November 12, 2013

Let’s Remember What Iran Has Said About Israel

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON-It is one of the great ironies of history that the nation of Israel–and likely, the religion of Judaism as we know it–would not exist if it weren’t for an ancient king from the land that is now Iran. More than 25 centuries ago, it was Cyrus the Great, the founder and first ruler of the Persian Empire, who rose from his roots in present-day southwestern Iran to overthrow the Babylonian Empire, free 40,000 Jews held in captivity and facilitate their return to Judea, the site of present-day Israel.

Of course, this is not a history that you will read in any Iranian textbook. Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution was launched 34 years ago last week by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, two generations of his disciples, in the words of Islamic scholar Andrew Bostom, “have embraced jihad as a central pillar of faith and action” featuring “an unending campaign of vilification and proxy violence against the ‘Zionist entity,’ Israel.” But with Western and Iranian diplomats coming close to an agreement that would provide Iran with limited relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze on some of its nuclear activities, Israel has been cast as the skunk at the garden party.

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October 7, 2013

Jokowi’s Obama Problem

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–In 1949, a young press attaché was dispatched from Jakarta to New York, with the difficult task of convincing the American public to support young Indonesians in their fight against Dutch forces, which had ruled Indonesia for more than a century. Realizing that Indonesia, like America before it, was seeking to create a sovereign nation by breaking the colonial ties that bound it to a single European power, he produced an eloquent paper that harkened back to the year America declared independence from Great Britain. Its provocative title? ” It’s 1776 in Indonesia .”

It would be half a century– through five decades of dictatorship –before the Indonesian people would experience true independence. But as this Muslim-majority democracy of 250 million approaches the third consecutive direct election of its president by its people in 2014, the apt analogy to America isn’t 1776, but 2008. That was the year that a 47 year-old former community organizer, state senator and first-term United States Senator with a thin public record and a golden speaking voice was elected President of the United States.

But now, some Indonesians believe they have a Barack Obama of their own in the form of a 52 year-old former furniture dealer, small-town mayor and first-term governor with a thin public record and a golden speaking voice who is hailed as a hero during his frequent visits to Jakarta’s streets. Just as Obama was lauded for being a “fresh and exciting voice in American politics,” Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo is praised as an “open and approachable” public official who “represents a clear break” from “the traditional power centers of Indonesian politics.” While he is not yet a declared candidate, many Indonesians hope that Jokowi can do for Indonesia what Obama is perceived to have done for America.

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September 2, 2013

What Myanmar Must Do To Free Itself of China

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-Once a closed society, Myanmar, previously known as Burma, has emerged since 2010 as one of the world’s democratic hopes. But amidst the euphoria surrounding a seemingly miraculous transformation, American policy makers have missed one essential fact: Myanmar functions as at least five countries struggling to escape overlordship of a sixth. National reconciliation is Myanmar’s greatest need and should be, with an eye toward China, America’s Myanmar policy’s highest priority.

Ethnic Baman or Burmans make up the majority of the country’s 60 million people. Buddhists of the central lowlands, Burmans dominate the government, economy and army. Other significant ethnic groups include the Kachin (who are Christians) bordering China; the Shan (Buddhists) bordering China, Laos and Thailand; the Karen (Christians and Buddhists) bordering Thailand; the Chin (Christians and Buddhists) bordering India; and Muslims bordering the Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh.

The struggle of non-Burmans for an equal place in the country and the opposition of ethnic Burmans is the story of modern Myanmar. Here is the chronology.

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August 5, 2013

Can Egypt Move Beyond the Politics of Retribution?

by Stanley A. Weiss

BALI, Indonesia— Former United States President Bill Clinton likes to tell the story about the time Nelson Mandela first took him to see his old prison cell on Robben Island, where the South African icon was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the collapse of apartheid. In a small room with barely enough space for a man his size, Mandela slept on the floor, without a bed, for more than 6,500 days. Clinton asked, “Weren’t you bitter and angry when you finally walked out of here?” Mandela replied, “Yes, I was. But then I said to myself, ‘Mandela, they had you for 27 years. If you are still angry with them when you pass through the gate, they will still have you.’ But I wanted to be free, so I let it go.”

Clinton often adds that “nearly all of the conflicts in the world could be resolved if one side would just stand up and let things go. But there aren’t many men like Mandela in the world, because the instinct to hold on to old hatreds and fears is greater than the instinct to let go.”

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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 18, 2013

Xi Jinping’s First Great Test

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–In Washington, D.C. today, the White House was taken over by North Korean terrorists. With the help of a rogue Secret Service agent, the President and his senior advisors have been taken hostage. The terrorists’ leader, blaming the U.S. for his parents’ death during the Korean War, intends to obtain the launch codes for America’s entire nuclear arsenal and detonate the weapons in their silos, obliterating the country.

Of course, this scenario is playing out not at the White House itself, but at the multiplex down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Where movie villains once sported thick Russian accents or exaggerated Middle Eastern features, today’s entertainment antagonists reflect the world’s growing concern over the erratic and impenetrable “Hermit Kingdom” of Northeast Asia. And if the plot of the movie Olympus Has Fallen seems provocative, it’s hardly more provocative than North Korea’s actual actions of late–or more heartbreaking than the incidents of real terror witnessed this week on the streets of Boston.

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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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March 5, 2013

The Oracle of Thailand

by Stanley A. Weiss

BANGKOK–Imagine for a minute that Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States in 2016. Imagine that within days of being sworn into office, there are widespread rumors that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is actually running the government. Imagine friends of the First Couple being quoted at dinner parties as saying, “Hillary cuts the ribbons, but Bill calls the shots.” Imagine that one cabinet minister is so brazen with this information that he goes on record as saying, “If we’ve got any problem, we give Bill a call.”

It sounds like a crazy way to lead a country. Well, not to most people here in Thailand, America’s oldest ally in Asia. Remote leadership is currently its preferred form of government. As journalist Thomas Fuller has written, “For the past year and a half, by the party’s own admission, the most important political decisions in this country of 65 million have been made from abroad, by a former prime minister who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape corruption charges.”

Here, it’s not a husband and wife story — but rather, brother and sister. Officially, Yingluck Shinawatra — who very publicly charmed President Barack Obama during an official visit here last fall — is the prime minister. But it is her brother, exiled former prime minister and Thai billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who calls the shots via Skype and cell phone from his homes in Dubai and London. Part of the reason the power-sharing works is that the same brilliant advisor is close to both.

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