China’s Xi Jinping Creating Succession Turmoil

On Monday, China’s Communist Party began its Sixth Plenum, a closed-door four-day gathering during which the party is considering disciplinary rules and membership standards.

The meeting is also a run-up to next year’s crucial 19th Party Congress, where various succession issues will be decided. And, because some believe that General Secretary Xi Jinping is attempting to break decades-old norms designed to ensure stability and continuity, the meeting will be scrutinized for clues as to the degree to which he has consolidated power inside the ruling organization.

Deng Xiaoping, the successor to founder Mao Zedong, sought to regularize the succession process. He and his successor, Jiang Zemin, put in place various guidelines designed to reduce the scope of disagreement as power passes from one ruler to the next. One such guideline was limiting the party’s general secretary, the most powerful post in China, to two five-year terms.

Children of the Revolution

City Journal sent me to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer. More than 20,000 journalists were there, and since I covered the convention for a quarterly magazine, it’s probably safe to say that my piece was published dead-last.

I had to be sure, then, that what I wrote wouldn’t be dated before it even saw print, and I tried to write one that will be relevant for many years.

Here’s the first part.

In this year’s race for the White House, American voters nearly had to choose between a fake Republican and a fake Democrat. Billionaire real-estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump thumped his opponents in the Republican primary after spending his entire adult life as a boorish Democrat. Bernie Sanders nearly grabbed the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton despite spending his entire Senate career as an independent socialist, well to the left of the Democratic Party.

Sanders and Trump are flip sides of the same populist coin. At a glance, they appear to be ideological opposites. Whether incidentally or on purpose, Trump appeals to the so-called alt-Right—the ragtag crew of white nationalists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, Muslim-haters, neo-Confederates and “birthers.” Sanders, meanwhile, appeals to what might be called the alt-Left—assorted Marxists, “safe-space” activists, cop-haters, anti-Zionists, anti-vaxxers, and blame-America-firsters. Look closer, though: both candidates are populist anti-elitists who claim that “the system” is “rigged.” Both promised to kick over the garbage cans in Washington. Both railed against money in politics. Both claimed that immigration depresses working-class wages. Isolationists in economics and in war, they bucked mainstream Republicanism and Clintonism. And, as Troy Campbell put it in Politico earlier this year, they are both “enabling dissenters” who have “legitimized for discussion ‘fringe beliefs’ that millions of Americans beforehand had been unsure of or too shy to fully embrace, but nonetheless felt strongly about.”

Trump mounted a successful insurgency against the Republican establishment; his rise has ignited fratricidal warfare in the GOP, and no one knows where it will end. The Democratic Party establishment had better luck battling against the Sanders insurgency, putting it down, at least for the time being. But Hillary Clinton is the standard-bearer for a status quo that huge numbers of people on both sides of the political spectrum can no longer stand. In the years ahead, Sanders’s overwhelmingly young supporters will only become more numerous and engaged. If they pull off a hostile takeover someday, the Democratic establishment can’t say that it didn’t hear the warning shots—they rang out loud and clear at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this past summer.

If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that Philadelphia was ground zero for an anti-Clinton insurgency. When I went downtown to pick up my press credentials the day before the convention, furious Sanders supporters swarmed the sidewalks, blocked streets, snarled traffic—and guaranteed overtime pay for local police officers. They chanted, “Hell, no, we won’t vote for Hillary!” They carried placards and signs. CAPITALISM HAS OUTLIVED ITS USEFULNESS, read one. I saw “Bernie 2016” T-shirts everywhere and not a single Hillary shirt. Even without the T-shirts, the Sanders activists were easy to spot. They were the ones who looked like they’d just eaten a sack of lemons. Right in front of Philadelphia’s gorgeous City Hall—it’s the largest in the United States and could fill in for the Paris City Hall in a pinch—a Sanders crowd impersonated a Donald Trump rally, chanting “Lock her up!” and carrying “Hillary for Prison” signs.

Traffic ground to a standstill. My taxi driver ranted and raved, banging on the steering wheel over and over again. He called me “sir,” but I nevertheless felt guilty for being one of tens of thousands of outsiders who had effectively colonized his city and made it nearly impossible for him to do his job. “I’ve been a Democrat my entire life,” he said, “but this year I’m voting for Trump.”

At first glance, it appeared that nearly everybody in Philadelphia hated Clinton, until I saw that the city center was packed with DNC volunteers. They, too, were easy to spot. All wore the same light-blue T-shirts reading “Democratic National Convention” on the front and “Ask Me” on the back. I chatted with some of them, partly because I needed directions and also because I wondered what they thought of the protesters. They made no secret of their contempt for “the Bernie people,” as they called them.

Sanders activists weren’t the only ones taking to the streets that week, hoping for coverage from the journalist hordes. Even more extreme leftist demonstrators gathered as close as they could to the delegates. They screamed, “Go home, F*** Hillary,” and burned American and Israeli flags. Some shouted “Long live the Intifada!,” referring to the wave of Palestinian suicide-bombers who exploded themselves on Israeli buses and in Israeli cafés in the early 2000s.

Philadelphia native Erica Mines led a protest march against police brutality, yelling, “Hillary Clinton has blood on her hands.” One of the signs in her rally read, “Hillary, Delete Yourself.” “Hillary, you’re not welcome here,” read another. “I need all white people to move to the back!” Mines thundered. “This is a black and brown resistance march! If you are for this march and you are here to support, you will take your appropriate place in the back!”

Those whose favored candidates lose a primary election often feel bitter toward the winner, but the Sanders supporters were furious at the entire Democratic Party for allegedly stealing the nomination. Just two days earlier, WikiLeaks had dumped a trove of e-mails onto the Internet, probably acquired from hackers backed by Russian intelligence, that proved that party elites had had it in for Sanders all along. Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had just resigned her position, and at another rally downtown, Sanders supporters chanted, “Debbie is done!”

Sanders and his supporters had a right to be angry, but it doesn’t matter what the establishment wants if the voters want something else. Just look at the GOP. The Republican establishment went after Trump with hammer and tongs, but primary voters put him over the top, and their second choice, Ted Cruz, is another antiestablishment crusader. Establishment pols can’t force voters to do what voters don’t want to do.

The Democratic establishment didn’t have to fight as hard as their Republican counterparts. If Sanders had been ahead during the primary season instead of perpetually lagging behind, the Democratic establishment almost certainly would have blasted him with both barrels, but a Sanders win never looked likely. He won small, overwhelmingly white, states; but Clinton won larger, racially diverse, states in one landslide after another, not because the system was rigged but because Sanders came across to most nonwhite voters as an alternative novelty candidate. The establishment could hold its collective breath and ride out the storm.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention actually sprawled across two main venues: downtown, at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the place for untelevised (and unscripted) meetings and panel discussions between delegates and other party officials; and, a few miles south, the Wells Fargo Center arena in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, where party big shots delivered speeches in front of the television cameras.

On the first day, I headed for the Convention Center for the morning meetings before the televised portion from the Wells Fargo Center kicked off in the late afternoon. On my way inside, a man on the corner handed me a pamphlet for the Communist Party. Everyone who went in got one. The DNC couldn’t keep Communists away from the perimeter any more than it could keep the angry Bernie legions away.

I tossed the Communist propaganda into the garbage and sighed, relieved that I could put the heat, the anger, the yelling, and the political whack jobs behind me. No one could set foot in the convention center without credentials, and the air inside the building was 30 degrees cooler and 50 percent less humid. Still, 100 percent of the T-shirts inside the Convention Center had Bernie Sanders’s name on them. Had I been whisked into an alternate universe where Hillary Clinton lost the primary? Were the halls of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the previous week filled with people wearing Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio T-shirts? Not a chance.

After a few minutes, I figured it out. Clinton supporters didn’t wear T-shirts. They dressed professionally. Some sported a small Hillary button next to an American flag pin, but they otherwise looked like managers and corporate executives. Sanders supporters looked like hipsters who’d just spent the night on somebody else’s couch, and they appeared to be, on average, about 20 years younger than everyone else.

The data support my observations. Young primary voters overwhelmingly pulled the lever for Sanders, while older voters went overwhelmingly for Clinton. In New York, for instance, Sanders beat Clinton among voters under 30 by a whopping 53 points, yet Clinton still carried the state by 16 points.

Those aren’t the only political data that set young millennials apart from their elders. According to an exhaustive report by political scientists Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk in the Journal of Democracy, young people today are considerably more authoritarian and antidemocratic by attitude and temperament than any other generational cohort, especially baby boomers. Only 30 percent think that it’s “essential” to live in a country with a democratic system of government, and a terrifying 24 percent actually think that a democratic system of government is a bad thing. Only 32 percent of millennials think that it’s “absolutely essential” that “civil rights protect people’s liberty.” According to a Pew Research Center report, 40 percent of millennials want the government to ban “offensive” speech.

“The decline in support for democracy,” Foa and Mounk write, “is not just a story of the young being more critical than the old; it is, in the language of survey research, owed to a ‘cohort’ effect rather than an ‘age’ effect.” In other words, millennials are likely to carry these ideas and attitudes with them for the rest of their lives. Their contempt for free speech is a stunning reversal of the Free Speech Movement on university campuses in the 1960s led by young boomers who fought hard to topple institutional censorship. Many of today’s young adults, by contrast, want to impose institutional censorship—not just on college campuses but across the nation.

I slipped into a Small Business Council meeting, attended by perhaps 150 people along with a handful participating in a panel. I saw plenty of Hillary buttons and small American flag pins. Nobody wore a Bernie T-shirt. In fact, no one in that room wore any kind of T-shirt. This was a room full of professionals, not unemployed college kids. It had the look and feel of a Rotary Club meeting.

By contrast with the unglamorous and somewhat dreary discussions going on at the Convention Center, the program at the Wells Fargo Center was a pep rally and commercial for TV. The arena is far removed from the city center, in a gigantic ocean of parking lots near two other stadiums. Federal and local authorities set up a perimeter a mile and a half away, manned by police officers who ensured that everyone who passed that point had the proper credentials. Protesters and would-be assassins could not get any closer without being arrested—or shot.

Those of us with credentials had to walk for a half-hour through blazing sunshine, without shade. Temperatures pushed 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. The air was as heavy and hostile as Baghdad’s. My clothes stuck to my skin. I could smell the tar bubbling on the asphalt. I envied, for once, the Sanders delegates in their soft shoes and T-shirts.

Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and heavily armed Secret Service agents manned metal detectors. Black jeeps with the words “Counter Terrorism” stenciled on the sides roamed inside the perimeter. Helicopters flew overhead. Snipers took up positions on the stadium roofs. I haven’t seen so much security anywhere in the world except on military bases in Iraq.

Read the rest in City Journal.


The Politics of the Battle for Mosul

The battle for Mosul is as much a political endeavor as its post-conflict status will be. The entire venture pivots on the trust between the allied factions: the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis, and the Iraqi army which has its own Shia-Sunni divisions—not to mention the Turks hovering on the horizon threatening to join the hunt. For the ground war to work the factions need to believe that they share a common goal for the long-term future of Mosul. That's a tall order because the major players have divergent, even opposing, agendas.

I was in Iraq five times for various stretches, up to and beyond the Surge, reporting mostly for the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages. At first, I spent a good deal of time with the Turkmen in the north and on the Syria border and then often with Ahmad Chalabi around Baghdad.

China Claims Three Straight Quarters Growth at 6.7%

On Wednesday, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that China’s gross domestic product in the third calendar quarter of this year grew 6.7%. That is the same rate that was announced for the two most recent quarters.

As Mark Magnier reports in the Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, the three quarters of identical growth “was the first time since Beijing started releasing quarterly figures in 1992 that it had achieved such a feat of consistency.” “It’s quite implausible,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics to the paper.

The news, however, is not that the People’s Republic of China is fabricating statistics. That, after all, has occurred almost since the founding of the Chinese communist state in 1949. The news is that the constant repetition of Beijing claims seems to be defining the global narrative even though those claims might brazenly overstate China’s true economic performance.

A Visit to Cairo's 'City of the Dead'

“There’s a dead body inside our kitchen table” said Ahmed, a bright-eyed boy about 7 years old. “It’s OK though—it’s normal” he said with a smirk. “On what planet is this normal?” I asked my father, who had spent the summer in Egypt during college. Ahmed is one of an estimated half-million people living in Egypt’s ghoulish “City of the Dead,” one of two massive inhabited cemeteries in Cairo. Ahmed’s home is in the Southern Cemetery, not far from the famous Mohammed Ali Mosque, near the Muqattam Hills.

The Battle for Mosul is On

A coalition of Iraqi government forces, Christian militiamen, and Kurdish soldiers in home-made post-apocalyptic battle tanks are now on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and with air support from the US and Britain, they are poised to retake it from ISIS.

Mosul is the last Iraqi city still under ISIS control. Washington and Baghdad saved it for last because, with a normal population of more than two million people, it will likely prove the most difficult battle.

The number of ISIS fighters inside the city is estimated at less than 10,000, but they’ll be fighting guerrilla-style with booby traps, car bombs, IEDs and suicide bombers. ISIS has also dug in deep underground with a vast network of Vietcong- and Hezbollah-style tunnel networks. Rooting them out of there is going to be a nightmare.

The cities of Fallujah, Tikrit and Ramadi were purged with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias. This time, Assyrian Christians and Kurds are backing up the Iraqis instead.

The Kurds are the best fighters in the region after the Israelis, and they are by far our most reliable allies. They are consistently on the right side of every conflict, against both secular tyrants like Saddam Hussein and all manner of religious totalitarians like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

And they are truly formidable fighters. Attacking Kurdish territory is as brain-dead as attempting an invasion of Texas. At the height of his power, Saddam Hussein had the fourth-largest army in the world, yet Kurdish fighters, thanks to a British and American no-fly zone, fought and won against Baghdad in the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War with nothing but small arms.

They’re making their own tanks now, if “tank” is the right word for contraptions that appear air-lifted out of Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead. You can tell just by looking at them that they’re not as fireproof as an M1 Abrams, a Merkava, or a Russian T-4 Armata, but they don’t have to be. The Kurds are fighting terrorists, not the Wehrmacht.

ISIS is doomed. Fewer than 10,000 terrorists are currently facing off against almost 100,000 Kurdish and Iraqi fighters. They aren’t fighting “imperialists” this time, but indigenous Muslims and Christians, many of whom, especially on the Kurdish side, would be willing to fight with kitchen knives if they had to.

A Kurdish general says he expects the fighting to last roughly two months, which seems about right since taking back smaller Iraqi cities took a couple of weeks. However long it takes, ISIS is going to lose Mosul, just like it lost Tikrit and Fallujah.

“They will come back with a new name and they'll be more extreme and more barbaric,” Kurdish Lieutenant-Colonel Fariq Hama Faraj told the Military Times. “If you look to the history of these organizations we see that each one is more extreme than the last.”

That has been true so far, but it’s hard to imagine a nastier terrorist army than ISIS. The only thing limiting ISIS’ barbarism is its dearth of technology. Does anyone doubt for a moment that it would use nuclear weapons if it had them? If it had a superpower’s arsenal, mushroom clouds would have already risen over Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tel Aviv, Brussels, Paris and Washington.

Even if ISIS were forced out of every last stronghold in both Syria and Iraq, it would still exist in some form, for sure, but the whole point of denying it territory, especially urban territory, is so it can’t amass military strength like a conventional state.

A lot of ISIS fighters are going to die, but they are part of a global organization and the survivors will fly away and land somewhere else like exploding mold spores. Some will hunker down elsewhere in Iraq. Some may head to Libya, others to Egypt’s increasingly anarchic Sinai peninsula.

Most will probably crawl back to Syria where they came from. ISIS is still going gangbusters there, especially in and around its “capital” in Raqqa. Contrary to popular belief—and propaganda out of the Kremlin—neither the Assad regime nor Vladimir Putin’s Russia are fighting ISIS. Their only concern is keeping the Arab Socialist Baath Party propped up in its rump state in Damascus and along the Mediterranean. ISIS still has a free hand to do whatever it wants out in the desert.

Some fleeing ISIS fighters will probably make a beeline for Europe and the United States. It won’t be easy for them to get here. The State Department has a notoriously difficult time vetting refugees, but more ISIS members than ever are now known to foreign intelligence agencies. Syrian rebels, for instance, have handed vast amounts of intelligence on ISIS’ network of foreign fighters to the US while other troves of information, much of it also about foreign fighters, including American citizens, have been obtained directly by the US military.

It won’t be easy for these people to get here when they run out of Mosul, but you can bet your bottom dollar that at least some of them are going to try.

The State of Play in Transdnistria

The drive from Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, to the breakaway region of Transdnistria takes only about an hour. Transdnistria, which runs like a ribbon between the curved borders of Moldova and Ukraine, takes its name from the fact that most of it—though not all—lies across the Dniester river.

Transdnistria does have a somewhat different modern history than does the rest of Moldova—a much more Soviet one. From 1921-1940, much of the area that is now called Transdnistria was part of the Soviet Union. The so-called Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (officially founded in 1924) was a constituent part of the Ukrainian SSR, and for much of the time had its capital in Tiraspol. So while Transdnistria was Sovietized—and large amounts of Russians and Ukrainians were imported to work in the newly industrialized area—the rest of what we now know as Moldova was part of the Kingdom of Romania.

China’s PLA Faces Budget Cuts, Soldiers Protest

On Tuesday, more than a thousand demobilized soldiers, wearing green fatigues, staged a protest in Beijing across from the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense.

China’s People’s Liberation Army faces increasingly severe budget constraints, and there has already been grumbling not only from former soldiers but also from currently serving senior officers.

The demonstrators arrived early Tuesday morning and stayed late into the evening. In the interim, they sang patriotic songs, waved national flags, and demanded relief. “They protested because they don’t have a job now after serving a long period of time in the army, some for a dozen years,” said Liu Feiyue, editor of the civil rights Minsheng Guancha website, to the Associated Press. “They are asking for employment.”

Putin and South Africa’s ANC: Friends Forever?

Russia wants to promote strategic partnerships and economic cooperation with African countries, President Vladimir Putin said at VTB Capital’s “Russia Calling” Forum on October 11, 2016.

Putin’s statement came at a time of high tensions between Russia and Western forces. President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa are likely to be among Putin’s allies during this period.

In past years, Zuma and the ANC have become more reliant on Russia and China as foreign patrons. The ANC and Zuma are politically weaker due to scandals around the president, increased factionalism, constrained government resources and electoral setbacks.

Putin has used the opportunity to strengthen Russia’s position in South Africa. Putin’s United Russia party concluded a pact with the ANC in 2013. The BRICS alliance and bilateral relations were also channels in this regard. The strategic partnership has been reflected in increased security and intelligence cooperation, arms industry projects, and a gigantic nuclear energy project.

Slow Blogging This Week

Two weeks ago, my mother-in-law died of liver and kidney failure.

My wife and I have just returned home from Southern California where we scattered her mother’s ashes at sea off the coast of Ventura. She is doing okay, but her father is having a much harder time. Her parents were married for 49 years.

There’s plenty going on in the world right now, but it’s going to take me a couple of days to catch up and get back in the swing of things. Thanks for being patient.

Philippine President to Obama: 'Go to Hell' as Asia Alliance Deteriorates

“No, no, no, he did not say that at all,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay to reporters in Hanoi.

Yes, yes, yes, he did. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in fact said this in Vietnam on September 28, addressing the US: “You are scheduled to hold war games again which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now, this will be the last military exercise.”

You can understand Yasay’s attempt to smooth over what could end up the biggest blunder in his country’s post-colonial history. While Beijing threatens to dismember the Philippines, one island, rock, and shoal at a time, Duterte is trying to break the only thing that protects his country from Beijing, his military alliance with the United States. It would, of course, be difficult for the US to defend the Philippines if the Philippine and American militaries did not regularly exercise together.

Georgia's Election Matters as Putin's Global Threat Looms

Vladimir Putin's global offensive began in 2008 when Russian forces invaded Georgia. This week on October 8, the imperial resurgence Putin launched could receive its first serious setback when Georgians go to the polls to elect a new parliament. Pro-Western parties could retake power but polls indicate a virtual dead heat. It will be near-run thing. It shouldn't be and wouldn't be but for America's neglect of the region—really since the invasion—alongside the EU's passionless embrace. Should we care if Georgia drifts further back into Moscow's orbit? I reported on the invasion for the Wall Street Journal and, yes, we should care. It matters a lot. To understand why, we need a brief history excursion.

Dueling Narratives: EU Overreach vs Hungary's Resistance

"Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?" This was the question asked to Hungarians on Sunday's special referendum. It was prompted by an outcry from Hungarians at the throngs of Middle Eastern refugees and migrants that have crossed into their country in the past two years, and President Victor Orbán's disgust at the European Union's plan to distribute refugees amongst all of its member countries regardless of the wishes of the citizenry.

The referendum was Orbán and his ruling Fidesz Party's opportunity to snub their nose at European Union and German leadership on the issue. But things did not go precisely as planned. While the results were as expected—a resounding 98.3 percent said 'No' to the above question—the turnout numbers have proven to be the fly in Orbán's ointment.

What Just Happened in Colombia?

By a razor-thin margin of less than half a percentage point, Colombian voters narrowly rejected a proposed peace plan that would have formally ended the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere.

Almost everyone thought the referendum would pass, that it was a mere formality after years of painstaking negotiations in Cuba, but no.

The UK’s Independent calls the vote “Farcxit.” Indeed, the peso crashed hard against the dollar for the same reason the British pound fell after Brexit—international markets hate uncertainty, especially where war and peace are concerned.

“If Colombians were dinosaurs,” one supporter of the peace deal said on social media, “we would vote for the meteorite.”

For more than five decades, the Soviet- and narco-backed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has waged a brutal insurgency against the Colombian government and its people. When Soviet largesse dried up at the end of the Cold War, the guerrillas turned to kidnapping and drug trafficking to fund their insurgency, and they’ve used just about every terrorist tactic short of suicide-bombings since the very beginning. More than 220,000 people have been killed since the war started in 1964, and more than seven million have been displaced.

So why did a slim majority of the population vote “no” in a national referendum to end the war once and for all?

Because the peace deal was too nice to the FARC.

Amnesty was part of the package, of course. All the FARC leaders could have stayed out of prison if they confessed and made reparations. Worse, the peace treaty would have given the FARC ten seats in Congress—five in the Senate and five in the House—for ten years.

Plenty of wars end with amnesty for the losing side, including the American Civil War. Confederate soldiers, officers and political leaders surrendered partly because they lost on the battlefield but also because they knew they’d be citizens with equal rights rather than corpses, prisoners or subjects. President Andrew Johnson, who followed Abraham Lincoln in the White House, issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon to all but a few who had participated in the rebellion against Washington. The war would have lasted longer and ended even more bitterly otherwise.

Giving the FARC ten seats in Congress, however, would have rewarded them for their violence. Colombia is a democratic country. The only people who deserve seats in the Congress are those with enough popular support to win a proper election.

The FARC is and has always been communist. Communists prefer bullets and barbed wire to ballots. Every communist nation in the history of the world has been a police state. All communist rulers murdered their way into power and murdered and jailed opponents to stay in power. Rewarding the FARC’s kidnapping and bloodshed with an unearned share of an otherwise functioning democracy would have been a travesty far worse than amnesty.

Former president and current senator Álvaro Uribe led the political opposition to this treaty, which should surprise no one. He’s the man who turned the conflict around during his presidency between 2002 and 2010. He did it by clearing and holding guerilla-occupied territory, ramping up the police and army presence in dangerous areas, improving the government’s human rights record, assisting internally displaced people and convincing murderous right-wing militias to disarm. Call him Colombia’s David Petraeus. He knows how the beat the guerrillas and is confident that they can be whipped even harder if need be.

If I lived in Colombia, I probably would have voted for the peace deal with extreme reservations. At the same time, I’d probably be relieved that it failed by a miniscule margin because it will force the FARC to accept harsher—and much fairer—terms.

Make no mistake. The FARC is willing to negotiate because the government spent a good solid decade kicking its ass. It has been losing and losing badly for a long time and has absolutely no chance of a miltary or political victory, ever.

Even without a final peace treaty, violence in Colombia has dropped so sharply during the last couple of years that the country is becoming a must-visit tourist destination. The city of Medellín, once among the most violent and hellish on earth, has won a number of international awards for its urban dynamism, including the City of Year Award from the Urban Land Institute, the Lee Kwan Yew World City Prize, and another for urban design from Harvard University.  

We’ll know the Syrian civil war is well and truly over, whether or not it says so on paper, if Aleppo ever wins these kinds of prizes.

The Colombian vote was so close that the results were in range of a rounding error. Just 50.24 percent voted no. Another treaty with just slightly harsher terms should at least narrowly pass, and it might even pass by a lot.

So the FARC leaders are spectacularly unlikely to ramp up the violence again. They’ll go back to Havana and swallow that pill if the alternative is more fighting that they can’t possibly win and that could easily lead to their death, imprisonment or permanent exile.

I could be wrong, of course, but if they’re willing to risk that by setting the country on fire again, I’ll eat my hat. Colombians are used to war. Most of them have never known anything else. If it takes a little more fighting to end this thing properly, they’ll do it. And they’ll win. 

Putin Consolidates Power as Young Loyalists Enter Duma

When the final results of the September 18th Russian Duma elections were announced on Friday, the outcomes were entirely as expected. President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party was victorious, though reports of electoral fraud indicate that, particularly in cities, those results had to be manipulated. Turnout was down to only 48 percent, helping United Russia push its share of Duma seats even higher than it had been before. When the new Duma is seated, 76 percent of its deputies will be from United Russia and will hold 105 more seats than it had previously. The remaining seats went to the systemic opposition parties that Putin trusts to not rock the political boat: the Communist Party, A Just Russia, and the Liberal Democratic Party. Each of these saw their share of Duma seats shrink markedly.


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