your rotten organization, George Soros, wants Israel destroyed anyway.

          Maybe he feels this way because of the fun time he had when his fellow Jews in Hungary were deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Maybe he wants to relive those fun feelings. Maybe you’d experience those feelings as fun, too.

          p.s. Did the anti-Zionist cred of your misnamed Human Rights Organization help you get the Saudi money you guys so energetically campaigned for?

          “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here.”

    2. How dare those Jews not accept dhimmi status!

      Your sense of history is retarded. Israel invaded after being repeatedly provoked, first by Paly guerrillas and then Hizbollah. And Hizbollah was created by Iran’s Qud forces not Israel.

    3. MNG, Jews originally came from Israel, and half the Israeli population is Sephardic and Mizrahi. Those are the Jews from Arab lands. Your anti-Zionism merges seamlessly with your anti-White racism. Your logic, “Jews = White = Evil” is as simplistic and flawed.

  4. We should invade Lebanon, and fix it.

    1. Hey! That’s MY idea! No fair.

    2. All we should have done was told our welfare queen we would cut them off if they kept invading Lebanon. No invasions no creation of and legitimation of Hizbollah.

      W was lauding the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, democracy was gaining ground, the thugs in Hizbollah were back on their heels, and then he stood by and OK’d Isreal’s latest invasion (done with a hefty helping of US military and diplomatic aid) which undercut all of that.

      1. Bullshit. Israel invaded after they were violated. There is really no reason to believe Hizbollah would be weaker today if the war they started hadn’t happened. Happy fantasizing!

        1. Yes, there is much reason to believe that. You see, you are conflating Hezbollah with the state of Lebanon. Although the two may very soon be the same thing, that was not the case in 2006. Israel was attacked by Hezbollah, but retaliated against Lebanon. Sure, some Hezbollah militants died, but unlike the regular soldiers of a standing army, militants are easily replaced, and in fact tend to multiply when given the right reasons. And the Israelis, by destroying much of the infrastructure in southern Lebanon, created (or at least worsened) conditions which motivate people to insurgency. Israel’s position is not enviable, but their actions were neither in relation nor proportion to the attacks they suffered. A great power acted like a dumb brute, and the further militarization of the Lebanese populace is the result. Next time, they might want to act like a country full of intelligent and reasonable people instead of a bunch of religious fanatics.

          1. Hizbollah basically controls southern Lebanon as ‘Hezbollahistan’. The infrastructure is used to facilitate a hostile army and is therefore a target. Your idea of basically tiptoeing one’s way to victory-so as not to offend anybody too much-has failed. Every. Single. Time. The way to end an insurgency is to destroy it with overwhelming and devastating military force. Also, your proposition that Israel’s attack wasn’t in ‘proportion’ to what was done to it is true only in the sense that Israel didn’t use sufficient force to end Hezbollah. May it never repeat that mistake.

            It’s obvious what you really mean when you say ‘act like intelligent people’. It means you want mighty Israel to sacrifice itself for the safety of its weaker enemies. It’s wrong, and you should be ashamed of such an awful morality.

          2. “Israel was attacked by Hezbollah, but retaliated against Lebanon”

            Well..yeah.. what the fuck do you expect to happen to the nation that turns a blind eye to the acts of war committed by a terrorist organization within their borders?

          3. kbolino, Israel’s policy of deterring attacks by striking back works rather well. Terrorist attacks skyrocketed and over 1,000 Israelis died as a result of the Oslo accords. After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Gazans launched over 10,000 rockets into Israel. Both the military strikes in Lebanon and operation Cast Lead reduced attacks on Israel. Gazans and Lebanese have a responsibility to maintain the peace in their lands and not allow their territories to become bases for terrorists.

            By the way, the most religious segment of Israel does not support the state of Israel. Stereotyping the Israeli army as “religious fanatics” just shows how misinformed you are about this situation there.

  5. Juden Raus!

    1. Ah, the anti-Semitic charge, the first refuge of the Likudian scoundrel in response to any criticism of the government of Israel. Thanks for demonstrating the paucity of your position!

      1. Paucity actually means “smallness of qunatity” and can’t really descibe a position. Just tellhim to cuk Ron Paul’s cock.

        1. That’s cuk Ron Pual Max. Try again.

        2. No, nooo, bad Max, bad! Don’t do your banalities on the carpet, it was just steamed! Bad boy! Bad!

          Somebody get me a rolled-up newspaper, there’s quite a lot of snout-rubbing to be done.

      2. You don’t perhaps have to be antisemitic to dislike Israel, but if you believe every people but the Jews have a right to self-determination, you are, by the very definition, an antisemite.

        1. That’s funny considering the issue currently is whether the Palestinians deserve self-determination.

          For the record, I don’t think “every people deserve self- determination.” If Cherokee Indians moved into my backyard and declared a nation because their ancestors lived there hundreds of years ago I would call foul.

          1. MNG the Palestinians got a nation long before Israel was created. The majority of the British Palestinian Mandate became Jordan. The original British territory included all of Jordan and Israel.

          2. If Cherokee Indians moved into my backyard and declared a nation because their ancestors lived there hundreds of years ago I would call foul.

            Reason blogged about redevelopment plans a few days ago. You didn’t bother to comment there. MNG, you never complain about redevelopment projects in the USA. Israel’s record on eminent domain abuse is about as good as America’s. Both could use improvement, but you obsess only about Israel.

      3. yeah you are doomed whenever you talk about Israel.

        You either hate the Palestinians or hate Jews. There is no middle ground or a third way.

        I just want the US to stay the fuck out of it….but by saying that I am simultaneously anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian.

        1. Can I just hate everybody?

          1. That’s what I was thinking. Both sides suck a lot. Conflicts don’t always have a good guy and a bad guy.

        2. It’s a tough one because there are few people to root for in that area. Most Arab nations are horrible, flat out autocracies. The Palestinians, like any nation of essentially occupied refugees with little economic opportunity and a demoralized populace has become essentially a nation of teen-agers ruled by thuggish gangs like Hamas. Israel has an attractive human rights scene and government, unless you are one of the millions of Palestinians they rule in essential Bantustans. Hizbollah are murderous thugs.

          I think this is why it was so sad to see the comparatively decent Lebanese government have its legs cut our from under them in the 2006 war. Hizbollah was losing cred and decent government was taking hold, then Hizbollah provoked Israel and Israel went batshit insane and invaded again. The Lebanese government lost pretty much all cred and Hizbollah, who appeared to be the only ones standing up to the murderous blitzkrieg of the IDF, once again came off as heroes rather than the punks they are. Not only did we sit by and watch, we egged this all on. And we wonder why the Middle East hates us…

          1. The Middle East would hate us over the way we lick envelopes, MNG.

          2. MNG, those who hate us in the Middle East are responding to the propaganda they get. The USA and Israel are the convenient scapegoats to distract the public from any meaningful reform in the Arab world.

            Hopefully, the protests in Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and Yemen in the past few weeks indicate that things are changing there.

  6. The bright side of Hizbollah taking over Lebanon would be that Israel could and should wage total war on Lebanon, and this time it will be executed competently with the esteemed Netyanhu in charge. May no bullet or bomb or target be spared!

      1. Total Victory for Total Peace.

        1. No quarter! No mercy!

    1. That last one wasn’t total war? Could have fooled me!

      1. Those who choose to be “fooled” are, well, fools. And that includes those who choose to act like they’re “fooled”, fool.

  7. All of Lebanon’s dhimmi populations have changed their stance and started supporting jihadists, not just the Druze, because the Western powers didn’t support them in 2006. If they don’t, and are foolish enough to publicly reject Muslims, they know that murderous reprisals will inevitably follow. Take a look at the recent spate of Christmas and New Year’s mass rape/murder operations against Christians in Egypt, Iraq, and Pakistan.

    The Druze and Christians still in Lebanon are hostage populations, not self-determining religious groups. They will be targeted if any Western power invades Lebanon to get rid of Hezbollah.

    1. Re: Bob Smith,

      The Druze and Christians still in Lebanon are hostage populations, not self-determining religious groups. They will be targeted if any Western power invades Lebanon to get rid of Hezbollah.

      If Mexico didn’t have such stupid immigration laws, it would be better for these Lebanese to move to Mexico, as there is a big Lebanese community that has been growing since the beginning of the 20th Century, some Lebanese becoming important industrialists and politicians.

  8. I hate everybody in the Middle East. I’m more anti-semitic than you, haha!

  9. Tim, this behavior isn’t surprising at all if you’ve studied the history of the Druze. Their main goal is to avoid being massacred by whatever country they live in. Each group of Druze will adapt to support the people that rule whichever country they’re in. I’ve met Druze who have confirmed that this is basically ingrained in the Druze tradition.

    1. True, even in Israel, where they serve in the army. Ironically, given their habit of going along, the Druze are widely considered to be tough bastards — though I’ve never seen evidence one way or the other.

  10. As with most government shutdowns, the main visible result of the standoff has been to demonstrate the uselessness of government.

    No further proof required for us the people who love liberty, Tim… and no amount of evidence will ever be enough for those that love the jackboot and personal slavery, namely the Statist Fucks.

  11. The US has tons of proxy countries in the Middle East and elsewhere and a violent, human rights crushing record of dubious success to say the least – apparently Iran and Syria aren’t allowed to do the same…believe me Iran and Syria are awful but this do as I say not as I do crap the US government and the smart set at Reason and just about everywhere else gets really tiresome…

    1. Libertarians don’t play foreign policy as a zero-sum game. Hezbollah is opposed to everything we stand for (liberty of conscience and action in all matters), and so we are right to condemn them. It should be obvious to any regular reader that Reason is equally inclined to criticize the actions of the U.S. government and in fact spends much more of its time and effort doing so.

  12. p.s. As regards Israel’s size, Israel should be as large as humanly possible as this will piss the anti-Semites off even more (snicker).

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

    1. Underzog, I think that you are the anti-Semite. You and your nazi friends go online and post unhinged, bellicose, conspiracy minded garbage all in an attempt to portray the Jewish people as crazy warmongers.

      Good job, Himmler.

  13. I’m thinking of a summer home in Lebanon.

  14. Great article Tim. Reason, let’s see more of this type of story and less of the mass media, navel-gazing pablum about propagandists losing their jobs at other outlets.

    1. propagandists losing their jobs at other outlets

      At last, sir, have you no shame?

    2. Keith Olbermann leaving is the Dark Ages. It is our Dred Scott.

  15. Guys, this should be in Monday’s Morning Links


    No, no, nothing to see here, no linkages, let’s not rush to judgment, ISLAMAPHOBIA!!!!


  16. Just invite all of them here to the US. Why not? Lebanon is a much less violent place than Mexico, and Reason has no problem with letting all of them in…

  17. That dude on the left is from The Little Prince, isn’t he?

  18. “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to “cut off the hand” of anybody who attempts to probe the murder any further.”

    So why is Hezbollah starting to mellow? They usually vow to cut off the head.

  19. The US under W Bush allowed Israel to bomb Lebanon at will after a skirmish on the border with Israel. The US fatally damaged its reputation in Lebanon just to allow Israel a free hand. And now the new administration squeals like a pig because there are consequences when we sacrifice our interests in a foriegn country to those of our ally, Israel. I dare say the free hand we have given Israel will cause the US to get used to squealing like a pig in this part of the world. And I have no doubt that our sacrifices on their behalf will earn us nothing from the Israelis, who continue their move toward racism, apartheidism and laughing at UN resolutions with a heady aplomb and disregard of the consequences that those intoxicated with sudden power to frighten millions seem to be blessed with before their ultimate and inevitable ruin. Lets pray that the end of the last World War didn’t plant the seeds of the next.

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