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Kim Calls First Party Congress in 35 Years

At the end of October, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced that the ruling Workers’ Party will hold its next congress in May 2016. The congress last met 35 years ago, in October 1980, during the reign of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

KCNA, with typical grandeur, announced that the meeting reflected “the demand of the party and the developing revolution that witness epoch-making changes in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche, the cause of building a thriving socialist nation.” 

There is no indication of what will be on the agenda, and Korea analysts know they will learn about that only when the congress finally meets. After a  month of consideration, however, they have reached a basic consensus about what the holding of the congress means: that the party has consolidated power at the expense of the Korean People’s Army, and that Kim Jong Un, the country’s youngish ruler, has taken full political control of the regime.

Don't Bother Talking to ISIS

Jonathan Powell, formerly the chief of staff of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has done the impossible. He has written an article for The Guardian that is almost entirely correctly yet utterly wrong.

Bombing ISIS is not enough—we’ll need to talk to them too.

That’s his headline.

But he’s not a fraction as naïve as you might think. He gets pretty much everything right until he asserts that we’ll have to talk to ISIS eventually.

He’s not the kind of guy who thinks wars can be ended on the Dr. Phil show. He doesn’t believe diplomacy will ever convince a genocidal terrorist army that’s massacring innocent people on three continents to join the civilized mainstream.

He recognizes that bombing ISIS is necessary.

He also realizes destroying ISIS will require boots on the ground. But whose? Kurdish militias do very well in battle, but they’re neither equipped nor willing to conquer or liberate the vast swaths of Arab territory.

And Powell realizes that Iranian-backed Shia militias like Hezbollah are out of the question for entirely different reasons. Unlike the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, Iranian militias are themselves terrorist organizations.

Sunni militias in Syria, meanwhile, are mostly unwilling to fight ISIS until they first drag Bashar al-Assad out of his palace in Damascus.

So he thinks we’ll have no choice but to talk to ISIS at some point.

What on earth would we say?

Well, he acknowledges that we have nothing to say to each other right now, but he thinks we’ll eventually think of something once everyone realizes there is no military solution.

He’s wrong.

Look. It’s true that there is no viable military solution right now. The West could in theory send tens of thousands or even hundreds of ground troops to Syria and Iraq and smash the ISIS “caliphate” in short order, but it’s not going to happen for a very simple reason:

We don’t want to.

There is virtually zero appetite in the West right now to launch any kind of a rerun of the Iraq war. 

Another 9/11-style attack could change public opinion in an instant, of course. A series of Paris-style attacks in New York City or anywhere else in America might have the same effect over time. But in the meantime, we’re in a holding pattern.

The thing about holding patterns is that they’re temporary. At some point, something is going to change even if it takes a l-o-n-g time.

Perhaps Assad will be overthrown and Sunni wrath in Syria will shift from the capital and toward the deranged “caliphate” out in the desert. Perhaps the civilian population in ISIS-held territory will finally say enough and fight the bastards themselves. Maybe Russia will say eff it and go in there whole hog.

Maybe something totally unpredictable will happen. It’s the Middle East we’re talking about, after all.

Even if the holding pattern lasts years, we still won’t be able to resolve the ISIS problem by talking to ISIS because we’ll have no more to say at that time than we have today.

ISIS is a genocidal army. It murders Yezidis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites and Westerners not because of anything they’ve done but because of who they are. There is no conceivable political solution to be had with these kinds of people. They will continue to kill until they are no longer able to kill.

That’s how it always is with genocidaires.

“It is important to understand that talking to terrorists is not the same as agreeing with them,” Powell writes. “The British would never have discussed a united Ireland at the barrel of a gun against the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland. But when we sat down with the IRA, its leaders wanted to talk about legitimate subjects like power-sharing and human rights. The same will be true of Isis. No one is going to talk to them about a universal caliphate, but we can talk about Sunni grievances and a way of ending violence.”

ISIS is not the Irish Republican Army. It is not even Hezbollah. It has far more in common with the Nazis. And we didn't resolve the Nazi problem by talking.

The IRA was at least somewhat interested in human rights. Obviously ISIS is not. Nor are its leaders and fighters interested in “ending violence.”

Abu Bakr Naji, one of ISIS’s intellectual architects, made it abundantly clear what they’re interested in when he published The Management of Savagery. “Jihad,” he wrote, “is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening [people], and massacring.”

That’s what ISIS wants. They're not even trying to hide it.

“I am not arguing that talking is an alternative to fighting,” Powell writes. “Unless there is military pressure the armed group will never be prepared to talk. But judging by history, fighting is unlikely to provide an answer by itself.”

History has proven over and over again that fighting can provide an answer all by itself. Not always. But sometimes. And sometimes there’s no other option.

The Nazi regime no longer exists. The Empire of Japan no longer exists. Moammar Qaddafi’s regime no longer exists. Saddam Hussein’s Arab Socialist Baath Party no longer exists. Thanks to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1977, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge government no longer exists.

At some point—lord only know when—ISIS will no longer exist. And it won’t happen because anybody talked them out of existence.

Interpreting Gorbachev's Very Mixed Signals

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s response to Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter plane on November 24th nicely reveals the contradictions on which so much of contemporary Russian political thinking is based.

Gorbachev starts by endorsing Vladimir Putin’s hard-line response—recall that the Russian president called Turkey’s action a “stab in the back”—as “understandable” and “justified.” That’s not surprising, as Gorbachev also believes that America’s desire for “dominance” produced Russia’s war with Ukraine. Back on January 31, 2015, Gorbachev said

Time to Retaliate Against China’s Cyber Espionage

“To my Chinese counterparts, I would remind them, increasingly you are as vulnerable as any other major industrialized nation state,” said Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the chief of US Cyber Command, on November 21st at the Halifax Security Forum. “The idea you can somehow exist outside the broader global cyber challenges I don’t think is workable.” 

That, in all probability, was not an observation. A year ago, it was inconceivable that an American four-star officer would talk like this—in other words, make a threat—in public. 

The temperature over cyber matters in the American capital has risen fast in recent weeks. If there has been any reason for the change in attitude, it may well be China’s not honoring its agreement, reached while President Xi Jinping was in Washington in September, to stop cyber attacks for commercial espionage purposes.

Suddenly, Dialogue with North Korea Is in Vogue

On Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry announced that North Korea had accepted the South’s invitation to hold a working-level meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone. The talks, scheduled for Thursday, are supposed to prepare the way for high-level discussions between the two Koreas, to be held in either Pyongyang or Seoul.

Belgium Terrorizes Itself

Brussels has been in full lockdown all weekend, and it’s going to remain in full lockdown at least through Monday while the police mount raids against suspected terrorist cells planning Paris-style attacks.

“The threat is imminent, precise,” said Vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders. “We're talking about possible attacks by several individuals, heavily armed, so obviously in parallel we are looking for one and more individuals with weapons, explosives.”

Schools are closed. Universities are closed. The trains haven’t been running all weekend, nor will they be running into the work week. Streets near Grand Place square are closed off. Armored vehicles are out in the streets. Helicopters are flying over the city. The US Embassy is advising American citizens living there to stay home.

The whole place looks and feels not only thoroughly terrorized but also like some kind of a war zone.

It’s a cliché to say the terrorists win when this sort of thing happens, but it’s a cliché because it’s true.

Why put the capital into lockdown for just a couple of days? Unless the police are damn sure they’ll capture the suspected terrorists right away, there’s no point.

And the police can’t be sure they’ll capture the suspects right away. Maybe the authorities think they know where the suspects are and are preparing to capture (or kill) them, but they can’t know in advance that they’ll succeed. Their intelligence could be off. They might hit the wrong house. The suspects could flee.

Any number of things can go wrong and often do.

If a handful terrorists are planning an imminent attack and don’t get rolled up even more imminently, all they have to do is wait until Tuesday when the city is back to “normal” to strike.

The authorities certainly aren’t wrong to raise the alert level, but locking down an entire city is ill-advised. Terrorists get a small victory even if they end up captured or killed before hurting anybody. It teaches distant terrorists who aren’t even in Europe that they can terrorize Belgium in the future any time they want just by putting fake threats into the air. And it could lull everybody who lives there into a false sense of security when the lockdown is inevitably lifted even if no danger has passed.

Look. Terrorists have been killing people in Western cities for decades. They are not going to stop any time soon. The worst attacks always take everyone by surprise. They cannot be forecast like weather. Shutting everything down every time something might happen just hands the bastards more power than they already have.

Stop it.

The Kremlin's Continued Attack on Dissent

The upper house of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament will shortly consider a request to extend the list of so-called “undesirable foreign organizations” that supposedly threaten state security and constitutional order and are prohibited from operating in the country. The list, adopted unanimously by the Federation Council in July, currently includes 12 foreign and international NGOs, among them the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House.

Spying on Friends

“Friends don’t spy on one another,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel two years ago, when new NSA leaks revealed that the US signals intelligence agency had snooped on her and other German politicians’ mobile phones. Around the same time it had been revealed that the NSA had targeted leading French politicians, including Presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Hollande, as well. 

A Frenchman Comes to Ukraine

Meet one of Ukraine’s most determined pro-Western politicians and Ukrainian patriots. He’s the mayor of Hlukhiv, a small city located northeast of Kyiv, in Sumy Province, just a few miles from the border with Russia.

His name is Michel Terestchenko.

RIP, André Glucksmann

The great French philosopher André Glucksmann died last week in Paris. Before passing on, he asked—charged—the also great Paul Berman to write his obituary.

Most Americans aren’t familiar with Glucksmann. Sartre and Foucault overshadowed him on this side of the Atlantic. But he was a towering figure in France, and he should have been a towering figure in the United States. At the very least, he should be better known here than the competition.

Berman complied with Glucksmann’s charge to write his obituary in Tablet. The whole thing is worth reading even if you’ve never heard of the man.

André Glucksmann was a great man, and he played a great role in history. I think that, in the world of ideas, no one in modern times has played a larger and more effective role in marshalling the arguments against totalitarianisms of every sort—no one outside of the dissident circles of the old Soviet bloc, that is. Even within those circles, Glucksmann and his arguments played a mighty role. Adam Michnik has told us that, during the bad old days in communist Poland, the dissidents used to pass around Glucksmann’s writings. In communist Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel was his friend. I have seen with my own eyes that, in Ukraine and in the Republic of Georgia, Glucksmann has continued to be revered into our own moment, and the list of countries could go on. It is also true that he has always had detractors. Glucksmann was America’s most vigorous defender among the modern French intellectuals, and I think that not more than one or two university departments in the United States ever invited him to deliver a lecture. In the American universities, no one has bothered to translate his major writings. The fashion for French philosophers in the American universities has always been a fashion for the wrong philosophers. Then again, the universities in America may not be as central to the intellectual world as they imagine themselves to be.

On the New Yorker website just now, Adam Gopnik recalls whiling away afternoons with Glucksmann in Paris during his time as a magazine correspondent there, and the description makes me reflect that, if the intellectual world does have a center, Glucksmann’s apartment ought to count as one of its locales. I recognize Gopnik’s details: Glucksmann’s purposeful conversation, the combination of a sweet demeanor and a moral firmness, the habit of referring everything to the classics of literature. I can attest that conversation in that apartment could make a powerful impression. My own first knock on the door took place in 1984 because the American political philosopher Dick Howard, who had played a part in the French student revolution of 1968, had talked me into reading Glucksmann. Just then Glucksmann had scandalized the French public and the enormous French left by coming out in favor of Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet missiles in Europe, which seemed to me unimaginable. And I talked Mother Jones into sending me to Paris to produce an article, in which I intended to reveal Glucksmann as a deplorable case. I do not have the heart to look at that article today, but I think I did try to suggest that Glucksmann was a fool. Only, by the time the article was in print I had begun to doubt my own evaluation.

The New Yorker writer Jonathan Schell had written a plea for nuclear disarmament titled The Fate of the Earth, in which he made disarmament seem like common sense. And Glucksmann had written a response called The Force of Vertigo, which—though it took me a while to recognize my own response—impressed me. Glucksmann worried about dreamy visions of world peace. Dreamy visions seemed to him a ticket to war. He had a lot to say about the Soviet Union and its own weapons. He argued that, in the face of the Soviet Union, nuclear deterrence and common sense were one and the same. Pessimism was wisdom, in his eyes. He wanted to rally support in the West for the dissidents of the East, which was not the same as staging mass demonstrations against Ronald Reagan. His book was a tour de force of mockery, erudition, spleen, and energy, together with a habit of banging on big philosophical drums from time to time. Reading it made me bug-eyed in wonder.

Read the whole thing in Tablet.

France’s “Merciless” Response to ISIS is Anything But

After last week’s coordinated string of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 and wounded more than 300, ISIS says France will remain on “the top of the list” of targets, that this is just “the first of the storm” against “the capital of prostitution and obscenity” and “the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe.”

France is promising a “merciless” response, but what we’ve seen so far has been anything but.

With American help, the French air force launched just a handful of air strikes against the ISIS “capital” Raqqa in eastern Syria.

Activists on the ground say there were no civilian casualties. That’s certainly good. It’s what distinguishes Western armies from terrorist armies and gangster regimes like Bashar al-Assad’s. Western armies do their imperfect best to minimize civilian casualties, whereas murdering civilians in places like restaurants, newspaper offices and concert venues is all ISIS does.

The problem with the French response isn’t that the air strikes apparently killed no civilians. They apparently didn’t kill any ISIS members either. 

“Anybody who attacks the Republic,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, “the Republic will fight back. It is not they who will destroy the Republic. The Republic will destroy them.”

Not with a handful of mostly theatrical pin pricks.

Destroying ISIS will take a hell of a lot more effort than that.

ISIS, of course, can’t destroy the French Republic or any other Western nation no matter how much effort it exerts short of somehow acquiring nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. ISIS can’t even destroy all of Syria or Iraq—not that they haven’t given it their best shot so far.

But ISIS doesn’t need to destroy the French Republic or any other state to inflict an extraordinary amount of damage. Just look at what one guy— Seifeddine Rezgui—did in Tunisia five months ago.

He casually strolled up to a bunch of British tourists on the beach and murdered 38 of them with a Kalashnikov.

The police shot and killed him, of course, and dozens of local Tunisians tried to stop him and even volunteered as human shields, but the damage was already done. Tunisia’s tourist economy went the way of the dinosaurs.

You can book rooms at five-star resorts now for as little as 30 dollars, and the resorts are still mostly empty.

Tourism is one of Tunisia’s largest industries. At least it was before Rezgui had his way with the place.

Tunisia, though, is considerably more fragile than France. It will take a lot more than one man with a gun or a suicide vest to break the French tourism industry. France has been hit a couple of times this year already, and the recent attack was actually a series of coordinated attacks, but because they all took place at the same time, they look and feel like a single large one.

It was the same on 9/11 in the United States. Four separate airplanes were hijacked simultaneously. We had casualties in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. But the four attacks were basically a single event.  

Imagine how much more devastating it would have been if those four hijackings were spread out in time. Imagine if a commercial airliner had been crashed into a different city every week for a month. Or once a month for four months.

And imagine if ISIS decides to attack France that way in the future. Rather than targeting five or six civilian targets simultaneously, they could hit a new one every day for a week. Or a new one every week for a month.

That would cause some serious economic mayhem in France or anywhere else. ISIS might do to France what it did to Tunisia. I certainly don’t intend to give them any ideas by mentioning this in public, but figuring it out on their own is no more difficult than reinventing the wheel.

The current French approach—ramping up the air strikes by an iota or two—will have no effect on ISIS’ terrorist capabilities whatsoever.

Which is not to say that a stronger approach would necessarily do the job either. Not even a full-blown invasion followed by the total destruction of the “caliphate” in both Syria and Iraq would reduce the terrorist threat in France or anywhere else to zero.

But it could certainly make a difference.

The United States spent years fighting ISIS under its previous name in Iraq and suffered no casualties at home from the organization while doing so. ISIS—which was called Al Qaeda in Iraq back then—was far too busy trying to stay alive on its home turf. And it eventually lost in Iraq and existed basically nowhere until the Syrian civil war provided a “safe space” for it to regroup and rebuild.

You want to fight ISIS? Don’t permit it to have a safe space anywhere on this planet.

South Korea's Dual Agendas Undermine Allies' Unity

“It is our stance that freedom of navigation and freedom of flight should be ensured in this area, and that any conflicts be resolved according to relevant agreements and established international norms,”said South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo, referring to the South China Sea, in a recent news briefing with his American counterpart in Seoul. 

The remark, made on the heels of a trilateral meeting in the South Korean capital among Premier Li Keqiang of China, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, and President Shinzo Abe of Japan, was tentative. According to an account in the Wall Street Journal, “South Korean officials appeared eager to avoid the topic.”

China Militarizes the South China Sea

Photographs posted on Chinese websites late last month suggest the People’s Liberation Army is now basing its J-11 fighters on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels, a chain of islands near Vietnam and China in the middle portion of the South China Sea.

The PLA might not keep the advanced fighters there long—the salty air degrades sophisticated planes quickly—but the introduction of J-11s on that island will surely cause alarm in the contested region for many reasons. 

Promising Structural Change Begins to Show in Ukraine

The seemingly unchanging nature of Ukraine’s dysfunctional politics can easily mask the reality: Ukraine itself is changing. Three sets of data illustrate the point.

The Ukrainian Week recently published numbers on the changes in Ukraine’s ethnic composition brought about by general demographic trends and, above all, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and occupation of one third of the Donbas. According to the magazine’s demographic extrapolations from the 2001 census, the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine has fallen from 8.34 million to 4.58 million—a 45 percent decrease. Ethnic Russians used to constitute 21.1 percent of Ukraine’s total population; now, they constitute 11.8 percent. In contrast, the ethnic Ukrainian share of the total population has grown from 72.7 percent in 1989 to 83.8 percent today. 

Morality, Pragmatism, and Orwell in Rhetoric and Policy

We’ve all gotten very familiar with Vladimir Putin’s Orwellian logic, according to which peace is war, intervention is non-intervention, democracy is fascism, and fascism is democracy. His latest comments at the Valdai discussion club just reinforced, if any reinforcing were still necessary, the point that the man is a master of mendacity.

We generally don’t expect equally bizarre ethical or logical standards from Western commentators. And yet they do occur, especially with regard to Putin, Russia, and their war in Ukraine.

On October 20th, Professor Mark Galeotti of New York University argued that the “West has lost the right to lecture Putin.” According to Galeotti:

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