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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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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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September 18, 2015

What If Washington Were Jerusalem?

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–As one of the American citizens who was born in Israel and is well versed in Middle East affairs, my friend Raphael Benaroya has an interesting way of demonstrating for his fellow Americans what it is like to live in Israel. As the debate over Tehran reaches farcical levels – with even Donald Trump coming to the Capitol to bloviate against Congress while Tea Party diehards in the audience took turns hitting a punching bag in the image of Barack Obama – I keep coming back to Raphael as a means of understanding the depth of Israeli anger and Jewish rage over the agreement.

As Raphael explains, it was 225 years ago that America’s capital – the city of Washington, in the District of Columbia – was carved out of land donated by the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia. Today, it occupies a footprint slightly larger than the city of Jerusalem, which sits some 6,000 miles away, and it lives in relative peace. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if, Raphael asks, rather than sitting in comfort and security, the District of Columbia instead lived with the same reality that Israeli Jews are confronted with each day?

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July 29, 2015

A Handful of Bullets

by Stanley A. Weiss

Review of A Handful of Bullets by Harlan K. Ullman (Naval Institute Press, 226 pages)

LONDON-On June 28, 1914, in the city of Sarajevo, a teenage Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie. Widely believed to have been a product of Serbian government intrigue, the assassinations led to an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on that nation the following month. By end of the next week the continent’s rigid alliance structure had sucked every other major European country into the vortex of escalating hostilities that became World War I.

The conflict ended four years and four months later with 17 million dead. The Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires were shattered. The diplomatic order that emerged from the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic Wars was no more. These were massive, almost incomprehensible, consequences that seemed incompatible in scale with the cause. Many wonder now, a century later, could such an almost accidental cataclysm happen again?

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June 15, 2015

Narendra Modi’s Surprisingly Successful Selfie Diplomacy

by Stanley A. Weiss

New Delhi — Last month, in front of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang posed for Modi’s smartphone and snapped a photo. “It’s selfie time! Thanks Premier Li,” Modi tweeted to his 13 million Twitter followers. The photo of the two men–together representing nearly 40 percent of the world’s population–led the Wall Street Journal to wonder, “Did Modi Just Take the Most Powerful Selfie in History?”

Most powerful or not, it certainly isn’t Modi’s first. In the year since he swept into office in a historic landslide, Modi has posed for similar photos with leaders all across the globe. He took one in Fiji with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. He took another grinning shot at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Modi’s “selfie diplomacy” has become so anticipated that, in advance of President Barack Obama’s most recent visit to India, the Hindustan Timesran a story asking, “Where’s the Obama-Modi selfie we’ve been waiting for?” (They settled for a warm hug.)

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August 8, 2014

What Jokowi Can Learn From Obama

by Stanley A. Weiss

JAKARTA — At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23, the President of the United States placed a congratulatory phone call to the President-elect of Indonesia. “Apa kabar?” — “how are you?” — President Barack Obama asked Joko Widodo before conveying his congratulations. It was a remarkable moment. For one thing, the President of the United States had greeted his Indonesian counterpart in passable Bahasa Indonesian, which Obama learned growing up in Jakarta, roughly 350 miles west of Joko’s Central Javan hometown of Surakarta, also known as Solo. For another, a decade ago few could have predicted that either man would be occupying their respective offices at all.

The phone call came ten years to the week that America first heard the name Barack Obama, as he delivered the captivating keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that began his meteoric rise from the Illinois State Senate to the White House. At the time, half a world away, Jokowi (as he is affectionately known) was an unknown carpenter and furniture exporter. A year later, as Obama began his first year in the U.S. Senate, Jokowi had risen to become the mayor of Solo, where his promise of “Beauty Without Corruption” and hands-on leadership style brought him national and international attention. By October 2012, with Obama well on his way to a second term as President, Jokowi was being sworn in as Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s sprawling 10-million person capital. Last month, after 135 million Indonesians voted in only the third direct election for president in their country’s history, Jokowi capped his rapid ascent by besting the former General Prabowo Subianto by eight million votes–though Prabowo, alleging widespread electoral fraud, has refused to concede.

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March 28, 2014

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON–One of them has helped reforest environmentally threatened regions and donated money to assist children with Down syndrome. A portion of every ticket his airline sells goes to social welfare organizations. And when Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in 2008, his foundation contributed more than $8 million to rebuild schools, hospitals, and monasteries.

The other has footed the bill for school fees and medical expenses for the families of Myanmar’s political prisoners. He is actively recruiting doctors from other nations to improve the health care system here, and oversees the only national institution — the Myanmar football league — in which ethnic minorities participate on an equal footing with ethnic Burmans. And at a time when corruption threatens to derail this country’s nascent democracy, he is the highest-profile business leader to have opened his books to an internationally-respected accounting firm and then personally presented the full audit to United States Ambassador Derek Mitchell.

Which is not to say that Tay Za and Zaw Zaw, two of the most successful businessmen in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), are Boy Scouts. Over the past two decades, the head of the Htoo Group and the 46-year-old chairman of the Max Myanmar Group built their vast conglomerates of companies — stretching from banking to hotels to construction — by thriving on connections they developed with a regime notorious for human rights abuses. Those contacts landed the two on the U.S. government’s Myanmar sanctions list, which bans American individuals and companies from doing business with any friends of the old regime.

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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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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 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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