June 13, 2013

The Megalomania of Erdoğan the Magnificent

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–It was the first time young Turks would march on the streets of Istanbul, when it was still known as Constantinople. On a hot spring night 105 years ago, a movement of student activists, nationalists and secularists rose up against the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II, who was the 99th caliph (or, religious leader) of Islam and 34th sultan of the 600 year-old Ottoman Empire. Their demand was simple: restore the short-lived constitution that the sultan had suspended in 1878, which granted greater freedom to Turkish citizens. Cowed, Abdulhamid quickly capitulated, reconvening Parliament and initiating what came to be known as the Second Constitutional Era in Turkey.

It was too much for the Islamic traditionalists in the Turkish military, who overtook their officers in March of 1909 and marched through the streets demanding restoration of Islamic sharia law. As the Young Turks fled, one writer feared that “Turkey seemed poised to go down an Islamist path.” But it was not to be. Within ten days, democratic reformists had recaptured Constantinople. The Islamic rebels made their last stand at Taksim military barracks on the city’s European side before surrendering to reform-minded troops, including a young officer named Mustafa Kemal. For Kemal–later known as Atatürk, founder of modern, secular, democratic Turkey–the Taksim barracks would serve as a reminder of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.

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May 28, 2013

It’s Time to Send Pakistan’s Army Back to the Barracks

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–It’s final exam season across the United States. In that spirit, let’s take a quick quiz. See if you can identify these countries:

  • Country number one has nuclear weapons. It has terrorized its people and threatened to kill Americans with a nuclear strike. For that behavior and more, America has imposed economic sanctions on it for decades.
  • Country number two is developing nuclear weapons. It has supported terrorism worldwide while calling for the destruction of the U.S. and Israel. For that behavior, America has strong-armed its allies into supporting tough sanctions against it.
  • Country number three owns the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal and has supplied nuclear secrets and material to regimes that wish America harm. It helped create the Taliban and provides a safe haven for some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. It hasn’t just threatened American lives; its army and intelligence agency have taken an active role in killing U.S. soldiers. In fact, the nitrate used in nearly 15,000 roadside bombs in Afghanistan in 2010 came from its fertilizer factories. For that behavior, America has rewarded it with40 billion in economic and military aid since 1947, including 26 billion since 9/11.

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May 2, 2013

Mr. President, Please Don’t Let Erdogan Play America, Too

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–For a man who has spent ten of the past 14 years as the only inmate of a Turkish island prison on the Sea of Marmara, Abdullah Öcalan knows how to make his voice heard. Last month, the longtime leader of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had a message read to a million Kurds gathered in southeastern Turkey, announcing that the moment had come to end his Party’s 29-year war against Turkey. It was time, he said of the conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives, for “the guns to fall silent and for ideas to speak;” for Turks and Kurds to “unite under the banner of Islam;” to work together toward “a new Turkey.”

But imagine for a moment if Öcalan had issued a different statement: that the time had come for Kurds in Iraq and Syria to join the PKK in launching an all-out war on Turkey. Imagine if he cited Ankara’s leaders for “crimes against humanity,” while proclaiming that Turkey had “no right to exist.” Imagine if the Kurds launched unprovoked missile attacks into Turkish cities. And imagine if Turkey’s ally of 65 years, Israel, then tried to sneak supplies to the Kurdish forces–only to see eight Israelis and one Israeli-born American killed in the process by Turkish troops.

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April 23, 2013

Five Strategies for the U.S. in Syria

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON-In the western media’s telling, the civil war in Syria began and continues as a morality play, good versus evil, and for good reason. The regime headed for nearly a decade and a half by Bashar al-Assad has pursued policies of extreme brutality, including large-scale executions of rebellious groups’ women and children. But could this tale end in a tragedy of unintended consequences? What should America do?

The West has focused on why the regime should fall. In addition to its record of human rights abuse, the Assad alliance with Iran gives ample motivation for Europe and the United States to want Syria under new management. So after a seemingly interminable period of vacillation, the Obama administration has joined other western powers in supplying selected Syrian rebel groups.

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April 5, 2013

The Folly of Sanctions

by Stanley A. Weiss

Playing in theaters across the United States is a film called ” Upside Down, ” about an alternate universe where twin worlds sit stacked like bread in a sandwich, separated by opposite gravities. If our world could somehow have a similar twin, last month would have marked the tenth anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s willingness to abandon his nuclear program without a shot being fired. Headline writers would have sung the praises of the sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations, which compelled Saddam to abandon his push for weapons of mass destruction. Abu Ghraib would still be a little-known, nondescript prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. And 4,808 American soldiers would still be alive to celebrate birthdays, weddings and Little League baseball games.

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January 14, 2013

Marshall Parks for the Middle East

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — On December 4, 2008, exactly 40 years after returning from a tour as an infantryman in the Vietnam War, United States Senator Chuck Hagel spoke of peace. “When I think of jobs and improving people’s conditions,” he told the nonpartisan Israel Policy Forum, “I think of what Stef Wertheimer has been doing in Turkey and Israel.” Hagel explained that Wertheimer — one of Israel’s wealthiest men — “has five very high-tech industrial base firms in Turkey and Israel. They’re planning twenty more. I’ve been there. I’ve seen them. Here he has Palestinians and Israelis and Jews working side by side in these plants, and he is helping educate their children. They have futures, they have opportunities. This is not some idealistic dream, in fact it’s happened.”

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January 9, 2013

The Emerging ‘Eastphalian’ International System

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — In global affairs, nothing can be so hard to see as the obvious, if it is big enough. Nowhere is this truer than in the transformation of the international diplomatic and security system now underway. Before our eyes — if not yet in strategic planning — the map of the world is rearranging itself.

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December 5, 2012

Iran, the U.S. and Azerbaijan: the Land of Fire

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON – In December 1991, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, United States Secretary of State James Baker gave a speech at Princeton University on the relationship between the U.S. and the “Newly Independent States” of the former USSR. In his remarks, Baker took aim at a curious target: the tiny Republic of Azerbaijan — about the size of the state of Maine — which Baker described as undeserving of American recognition until it accepted a long list of conditions the U.S. had required of few other nations. Soviet watchers saw it as the work of the U.S. lobby of Azerbaijan’s neighbor and sworn enemy, Armenia, to blacklist the ancient nation in the Caucuses region on the Caspian Sea.

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November 12, 2012

Impatient for Pashtunistan

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON— On November 12, 1893 — 119 years ago today — Afghanistan’s Amir Rahman Khan and Britain’s Foreign Secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand, drew a line across the roof of the world. Running roughly 1,600 miles through the rugged peaks of Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan, the Durand Line was intended to mark “the limit of their respective spheres of influence, so that for the future there may be no difference of opinion on the subject.” (Should “any difference of detail” arise, the agreement stated, they were to be “settled in a friendly spirit.”)

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November 6, 2012

It’s Time for an Independent Kurdistan

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — Had the course of history taken a modest swerve, the United States and Kurdistan might have celebrated their independence on the very same day. It was July 4, 1187 — 825 years ago — that Saladin, Islam’s greatest ruler, defeated 20,000 outmatched Crusaders at the bloody Battle of Hattin. The victory ultimately delivered Jerusalem into the hands of Saladin, the crown jewel of an Islamic caliphate stretching from the shores of Tunis through Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus.

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