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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April 5, 2016

If Thailand Were a Stock, I’d Short It

by Stanley A. Weiss

BANGKOK—In the summer of 1818, as then-United States Army General Andrew Jackson led troops south into Spanish Florida and the U.S. pressed westward with the admission of Illinois as the 21st state, America’s horizons broadened invisibly but indelibly halfway around the world. On a hot and hazy June day of that year, after a stomach-churning 190-day ocean voyage from U.S. shores to Southeast Asia, the first American set foot in Thailand, then known as Siam.

Captain Stephen Williams, a veteran of the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain, was not an official envoy. Instead, he was a Massachusetts spice merchant who had come to Siam seeking sugar. Journeying up the Chao Phraya River, he was received in the city of Siam by the minister of trade and foreign affairs, who brought him to the palace for an audience with the Crown Prince, who would soon succeed his father to become Rama III, King of Siam. In a letter to U.S. President James Monroe, discovered among Monroe’s papers years after he died, Siamese nobleman and court reporter Dit Bunnag recounted the royal meeting and exhorted the U.S. commander-in-chief that if another American merchant should find his way to Siam, “he should bring as many good rifles as can be carried” to offer as trade.

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March 15, 2016

Myanmar’s 40 to 72 Percent Problem

by Stanley A. Weiss

If you walk the streets of this city at the end of the work day, you’ll hear a distinctive sound: the clicks and taps synonymous with Myanmar’s traditional sport, known as chinlone. Sharing certain roots with soccer, chinlone dates back 1,500 years, when it was played for the country’s royalty. While the objective is simple—kick the small woven ball around a six-player circle without letting it touch the ground—the game is difficult. Players leap and dive, executing complex footwork with a combination of dance and martial arts moves. Their athleticism is all the more remarkable given the competition: there is none. The groups of men and women who play nightly do so without any incentive to “win.” Victory comes in the artistry of the moves and the cohesion of the players. In chinlone, collaboration is the name of the game – which is deeply ironic when you consider the source.

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March 3, 2016

Where Have You Gone, Harry Truman?

by Stanley A. Weiss

Seventy years ago this week, in a quiet corner of Iran, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union began in earnest over a missed deadline. For four years, American, British, and Soviet troops had been stationed in Iran, invited by the government there to help protect Persian oil fields from Hitler’s army. But there was an important caveat, agreed to in a 1942 treaty: all troops had to be gone within six months of the end of World War II. As the war wound down, Washington and London successfully pressed Tehran for oil concessions, and withdrew troops on time. But Moscow, denied the oil it believed it was due, found an excuse to stay – coming to the aid of Iranian Kurdish rebels in the northern regions of Iran. That’s where Soviet troops still sat when deadline day came and went on March 2, 1946, to the great displeasure of the person who mattered most – U.S. President Harry S Truman.

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February 18, 2016

Three New Realities in the Middle East for the Next American President

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–There was a telling moment in last Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate that says a lot about America’s misadventures in the Middle East over the past 15 years. Donald Trump, the real estate developer and current front-runner who has done everything from calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants to ridiculing the war record of Senator and former prisoner of war John McCain, finally did something to cause the Republican establishment to turn on him. Questioned about the presidency of George W. Bush, Trump said that the Bush Administration “lied” its way into the Iraq war by hyping weapons of mass destruction; called the invasion itself a “disaster;” and reminded the audience that “the World Trade Center came down” on Bush’s watch. It was too much for the South Carolina audience, which booed him, and the other candidates, who unloaded on him. The irony is that the breaking point for Republicans was hearing Trump say something that was true.

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January 14, 2016

Five Saudi Imperial Projects the West has Slept Through

by Stanley A. Weiss

Horrified by the news that Saudi Arabia would set a record for beheadings in 2015 while continuing to fund radical Islamic groups across the world, I wrote a column last October arguing that it was time for the United States to reconsider its 70-year relationship with the kingdom in Riyadh. After the piece was posted, one of the friends I heard from was Terence Ward, author of the internationally praised memoir, Searching for Hassan.

Terry knows about Saudi Arabia: while born in Colorado, he spent his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Not only does he have a rich understanding of the deep conflicts within Islam and between nations in the Middle East, but as a man who is fluent in six languages — including Arabic and Farsi — his understanding of the subtleties of those conflicts go well beyond that of most Westerners.

As tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have rapidly escalated this month over Riyadh’s execution of a high-profile Shiite cleric, Terry reached out with a thoughtful perspective on Saudi Arabia and the West. I print it here in full:

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December 14, 2015

A Dangerous Game of Military Politics in Indonesia

by Stanley A. Weiss

This past spring, a former cabinet minister had an extraordinary meeting with the inexperienced first-term President of Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Upon his arrival at the President’s office, the visitor quickly dispensed with any niceties and delivered a candid message bordering on insubordination to the head of state.

“There is no nice way to say this,” he told Jokowi. “You are not presidential material, and your political influence is very low. Not only are you not the most powerful person in Indonesian politics – you might not even be the fifth most powerful person in Indonesian politics.” He then added, “The only way you will be more effective is if you build support with the military, and make certain that the military leadership supports you.”

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December 7, 2015

Resisting the Arabization of Islam in Indonesia

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-It is a sign of the violent age we live in that there is a website in the United States devoted to updating daily deaths by gunfire. Last week, the Mass Shooting Tracker reported that in the first 334 days of this year, America had experienced 351 shootings in which four or more people were killed or injured — an average of more than one a day. And yet, aside from wondering what it will take for America to end its insane addiction to guns, few of these tragedies have garnered as much attention in the South Asian nation of Indonesia than last week’s horrific shooting in San Bernardino, California, where 14 were killed and 21 wounded at the hands of a young Muslim couple that were reportedly radicalized in Saudi Arabia.

For Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation – with more adherents of Islam than Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, and Palestine combined – the story of citizens returning home from the Middle East more extreme than when they left is an old one. But it is also a story generating fresh concern as a number of Indonesian Muslims are choosing to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the jihadists of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

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October 23, 2015

It’s Time to Talk About Saudi Arabia

by Stanley A. Weiss

In the House of Commons this past Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond made two announcements pertaining to Saudi Arabia that sounded like they came straight out of the ninth century. The first was that thanks to British diplomacy, Hammond did “not expect” that a young political activist named Ali Mohammed al-Nimr – who had been sentenced by a Saudi court to “beheading and crucifixion” for the crime of attending a pro-democracy rally when he was 17 years old – would be put to death after all. The second was that a 74 year-old British grandfather named Karl Andee – an asthmatic, three-time cancer survivor living in Saudi Arabia who has spent the past year in jail for the crime of possessing homemade wine – would likely be spared the 350 lashes to which he had also been sentenced and which his children feared would surely kill him.

For those not up on their medieval execution methods, one story helpfully explained that had the sentence against Al-Nimr been carried out, the Saudi way dictates that his head would have been cut off with a sword, and then his headless body would have been publicly displayed as a lesson to others who would dare challenge the Saudi monarchy. Meanwhile, an Arab News columnist reflected on the grandfather’s case without a trace of irony, noting that while it is well-known that “alcohol is hazardous to health,” 360 lashes with a long, hard cane is “not a matter of inflicting pain but more of a moral punishment” – because, according to the Saudi way, “lashing is done through a careful procedure,” with the “elbow planted firmly to the side,” and with “only the quick movement of the hand from the wrist. It is not the pain,” he clarified, clearly never having felt 350 lashes. “It is the shame.”

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September 28, 2015

What Putin Should Say at the United Nations

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York for the first time since 2005. He is expected to talk about Russia’s increased military activity in Syria and the role that Russia hopes to play in battling the Islamic State–while possibly offering a new “grand bargain” to the West over Syria. Here is what Mr. Putin should say:

My fellow delegates: For the past year, from this podium and others, we have heard variations on the same message: that the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are a regional threat in the Middle East; that while their methods are brutal, ISIL is simply a “jayvee team” that grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq; that the real danger in the region is the government in Damascus; and that by training so-called “moderate” Syrian fighters while supporting a campaign of air strikes led by the United States and a coalition of willing partners, it will be possible to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State while bringing stability to Syria.

I have come here today because I think it’s time that we stop lying to ourselves.

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