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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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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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August 10, 2015

Turkey and the Kurds Need An Antwerp Agreement

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–Exactly 95 years ago, the Ottoman Empire came to an end. On August 10, 1920, the Ottomans and the Allied powers signed the Treaty of Sѐvres, partitioning the Middle East between European nations. Palestine and Iraq went to the British, who also maintained influence in the kingdom that would become Saudi Arabia. The French were granted Lebanon and Syria. Italy claimed large swaths of Turkey. In a nod to President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination, the Kurds–largely Sunni Muslims but an ethnically distinct minority–were set to receive their long dreamed-of homeland, an independent Kurdistan.

Ironically, as many historians have noted, the treaty was signed in Sѐvres’ famed porcelain factory–a remarkably poor symbol for an unbreakable agreement. Indeed, the ink on the treaty was barely dry before an ambitious young Turkish soldier named Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) launched a war of independence and built the modern state of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, swallowing up the Kurds’ promised land in the process.

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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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July 27, 2015

On The Monster’s Back: Heroism, Love, and Survival

by Stanley A. Weiss

On the Monster’s Back remembers how one Armenian survived genocide by Robert D. Lamson (CreateSpace, 328 pages) 

LONDON-The story has been told so often it is surprising that more people aren’t familiar with it, or that it doesn’t weigh more heavily upon us. Reputedly, when Hitler decided to go forward with the Holocaust, he was warned that history would not forget or forgive him. His response? “Who remembers the Armenians?”-

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide, regarded by the heirs of its victims to be the first attempt by a modern government to wipe out an entire racial, religious, or cultural group. In On The Monster’s Back: Heroism, Love and Survival, Robert D. Lamson reminds readers of the forced removal during World War I that took the lives of upwards of one million Armenians (Greek and Assyrian populations, also targeted, suffered in similar magnitudes) in what was first the Ottoman Empire and then Turkey. He tells the story of how one young man survived.

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February 24, 2015

Now Is Not the Time to Give Up on Russia

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–For a self-professed Christian who has long used the dangling cross he wears around his neck as a tool to define his public persona, it comes as little surprise that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make such a public showing out of his belief in original sin. But, it turns out that the version of original sin that Putin likes best isn’t the religious version, but a political one.

In the Russian strongman’s favorite telling, Western nations promised a teetering Soviet Union on the verge of collapse in 1990 that if Moscow agreed to remove Soviet troops from East Germany, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would vow to never expand further east than Berlin. But then, as the story goes, the West broke its word almost immediately and sought to humiliate Russia, going so far as to attempt the expansion of NATO and the European Union to Russian borders. So naturally, in the heroic Putin narrative, Russian troops were forced to invade Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 to protect its homeland against the aggressive actions of the United States and its European allies.

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February 6, 2015

Moving From Axis to Access of Evil

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — In the fall of 2012, aboard a retired aircraft carrier permanently docked on the west side of Manhattan, I listened as then-United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta delivered one of the most chilling speeches I have ever heard. To a roomful of leading CEOs and military leaders, Panetta spoke about the new cyber threats faced by civilized society and the many ways in which America’s adversaries could use computer networks to spread panic, paralyze the country and inflict mass casualties.

“Let me explain how this could unfold,” he said. “An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could, for example, derail passenger trains or, even more dangerous, trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.

“The most destructive scenarios,” he continued, “involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. … The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber-Pearl Harbor, an attack that would cause physical destruction and loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability.”

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June 17, 2014

Looking for Orange Shirts in Thailand

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–In the 1950s and ’60s, when Thailand experienced the bulk of its 19 military coups , a dark joke circulated through the market stalls of Bangkok that the country had three political parties — the army, the navy, and the air force. Last month, it was the army, headed by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, which stepped in on May 20th to declare martial law and then, two days later, a coup d’etat. In one of their first — and most ironic — acts, the military banned a screening of George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian tale about life in a police state. Though a coup is nothing new in the “Land of Smiles,” the current situation — exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding the failing health of Thailand’s revered, 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej — threatens to tear Thailand apart.

This story — of a factionalized country forcibly welded together through military might — is as old as Thailand itself. Older, in fact. The pattern began some seven centuries ago , when the region’s city-states first began jockeying for control of the Mekong and Chao Praya basin. With none able to gain the upper hand for long, the so-called land of Siam — with no borders or defined geographic boundaries — gradually coalesced into a loose collection of ethnically-diverse warring states and kingdoms.

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July 8, 2013

China’s Indian Ocean Strategy Not a Danger-Yet

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–When the Chinese admiral Zheng He set out on the first of seven historic voyages of exploration 608 years ago, the sails of his 317 ships blotted out the horizon. Included in the fleet were several colossal, football field-sized vessels–large enough to fit 65 of Columbus’ ships end-to-end–whose holds would eventually bring home mountains of gold, ivory, and porcelain for the glory of the Ming emperor. Sailing to a dizzying array of coastal countries over the next three decades, Zheng’s flotilla made its way across the modern-day Middle East, ultimately reaching the Cape of Good Hope some 4,000 miles away.

Such expeditions had never been seen before–and would not be seen again. Internal instability, Mongol threats, and high financial costs conspired to cripple China’s Age of Exploration. Zheng died and was buried at sea. His magnificent ships were burned. Records of his voyages were destroyed. For nearly six centuries China turned inward, away from the ocean.

That is, until now. With its release last month of a 350-page “blue book” detailing China’s strategy in the Indian Ocean, Beijing has served notice that–while insisting its interests are strictly economic–it is not content to ignore the waters to its west any longer. And India, which relies on the Indian Ocean for most of its trade and has long suspected China of pursuing a so-called “string of pearls” strategy in the region–encircling the subcontinent with a network of commercial and military facilities–is understandably wary.

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July 1, 2013

Helping to Bring Peace to Kashmir

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–It may be the most infamous stomach ache in diplomatic history. In 1947, the United Kingdom partitioned British India, directing the rulers of its 565 “princely states” to choose between the newly-independent nations of India and Pakistan. The last holdout was the Hindu Maharaja of Muslim-majority Kashmir, Hari Singh, who hoped to establish a neutral, independent nation on his state’s vast frontier. Sixty-five years ago this month, Lord Louis Mountbatten–the last Viceroy of British India–accompanied his friend, the Maharaja, on a three-day fishing trip, where he tried to tease out a decision, making it clear that if Singh chose Pakistan, India would understand and raise no objection. But when the Viceroy instead heard his friend make the case for independence, as recounted in the fantastic “Freedom at Midnight,” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, he exploded:

“I’m sorry,” said Mountbatten, “you just can’t be independent. You’re a land-locked country. You’re over-sized and under-populated . . . your attitude is bound to lead to strife between India and Pakistan. You’re going to have two rival countries at daggers drawn for neighbors. You’ll be the cause of the tug-of-war between them. You’ll end up being a battlefield.”

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