November 16, 2017

How Trump Can Beat Putin at Geopolitical Judo

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON—When the ancient Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu crafted his masterpiece, The Art of War, one principle rose above the rest. “The supreme art of war,” he wrote, “is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

It’s a point General David Petraeus emphasizes in his foreword to an upcoming edition of The Art of War. It immediately came to mind as I thought about Russia’s aggressiveness under Russian President Vladimir Putin – a man who has caused far more havoc for the United States than the wars he has started would suggest. But though Putin’s strategy has followed the principles of The Art of War to a tee, the true inspiration for his geopolitical maneuvers may come instead from something with similar principles: the Japanese martial art of judo.

Reputed to be a fifth-degree black belt in judo – to go along with an 8th degree black belt in karate – the Russian President’s obsession with the sport may explain how he’s parried, choked, and outmaneuvered the United States over the past decade. In Donald Trump, Putin has his easiest target for his geopolitical judo than ever before, what one journalist calls “the patsy in the White House.” On Saturday, Trump emerged from a meeting with Putin to tell reporters that “he said he didn’t meddle” in the 2016 election and that Putin “did not do what they are saying he did” – rejecting the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community.

As Peter Conradi wrote in his recent book, “Who Lost Russia?”, Putin is the strong leader of a weak nation, and Trump is the weak leader of a strong nation. Countering Russian aggression means the U.S. Congress will have to step up where Trump cannot. Holding Moscow accountable for its destructive role in the 2016 election, as well as its ongoing efforts to undermine American democracy, will depend on turning Putin’s judo against himself.

Established in Japan 135 years ago as a marriage of jujitsu, wrestling and “mental discipline,” judo — founded on achieving maximum gains with minimum effort by turning your opponent’s strength into weakness — has seemingly become the guiding philosophy of Putin’s offensive against the U.S. For instance, we’ve long prided our prudence and restraint in using our enormous power against other nuclear states. Putin has turned that against us with limited Russian military actions — in Georgia and Ukraine — that he knows we won’t counter militarily. The same goes for our strong tradition of democracy and free speech, which Putin has turned against us, as well, with successful efforts to spread fake news and undermine our faith in our institutions. It’s no wonder Putin has managed to fluster the U.S. from a decidedly weak position — judo has always been the sport in which Putin has excelled.

Truth is, these moves have been a long time coming. Since first ascending to the Russian presidency in 2000, Putin has turned Russian weakness and the post-Cold War ascension of the West into his political strength, spinning an increasingly distorted narrative for his people rooted in glorification of his leadership and a love for Russia. At the same time, Putin has exploited supposed U.S. strengths to weaken our geopolitical position. It started a decade ago at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy, where Putin launched a verbal assault on perceived U.S. overreach and intervention in the internal affairs of other states, effectively turning what had been a central appeal of then-President George W. Bush’s foreign policy – his push to spread freedom in the Middle East – into a liability. After four years in the shadows behind Russia’s nominal President, Dmitri Medvedev, Putin returned in 2012 to stir up even more public hatred of Washington, accusing the West of driving global instability, while easing the passage of new laws that further restricted liberties in Russia.

Every year since, Putin has only gotten more aggressive, correctly calculating – in 2014 that seizing eastern Ukraine, in 2015 that intervening in Syria’s civil war, and in 2016 that interfering in the U.S. election – would net maximum tactical gains for Russia with minimal effort.

How has the U.S. responded to this growing pattern of geopolitical judo? With confusion and division. Last month, we saw a prime example: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared that “when a country can interfere in another country’s elections, that is warfare.” But two days later, President Trump sought to deflect and de-legitimize reports that Russia had secretly purchased Facebook ads to influence the 2016 campaign. “Keep hearing about ‘tiny’ amount of money spent on Facebook ads, Trump tweeted, “What about the billions of dollars of Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?” On issue after issue, no matter how much evidence is presented that Russia interfered and continues to interfere with America’s democracy, Trump dismisses it as a “witch-hunt,” and a “hoax.” He is incapable of seeing beyond himself to the effect this is having on America’s democracy.

It’s little wonder that America’s former top spy, the retired director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said recently that “the Russians have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations” – adding that the strong evidence that Trump colluded with Moscow will continue to hang as “a cloud not only over the president, but the office of the presidency, the administration, the government and the country” until the investigation is completed.

But hidden in this troubled situation is a strategic opportunity.

First, if Trump insists on playing good cop with Russia, Congress should play bad cop. The strength of our system – which Putin has treated as a weakness – is that it allows multiple views to compete for primacy and multiple institutions to influence foreign policy. This Separation of Powers allows Congress to pursue a hawkish, concerted strategy of countering Russian power — even as our President pursues good relations with Russia. If Putin retaliates too forcefully against congressional measures, he risks compromising the benefits of having Trump as a pawn. By turning this strength against Russia, then, we can for the first time aggressively counter Russia — while minimizing the risks of retaliation and escalation.

Second, we should use this same approach in service of a strategy that takes advantage of Putin’s greatest strength at home: his image as a strongman who is restoring wounded Russian pride by taking on the United States. Nothing would be more costly to Putin than looking weak and feckless. Here’s how: we expand defense sales to our European and Asian allies, increase our English-language broadcasting, including Voice of America, and step up economic aid in key areas Russia considers within its sphere of interest — such as Central Asia — forcing Putin to use more economic resources in these areas or look weak at home. Congress could also add real bite to our Russian sanctions putting Putin in a more precarious economic position at home by targeting key sectors such as energy, technology, and banking. At the same time, admit the mistakes the West has made, including moving NATO to the Russian border, to show the Russian people that the U.S. is very eager to support a strong and free Russia — and it is only Putin’s needless aggression that is forcing us to respond in kind with measures that weaken and isolate Russia.

Third, and finally, we need a 21st century doctrine to govern the nontraditional tools — in the media, online, and through espionage — Russia has already deployed against us to great effect. Recognizing the power of these tools to achieve maximum gain with minimum effort is Putin’s ultimate judo move, and we have to be able to compete on the same playing field. We should start by actively competing for the narrative in both Russia and the United States including the release of financial documents and other information that would embarrass Putin, raising the costs to Russia of a cyber war. Above all, we must develop and openly declare our responses to specific types of Russian attacks. If Russia hacks U.S. economic infrastructure, for example, we could do the same to Russia.

When Jigoro Kano developed judo, the story goes, he needed to demonstrate the power of his new martial art. So Kano, a “frail little Japanese man,” sought out a burly Russian seaman, undefeated in multiple fights, who’d gained a reputation for his massive strength. Kano instantly pinned the Russian down. Then, allowing his opponent to pin Kano down, Kano quickly escaped while evading repeated attacks. At just the right moment, Kano threw the enormous Russian to the ground.

The United States is still the strongest nation on Earth. But strength alone is not enough to carry the day against an adversary who specializes in turning our strengths into weaknesses. Only when we recognize the game Putin is playing will we be able to fight back in kind – and out-judo the judo master.

November 8, 2017

The Quick or the Dead: What Trump Can Learn from Reagan on Nuclear Weapons

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — On June 14, 1946, the United States representative to the Atomic Energy Commission, Bernard Baruch, presented a novel and ambitious plan to his fellow commissioners. Less than a year earlier, the U.S. had awakened the world to the destructive power of two atomic bombs. Now, Baruch was proposing that the United Nations take control of all nuclear weapons and ensure the peaceful use of nuclear power. “We are here,” Baruch declared, “to make a choice between the quick and the dead.”

The Baruch Plan, we now know, was doomed to failure: The Soviet Union was already pursuing its own nuclear weapons program. But the day of Baruch’s speech was notable for another reason. One borough away from the Atomic Energy Commission’s Manhattan headquarters, at a hospital in Queens, a real estate magnate and a Scottish immigrant were welcoming a new baby into the world. His name was Donald J. Trump.

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November 2, 2017

The Real Lesson from the Balfour Declaration

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON—One of the most famous letters in history was 67 words long, written on stationary from the Imperial Hotel in London, and delivered one hundred years ago today. Neither its author nor its recipient could have imagined the elation and the heartbreak it would cause for humanity over the following century, or how intractable the conflict spurred by its message, as captured in a Times of London headline at the time – “Palestine For The Jews!” – would remain to this day.

All anyone knew in November of was that the First World War was into its third year. British forces, with the help of Arab fighters, were on the verge of driving the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and capturing Jerusalem, which was no accident: Britain had promised Arab leaders that if they helped defeat the Ottomans, London would support a unified Arab state across the Palestinian peninsula. Yet, Jewish leaders held out hope that Britain would make real a vision first articulated by Austrian writer Theodor Herzl in the face of growing anti-Semitism across Europe in 1896: that Judaism wasn’t just a religion, but a nationality – and that the Jewish people, scattered across the world, deserved to have their own state in their ancient ancestral land of Israel, which just happened to be the same land Arabs knew as Palestine.

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October 2, 2017

The Story We’re All Missing in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON—As I read the stories about the Burman military’s horrific campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, I can’t help but think of an autobiography I read not long ago by my friend Sao Sanda, whose father, Sao Shwe Thaike, served as the first president of the Union of Burma after World War II. It is a riveting account of what it was like to belong to one of the 135 ethnic minority groups living under the rule of Myanmar’s ethnic Burmans since World War II. There were two passages that came to mind immediately.

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September 20, 2017

Open Letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-In July, I wrote about how my friend Harn Yawnghwe challenged and corrected what I – and most of the Western world — understood about Aung San – the Bamar nationalist leader who guided Burma toward independence but lost his life to an assassin’s bullet 70 years ago.  Harn has every reason to know: his father was the great Sao Shwe Thaik, a leader of the Shan ethnic minority group and the eventual first president of the Union of Burma.  Harn is executive director of the Euro-Burma Office and a respected advocate; when Harn speaks, people listen.  Today, as Myanmar’s ethnic minorities are more isolated than ever and international outrage grows at the government’s treatment of the Rohingya minority group in Rakhine State, Harn and several other prominent figures have written an open letter to Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, urging her to “take the initiative as the elected leader of Myanmar” to “heal the wounds and lead the reconciliation process.”  I hope readers will carefully consider what this letter has to say.

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September 5, 2017

How to Solve Afghanistan – Permanently

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON—He was an army chaplain serving in the war in Afghanistan.

The Reverend G.H. Gleig had seen battle after battle – and he emerged deeply disillusioned with what he saw. The war in Afghanistan was “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity,” he wrote after his return. “Not one benefit, political or military has been acquired with this war.”

Reverend Gleig’s words are more relevant today than ever — which is remarkable since he wrote them almost 175 years ago. Gleig was a chaplain in the British army. The war he participated in was the First Anglo-Afghan War, which lasted from 1839 to 1842. Like countless other foreigners whose warnings about fighting in a country known as “The Graveyard of Empires” have gone unheeded, Gleig’s words had little effect: Britain would go to war in Afghanistan two more times before realizing the futility of its efforts and withdrawing permanently.

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September 1, 2017

Saudi Arabia’s Influence on Indonesia’s Growing Islamic Extremism

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON—It went up in July, a 100-foot-tall testament to the fearless and fearsome warrior who became a god. And now it’s wrapped in a gigantic white sheet.

The statue of Guan Yu – a third-century Chinese General revered for his bravery and loyalty – met its undignified fate last month in the Indonesian province of East Java. Because of Guan Yu’s significance to Buddhism and Confucianism, which worship him as a god, hardline Islamic groups called it a blasphemous behemoth, took to the streets, and threatened to remove it. In response to the controversy, leaders at the Chinese Confucian temple where the statue stands decided to cover it.

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August 17, 2017

What Donald Trump Should Say to Kim Jong Un

by Stanley A. Weiss

GSTAAD—We’ve now reached the point in the presidency of Donald Trump that threatening nuclear war with North Korea is just the second most controversial thing he’s done during the past week.

While America works through the fact that its commander-in-chief just gave a full-throated defense of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in a shocking-even-for-him press conference – earning praise from no less an authority on the subject than the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke – our high-stakes standoff with the Hermit Kingdom is not going away.

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August 7, 2017

How to Make Peace with North Korea

by Stanley A. Weiss

GSTAAD – Sixty-four years ago, the Korean War was suspended with a ceasefire agreement between North Korea, China and the United States.

Six and a half decades later, that “temporary” truce still governs the status quo on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program is advancing at a rapid clip, with Pyongyang testing two inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in just one month. But U.S. policies – from sanctions to conditional negotiations – have failed repeatedly. Why? Because North Korea’s isolated and unstable regime fears giving up its nuclear deterrent will mean the end of Kim Jong Un and his regime.

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May 26, 2016

Hiroshima Saved My Life

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON—As President Barack Obama prepares tomorrow to become the first American President to visit Hiroshima since that fateful day 71 years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of friends long since gone. The atomic bombs that America dropped on Japan in August of 1945 took more than 200,000 lives. But they probably saved mine.

At the time, I was a young sergeant in the United States army being readied to participate in the full-scale invasion of Japan. The previous year, I had enlisted in the service just three weeks after my 17th birthday, a skinny Jewish kid from South Philadelphia eager to follow my big brother, Buddy, into war.

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