April 19, 2019

It’s Time for a Grand Bargain in South Asia

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — The generals called it Operation Smiling Buddha.

While the name suggests a peaceful initiative, the reality was exactly the opposite: Smiling Buddha was the code name for India’s first nuclear test. Supervised by top Indian military officials at a remote desert site in May 1974, the test was a huge national leap for India. It dramatically revived Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s popularity at home and forever changed the strategic environment of South Asia.

That India and Pakistan are fierce rivals is no secret. But the nuclear weapons programs that the two countries developed since Smiling Buddha have made their tensions more likely to become devastating confrontations. It’s a situation that completely defies common sense — especially since Pakistan, with a much smaller population than India and lesser missile capabilities,would be signing its own death warrant if it launched a nuclear weapon and invited India’s massive retaliation.

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March 22, 2019

The Real Threat from North Korea

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON — It reads like the plot of an Avengers movie in which the good guys fail to stop a cataclysmic event and America is thrown into catastrophic and irreversible ruin.

A sneak attack renders military bases across the country unable to function. Our national electric grid, including backup generators, completely fails, taking out everything — from fresh water and sewage management to cell service, emergency hospital generators, and all means of communication — along with it. Without electricity to cool them, 99 nuclear reactors across America completely melt down, sending radioactive clouds into the atmosphere while choking millions in the communities around them. Within hours, riots and civil unrest engulf every city, as anxiety and fear give way to looting and rioting.

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February 21, 2019

Indonesia’s Game of Thrones Problem

by Stanley A. Weiss

GSTAAD – “Winter is coming.”

That’s the urgent message Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo delivered in a speech to World Bank leaders in Bali last October. It was a reference to the popular television series, Game of Thrones, in which seven kingdoms scheme and battle to claim the Iron Throne, the seat of power over all kingdoms, while ignoring a much more powerful army to the north that threatens them all. Snow and ice are said to follow in this army’s conquering wake – hence, “winter is coming.”

Jokowi used the reference as a metaphor to argue that the world’s major powers were battling to claim their own Iron Throne – competing fiercely with one another for economic and military dominance instead of cooperating to address more existential dangers, from climate change to global terrorism, that threaten us all. It’s not unlike the 57-year old Jokowi – known for his love of motorcycles, denim jackets, and heavy metal music – to use a pop culture reference familiar to millennials to make his point.

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January 21, 2019

How President Trump Can Get Out of the Border Wall Mess

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON-While few Americans know who he was or how he’s connected to the debate raging over President Donald Trump’s border wall, the first time I heard the name Jacobo Arbenz was the fall of 1953, when I was a young American building a mining business in Mexico.
A mutual friend had introduced me to a young journalist named Flora Lewis and her husband, Sydney Gruson, who was the New York Times’ correspondent in Mexico. Since the newspaper had a rule then that married couples couldn’t both work there – which “she understood, but didn’t like,” – she became a freelance writer.

She crossed the border into Guatemala for a story on Arbenz, the country’s democratically-elected president. A reformer and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt, Arbenz was a democratic-socialist elected on a platform of agrarian land reform. With the US-Soviet Cold War heating up and America fearful of a Russian beachhead in Central America, Flora Lewis was dispatched to determine whether Guatemala, as she wrote, was “the one place in the Americas where devoted, angry-tongued Communists have deeply entrenched themselves,” including in the presidency itself.

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December 21, 2018

America Needs a 21st Century Defense Budge

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-If President Donald Trump gets his way, our first line of defense against a Russian invasion of Europe might well be the Greek army.

It would, of course, be a spectacularly short battle. On one side: Russian tanks, missiles, and aircraft, all built for a European war. On the other: aging Greek pensioners wielding weapons designed to fight Greece’s supposed arch-rival, Turkey – not a military superpower.

That Greece is woefully unprepared to fight the Russian military is likely no surprise. But if you had picked one member of NATO to take on Russia based on President Trump’s favorite measure – how much that country spends on defense as a percentage of its gross domestic product – Greece would be second only to the United States.  But Greece spends over 70 percent of those defense expenditures on personnel, including pensions for retirees; meanwhile, Denmark spends a smaller percentage on defense but is one of the top NATO troop contributors in Afghanistan.

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December 6, 2018

Erdoğan is Not Our Friend

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-In 1941, Uncle Sam made a new friend.

His name was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam and Uncle Joe shared the same goals. Uncle Sam was determined to beat the Nazis; so was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam was making huge sacrifices on the battlefields of Europe. So was Uncle Joe. Uncle Sam was powerful enough to define the world order that emerged from World War II. So was Uncle Joe.

There was just one problem: Uncle Joe was Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator whose iron rule led to mass imprisonments and executions at home. But when Stalin joined the Allies to fight against the Nazis, common cause soon led Americans to overlook Stalin’s cruelty and forget his signing of a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany. It was FDR who began to call him“Uncle Joe.” Hollywood churned out pro-Stalin movies. One Department of Defense propaganda poster showed a smiling Russian soldier, captioned: “this man is your friend.”

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October 11, 2018

What Pakistan Can Learn from India

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON – When a 12-year-old Indian prodigy defeated an 18-year-old Italian champion in chess this past June, he didn’t just win the game. He also became the second-youngest grandmaster – the highest rank possible – in chess history.

It was the latest development in what has become a “chess renaissance” for India over the last 15 years, as the country has rocketed to the game’s top ranks after decades of mediocrity. This transformation has paralleled a more symbolic one, as India – the world’s largest democracy – has risen steadily since the end of the Cold War into the ranks of geopolitical grandmasters, skillfully using its size, strength, and strategic location to expand its global presence. It’s a fitting rise for the civilization where chess first originated.

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June 23, 2018

In Mexico, Beware the Clash of the Populists

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-“Let’s kill the Americans!”

It was December 7, 1941, and my friend Jack Vietor – a magazine publisher and heir to the Jell-O fortune – was staying in a hotel in the city of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America declared war. But much to Jack’s surprise, the mob that showed up in the town plaza wasn’t chanting about Japan, or Germany. They were wielding machetes and shouting, “Let’s kill the Gringos!”

The crowd had seen the headlines announcing that Mexico had declared war – and automatically assumed the headlines referred to the United States. Jack hid under his bed, terrified, until the hotel owner assured him everything was okay.

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June 12, 2018

What the World Always Forgets About Gaza

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-The first thing that strikes you about the Gaza Strip is how small it is.

Constrained by the Egyptian desert to its south, the Mediterranean to its west, and the barbed wire and concrete barriers of Israel to its north and east, Gaza is just 25 miles long and about five miles wide. Traded back and forth by empires since the Bronze Age, Gaza was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the 16th Century until Britain claimed it after World War I, Egypt took it after the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and Israel seized it during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Today, 1.4 million Palestinians live on that strip, most of them descendants of 600,000 Palestinians who fled to Gaza and the West Bank in 1948 after Arab armies – who were unwilling to accept a 1947 United Nations plan to create two states, one Arab and one Jewish, out of British Palestine – chose to attack instead, only to be routed by the Israeli army. Many Palestinians in Gaza still live in refugee camps, waiting for the so-called “right of return,” where they hope to reclaim property left behind by their grandparents 70 years ago on land known then as Palestine but known ever since as the state of Israel.

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March 23, 2018

A New Report Says America is Being Duped in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-Fifteen years ago this week, the United States invasion of Iraq began.

Before the statues of Saddam Hussein came down and U.S. forces transitioned to an occupation force two months later, a highly-decorated Special Forces colonel was asked to identify what it would take to stabilize Iraq and turn it into a functioning democracy. In the prescient report that he and his team delivered to U.S. Central Command, Colonel Tim Heinemann (Ret.), the Green Berets commander, was frank in his assessment. He argued that the U.S. military hadn’t developed the “street smarts” it needed in Iraq, hadn’t built relationships with the real power brokers on the ground, and hadn’t done enough to prevent Iraqi military officers from going underground as insurgents. The surest way to develop the insights necessary to stave off chaos, the report argued, was to engage tribal leaders in a massive counterinsurgency effort to build trust – in his words, “not just to share tea one-on-one with local leaders, but to share tea 10 times until they opened up.”

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