For the night of 17 July 2012
North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency reported that as of 17 July, Kim Jong-un was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, by the Party Central Committee, the National Defense Commission and the Supreme People's Assembly. His father, Kim Chong-il, was the last person to hold that rank.
Comment: Kim Chong-il once explained that there are two ranks of marshal in the North. One is marshal of the Korean Peoples' Army. The higher rank is marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Kim Jong-un now holds the highest military rank in North Korea and all his father's and grandfather's positions. It means he has consolidated the loyalty of the armed forces. The timing of the promotion announcement supports those analysts who judged that a purge of his detractors has occurred. He apparently has sidelined or removed the officers who were holdovers of his father's regime. The period of military guardianship of the state has ended. Civilian leadership is now in control again.
During the initial months of Kim Jong-un's rise to leadership, behavioral evidence suggested strong military influence over, if not outright control of, the government. Conciliatory diplomatic gestures invariably were contradicted by hard line military threats. Policy was bifurcated and inconsistent.
In the past month, Kim Jong-un and his advisors have acted to unify policy and reduce the bellicosity of North Korean public statements. In early July, several senior military officers who were installed by Kim's father were discharged or demoted. Propaganda directed outwards remained stern, but images directed at North Koreans softened, including Disney characters for the first time on North Korean television, Rambo and more modern western-style attire.
The new leadership seems much more concerned with the welfare of the people. The genuineness of that concern should be manifest in new trade and aid arrangements, particularly in food aid and consumer goods.
North Korea also should continue to show tell-tale signs of openness to talks, exemplified by the statement by the Foreign Minister in Cambodia last week that the North is ready to talk about Six Party Talks. More later.
Syria: Special comment. As usual it is impossible to discern the extent or gravity of the fighting based on Syrian opposition reporting and repeated by mainstream western media. For example, western media broadcast video images of a handful of kids shooting wildly from behind a stack of sand bags. No force under fire has time to fill bags with sand, stack them chest high and then begin shooting in the middle of a real fight. This image, which was repeated often, obviously was staged.
Then there are the videos of burning tires. Readers now know that the opposition lights tires on fire to simulate fighting, because of the black smoke. The lesson from the past 18 months is that tires on fire means there is no fighting. Kids shooting wildly from behind a stack sand bags and burning tires always mean a staged scene.
On the other hand, two bits of evidence support the theme that the government position has worsened perceptibly. Most important is a report attributed on an Israeli intelligence source that Syria has begun withdrawing regular forces from the Golan Heights back to Damascus.
No other source has reported the thinning of soldiers on the Golan front. If confirmed that act would correspond to the second bit of evidence, namely, the outbreak of shooting in two suburban neighborhoods of Damascus that have not previously been the location of anti-government violence.
Fighting apparently has moved closer to Damascus and apparently has required the government to draw reinforcements from the frontier. In internal instability crises, governments always fall back to lines they judge they can hold. Troops falling back on Damascus would be a textbook example of this practice.
Thus, the security situation seems to have gotten a bit worse for the Alawite government primarily because at least two more suburbs or neighborhoods are now experiencing gunfire exchanges and forces are being withdrawn from Golan to Damascus.
End of NightWatch for 17 July.
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