The Cease-Fire That Wasn't
1 | SYRIA
The failure of a recent four-day cease-fire in Syria couldn't have surprised U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Having mediated in Lebanon and Afghanistan, the veteran Algerian diplomat knows that a civil war ends only when the parties want a solution as much as the mediator does. And as proved by the fierce fighting that has raged across the country, neither the regime of President Bashar Assad nor Syria's rebels is ready to end the conflict.
"Brahimi knew that Syria would get a lot worse before it gets better," says Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma. "There's no prospect of a political solution right now because there's no compromise acceptable to both sides. Nor is a military solution imminent, because neither side is capable of destroying the other."
The regime and rebel leaders agreed, largely for diplomatic reasons, to hold their fire during the 'Id al-Adha Muslim holiday. Each side vowed to retaliate if attacked, preparing to blame the other for breaking the truce, which collapsed within hours of taking effect. With no monitoring mechanisms in place, there was no way of establishing who fired first. Not that it mattered, because neither side was serious about ending the fighting.
Brahimi was disappointed but not discouraged, he said on Oct. 29, "because Syria is very important, and the people of Syria deserve our support and interest."
Indeed, a war that has claimed at least 20,000 lives has also stirred up rival factions in Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, threatening regionwide destabilization. Brahimi has at least managed to establish himself as the go-to address for the Syrian combatants and their foreign sponsors when they opt to sue for peace. The rebels reject negotiations with the Assad regime but lack the firepower to destroy it. The regime has lost control over extensive territory, but its air power, artillery and tactical cohesion still give it a decisive military edge. The resulting stalemate is reinforced by a pre-existing regional power struggle that pits Iran and its Shi'ite allies in Iraq's government, who back Assad, against a Sunni Muslim camp led by Saudi Arabia, which together with Turkey and Qatar ensures that arms and funds reach the rebels.
Given the impasse, the stakeholders in Syria's conflict are waiting to see what sort of renewed interest the U.S. will take in it after the Nov. 6 presidential election. But even if the rebels receive weapons that could make for a more equal military contest, it's unlikely to turn into a rout. Brahimi knows that sooner or later, his services will be required to broker a peace reflecting the balance of forces on the ground.
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When Protests Pay Off
2 | CHINA
Local officials acquiesced after demonstrators--mostly members of the urban middle class, galvanized by social media--rallied in the city of Ningbo against the expansion of a petrochemical plant. Similar "not in my backyard" protests in major Chinese cities have forced authorities to back down.