July 18, 2019

North Korea: What Would Harry Truman Do?

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — Early in his presidency, Harry Truman received a distinguished visitor at the White House: Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”

Oppenheimer, as Truman biographer David McCullough recounts, was “in a state of obvious agitation” about helping to create a weapon that had wreaked such devastation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That didn’t sit well with Truman; the president couldn’t stand Oppenheimer’s “self-pitying, ‘cry-baby’ attitude,” according to McCullough. “The blood is on my hands,” he told Oppenheimer, “Let me worry about that.”

For Truman, the “buck stops here” wasn’t just a saying. He was a man who said what he did — and did what he said. His friends and enemies alike could trust that he would keep his promises and follow through on his threats. Above all, he made tough decisions and took full ownership of their consequences.

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June 21, 2019

Playing the Trump Card in Iran

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — Before we consider why Iran may or may not have attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week (it definitely did), whether it attacked four other tankers in international waters near the United Arab Emirates last month (it probably did), and why it shot down a United States drone this week that it claimed had entered Iranian airspace (which it likely did, but the U.S. denies), let’s talk about the man in Tehran who calls the shots on decisions like these: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

You probably know that Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, meaning he has the final say on all matters of state. You probably know that he has been running the country from the shadows for 30 years, that he preaches moderation in public, and that he routinely denounces Western-style capitalism as corrupt. What you probably don’t know is that as the latest round of sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration bite further into Iran’s economy, Khamenei — along with his fellow ruling imams and a small group of state-connected cronies — are desperate to have their fellow countrymen focus on anything but them.

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June 5, 2019

What Jordan’s Syrian Refugee Crisis Can Teach the Rest of the World

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — In the summer of 1949, three years after I traded my United States Army uniform for civilian clothes, and three months after I sold my half of a successful war surplus business I had started to my partner, I hopped aboard the Queen Elizabeth at the dock in New York City to move to Paris. Arriving in France two weeks later, the damaged road I took into the City of Light was the first visible sign that Europe was still recovering from the war that had taken more than 40 million European lives from 1939 to 1945. But it wasn’t until I tried to start a business exporting food to Germany that I came to understand that for millions of people, the horrors of that war continued to live on, but in different ways.

One in five German homes had been destroyed during the war, leaving 20 million Germans homeless, the vast majority of which were women, children, and the elderly. Another eight to ten million former prisoners of war, slave laborers, and death camp survivors had set out by foot to find food and shelter at war’s end, only to settle in refugee camps on German soil for as many as five more years, as most nations — including the U.S. — refused to grant visas or extend quotas to let in victims of the war. What I remember today as mass misery, history remembers as the largest mass migration in human history.

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May 15, 2019

The End of Democracy in Thailand?

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — In 1851, Prince Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon and the President of France, staged a coup against himself.

The coup was a pretext for cracking down on key institutions and consolidating his power. One year later, he became Emperor Napoleon III. In London, Karl Marx, watching these events unfold, wrote one of his most famous observations: that history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy and the second as a farce.

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April 19, 2019

It’s Time for a Grand Bargain in South Asia

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — The generals called it Operation Smiling Buddha.

While the name suggests a peaceful initiative, the reality was exactly the opposite: Smiling Buddha was the code name for India’s first nuclear test. Supervised by top Indian military officials at a remote desert site in May 1974, the test was a huge national leap for India. It dramatically revived Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s popularity at home and forever changed the strategic environment of South Asia.

That India and Pakistan are fierce rivals is no secret. But the nuclear weapons programs that the two countries developed since Smiling Buddha have made their tensions more likely to become devastating confrontations. It’s a situation that completely defies common sense — especially since Pakistan, with a much smaller population than India and lesser missile capabilities,would be signing its own death warrant if it launched a nuclear weapon and invited India’s massive retaliation.

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March 22, 2019

The Real Threat from North Korea

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — It reads like the plot of an Avengers movie in which the good guys fail to stop a cataclysmic event and America is thrown into catastrophic and irreversible ruin.

A sneak attack renders military bases across the country unable to function. Our national electric grid, including backup generators, completely fails, taking out everything — from fresh water and sewage management to cell service, emergency hospital generators, and all means of communication — along with it. Without electricity to cool them, 99 nuclear reactors across America completely melt down, sending radioactive clouds into the atmosphere while choking millions in the communities around them. Within hours, riots and civil unrest engulf every city, as anxiety and fear give way to looting and rioting.

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February 21, 2019

Indonesia’s Game of Thrones Problem

by Stanley A. Weiss

GSTAAD – “Winter is coming.”

That’s the urgent message Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo delivered in a speech to World Bank leaders in Bali last October. It was a reference to the popular television series, Game of Thrones, in which seven kingdoms scheme and battle to claim the Iron Throne, the seat of power over all kingdoms, while ignoring a much more powerful army to the north that threatens them all. Snow and ice are said to follow in this army’s conquering wake – hence, “winter is coming.”

Jokowi used the reference as a metaphor to argue that the world’s major powers were battling to claim their own Iron Throne – competing fiercely with one another for economic and military dominance instead of cooperating to address more existential dangers, from climate change to global terrorism, that threaten us all. It’s not unlike the 57-year old Jokowi – known for his love of motorcycles, denim jackets, and heavy metal music – to use a pop culture reference familiar to millennials to make his point.

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January 21, 2019

How President Trump Can Get Out of the Border Wall Mess

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON-While few Americans know who he was or how he’s connected to the debate raging over President Donald Trump’s border wall, the first time I heard the name Jacobo Arbenz was the fall of 1953, when I was a young American building a mining business in Mexico.
A mutual friend had introduced me to a young journalist named Flora Lewis and her husband, Sydney Gruson, who was the New York Times’ correspondent in Mexico. Since the newspaper had a rule then that married couples couldn’t both work there – which “she understood, but didn’t like,” – she became a freelance writer.

She crossed the border into Guatemala for a story on Arbenz, the country’s democratically-elected president. A reformer and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt, Arbenz was a democratic-socialist elected on a platform of agrarian land reform. With the US-Soviet Cold War heating up and America fearful of a Russian beachhead in Central America, Flora Lewis was dispatched to determine whether Guatemala, as she wrote, was “the one place in the Americas where devoted, angry-tongued Communists have deeply entrenched themselves,” including in the presidency itself.

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December 21, 2018

America Needs a 21st Century Defense Budge

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-If President Donald Trump gets his way, our first line of defense against a Russian invasion of Europe might well be the Greek army.

It would, of course, be a spectacularly short battle. On one side: Russian tanks, missiles, and aircraft, all built for a European war. On the other: aging Greek pensioners wielding weapons designed to fight Greece’s supposed arch-rival, Turkey – not a military superpower.

That Greece is woefully unprepared to fight the Russian military is likely no surprise. But if you had picked one member of NATO to take on Russia based on President Trump’s favorite measure – how much that country spends on defense as a percentage of its gross domestic product – Greece would be second only to the United States.  But Greece spends over 70 percent of those defense expenditures on personnel, including pensions for retirees; meanwhile, Denmark spends a smaller percentage on defense but is one of the top NATO troop contributors in Afghanistan.

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December 6, 2018

Erdoğan is Not Our Friend

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-In 1941, Uncle Sam made a new friend.

His name was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam and Uncle Joe shared the same goals. Uncle Sam was determined to beat the Nazis; so was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam was making huge sacrifices on the battlefields of Europe. So was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam was powerful enough to define the world order that emerged from World War II. So was Uncle Joe.

There was just one problem: Uncle Joe was Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator whose iron rule led to mass imprisonments and executions at home. But when Stalin joined the Allies to fight against the Nazis, common cause soon led Americans to overlook Stalin’s cruelty and forget his signing of a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany. It was FDR who began to call him“Uncle Joe.” Hollywood churned out pro-Stalin movies. One Department of Defense propaganda poster showed a smiling Russian soldier, captioned: “this man is your friend.”

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