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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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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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 21, 2015

Iraq Is Not Iraq Anymore

by Stanley A. Weiss

So, this is where we are in America today: the wealthy son of a real estate developer who used five deferments to let others go to war in his place attacks, with a straight face, a United States Naval Academy graduate who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp with complications from a broken leg and two broken arms suffered when his plane was shot down – and we treat it as just another political debate. During another time in our country, had somebody like Donald Trump dared to say that somebody like Senator John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he “got captured” — or that he “like(s) people who weren’t captured” — my guess is that more than a few fire and food inspectors would have been kept busy for reported “complications” at Trump Hotels across America.

But while many Americans will likely hear McCain’s high-minded response — that Trump doesn’t owe him an apology but should express sorrow to other prisoners of war and their families — I really wish more Americans would hear what the senior senator from Arizona is saying about Iraq instead. It is much more relevant to America’s future than any buffoonery babbling out of the billionaire blowhard from the Bronx.

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March 26, 2015

Will Myanmar’s Military Reform?

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON–It was, in a sense, a reverse Pearl Harbor on the Irrawaddy River. After welcoming the Japanese army into Burma in 1942, a young Burmese general named Aung San and his ragtag national army had become disillusioned with Japanese promises to support Burma in throwing off nearly 125 years of British imperial control.

And so on March 27, 1945–70 years ago today–the khaki-clad troops departed the city of Rangoon. Telling their Japanese commanders they were mustering out to fight the British, they paraded through the city–and then turned around and attacked the Japanese all throughout Burma. With Burmese help, the British retook the country in just a few short months.

Every year since, Burma–now known as Myanmar–has celebrated March 27 as Resistance Day, now known as Armed Forces Day. Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, marched in 1947, the year Aung San was assassinated by rivals–and they marched the following year, when Myanmar finally gained its hard-fought independence. They marched in 1962, when one of Aung San’s fellow freedom fighters, Ne Win, took power in a military coup that would rule for decades. They marched in 1990, after student uprisings forced the military junta to call elections, only to nullify the results and place the winner–democratic icon and daughter of Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi–under house arrest for the better part of two decades. And they marched in 2011, when the ruling regime held elections and declared that one of the most isolated countries on earth would finally liberalize.

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March 24, 2015

Back From the Dead in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

YANGON — Measuring around 17 centimeters in length and weighing about 1 ounce, the Jerdon’s babbler of Mayanmar is a small brown bird that is similar in appearance to a common house sparrow. Discovered by pioneering British botanist Thomas C. Jerdon in 1862, the Jerdon’s babbler is best known for its caramel-colored plumage, for its distinct song, and, since 1941, for being extinct — that is, until last May, when a team of naturalists was shocked to encounter the chirpy little chap darting around the central grasslands of this southeast Asian nation. Announced in a scientific journal this month, the resuscitated creature was found with other feathered friends of the same genus.

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March 2, 2015

In Egypt, Seeing the Muslim Brotherhood for What It Is

by Stanley A. Weiss

GSTAAD AND CAIRO–In the early 1990s, Robert Pelletreau, the United States ambassador to Egypt, met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, D.C. Pelletreau had been asked by then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher to discuss the possibility of Egypt relaxing its repressive stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political party with a long history of being alternately tolerated and oppressed by the Egyptian government.

“I’ll never forget what happened next,” Pelletreau told the journalist Robert Dreyfuss. “Mubarak sat up sharply, rigidly. ‘These people killed my predecessor!’ Then he raised this huge fist, and he slammed it down on the table hard, and everything on the table jumped and rattled. Bang! ‘When they come out, we have to hit them.'”

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December 17, 2014

America and Iran’s Taba Moment

by Stanley A. Weiss

As President Bill Clinton tells it, Yasser Arafat wanted to wear something controversial to the White House ceremony in which Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords in 1993: his handgun. While Clinton convinced Arafat, then chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to leave his firearm behind–and then convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Arafat–in truth, a gun abandoned only for a few hours is a good symbol of the tortured road that Israelis and Palestinians have traveled ever since. The closest the two sides have come to realizing the promise of a peaceful two-state solution imagined by Oslo was during a two-month period in the closing days of Clinton’s presidency that began 14 years ago this week.

In negotiations that started at Camp David and continued in the Egyptian town of Taba, Palestinians were offered a solution that met 97 percent of their demands. Both sides declared that they had “never been closer to peace.” But then, negotiations were halted for a looming Israeli election, with the two sides expressing “a shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged.” But it was not to be: Israelis elected a prime minister who had no interest in restarting talks, and the hope of Taba died. In the 14 years since, more than 1180 Israelis and 9,100 Palestinians have been killed, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have doubled, and one in four Palestinians remain mired in poverty.

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November 10, 2014

The Trap of Islam’s External Conflict

by Stanley A. Weiss

Washington–It was 35 years ago last week that a group of Islamic revolutionaries swept through the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 60 Americans hostage while opening a new chapter of violence in the Middle East. What began as a student movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran was quickly overtaken by Muslim extremists who had a very different, more fundamentalist agenda in mind. While the three decades of conflict that have defined the region since 1979 is rooted in a lengthy list of grievances and injustices, the blood-feud at its core — and the motivations of the increasingly barbaric cast of characters involved in the war in and around Syria — is an ancient schism that goes back to the very origins of Islam itself.

In fact, as the renewed bombing campaign by the United States in Iraq and Syria enters its third month on the heels of the news that the U.S. will roughly double its troop level in Iraq, it’s increasingly difficult to see a way forward for the U.S. or to feel that the growing web of extremism surrounding the conflict is anything but a trap. This is a holy war, a fight for the soul of Islam in endless search of new battlefields — which is precisely what it is has been in fits and starts since the year 632. In fact, a look back at roughly the same period of time from Islam’s earliest days — the three decades between the death of Mohammad and the rise of the Umayyed Dynasty on the same Syrian landscape scarred with suffering today — is to see that while the names and armies change, the essential conflict remains the same.

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October 27, 2014

The Islamization of Great Britain

by Stanley A. Weiss

“Your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help . . . the Turks and Arabs have attacked them. . . I, or rather the Lord, beseech you . . . to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends . . . Moreover, Christ commands it . . . All who die in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God.” — Pope Urban II’s “speech against the infidels,” at the Council of Clermont, France, November 27, 1095, according to the version of Fulcher of Chartres.

With those words spoken 919 years ago next month, Pope Urban II lit the fuse in a series of wars that would see the often violent deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men, women, and children of the Muslim and Jewish faiths. While the First Crusade began as a campaign to take back the Holy Land from Muslim invaders, it would give way to six more major Christian crusades over the next two centuries. If it had been possible to conduct a global survey of non-Catholics between the years 1096 and 1291, the overwhelming majority of the earth’s population undoubtedly would have defined Christianity as a violent religion, whose holy book inspired zealots to brutally slaughter non-believers on the promise of eternal salvation. It also doesn’t take much to imagine how abhorrent Christianity would have appeared if the worst atrocities of the most zealous crusaders were played day after day on the World Wide Web.

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