When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."
The Philippines' notoriously ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte won rare favorable international headlines Oct. 12, when he said he would pull his National Police force out of his brutal "war on drugs," which has now reached the point of mass murder, with an estimated 8,000 slain since he took office last year. The move came in response to a wave of public outrage after the police slaying of an unarmed youth in the working-class Manila suburb of Caloocan City in August.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, following in the bloody footsteps of the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, has issued a "shoot-on-sight" policy for drug suspects. The hardline policy comes amid a sudden media blitz about the drug "state of emergency" in the archipelago nation. The new policy is already taking its toll. Amnesty International says it believes at least 60 drug suspects (including at least eight foreigners) have been killed by Indonesian police so far this year—compared with just 18 in all of 2016.
For the first time, after six years of war and escalating atrocities, a member of the Syrian regime's military has been convicted of a war crime. The perpetrator, identified as Mohammad Abdullah, was a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. He was convicted by a Swedish court Oct. 2 of violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse and sentenced to eight months in prison. Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees recognized him through his Facebook posts and connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, in which he stands with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. As the New York Times notes in its coverage, this is the first conviction of an Assad regime solider in any country, six years after the Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall.
It is beginning to smack a little of desperation—or at least we hope it is. Philippine President Rodirgo Duterte—whose "war on drugs" has now reached the point of mass murder—was recently put on the hot spot when his own son was called to testify before a Senate hearing on drug corruption. Paolo Duterte is a vice-mayor of the same southern port city, Davao, where his dad had long served as mayor. The younger Duterte is accused of being part of a ring of corrupt officials that allowed methamphetamine shipments through the city's port. President Duterte has repeatedly boasted of his enthusiasm for killing drug suspects. Would his standards of rough justice apply to his own kith and kin?
The China Institute in New York City on Oct. 5 featured a discussion with Harvard scholar William C. Kirby, author of Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth, on the question: "Can China Lead in the Age of De-Globalization?" Although he didn't state it explicitly, his answer appeared to be "no." Kirby began by echoing the prediction that as the 19th century saw Great Britain as the dominant world power, and the 20th saw the United States of America, the 21st could belong to China. But Kirby sees this succession as now threatened by the "destabilization of global norms" and the rise of "anti-globalist neo-authoritarian movements everywhere." He invoked the Brexit, the rise of Le Pen in France—and finally Donald Trump, who, Kirby noted, is rather obsessed with China.
A rare on-the-scene BBC report from Raqqa reveals a grim picture of the ISIS "capital" under months of relentless US bombardment and siege by US-backed ground forces. Reporter Quentin Sommerville depicts a "city fit for no-one," neighborhoods desolate and "ruined." Once you are inside the city, "[a]head lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble. This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn't see a single civilian... It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition's air strikes and artillery. It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city." All this to defeat an ISIS force that by now is thought to number only some 400 fighters.