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November 12, 2014

The Ethnic Apartheid in Myanmar

by Stanley A. Weiss

Given the five decades it spent as one of the most repressive countries in recent history, it’s hard to imagine that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was once considered an empire. But 190 years ago this past March, after the Burmese Empire conquered two large Bengali territories across its western border and undertook a series of raids into British-held lands, the British Empire had had enough. British India launched a counter-insurgency that would drag on for two years and take thousands of lives. With some of the heaviest fighting concentrated in Islamic border communities, thousands of Muslims were forced to flee, eventually settling along frontier areas in India and Myanmar.

The Muslim families driven into Burma as a result of Burmese aggression — known as Rohingya Muslims — never left, despite being persecuted ever since. A grisly modern chapter began in 2012, when the alleged rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in western Rakhine State led to mob violence that took the lives of hundreds of Rohingya over the next two years and saw 135,000 Rohingya held in squalid camps for their own “safety.” Seemingly oblivious to global concerns sparked by the persecution of this Muslim ethnic minority, the Myanmar government last week announced a repulsive new policy: All Rohingya must prove that their families have lived in Myanmar for at least six decades. For those we cannot, the penalty is either a refugee camp or deportation. For those we can, the prize is second-class citizenship, but with a catch: They must first renounce the term “Rohingya” and agree to be classified as a “Bengali.” It’s little wonder that more than 100,000 Rohingya have reportedly escaped Myanmar the past two years.

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June 25, 2013

Reading the Fault Lines in Istanbul

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–It was 45 years ago this summer that I found myself in Chicago, being bludgeoned by a police officer. Earlier that spring, my mentor–German social philosopher Erich Fromm–had convinced me that after two decades as a non-political entrepreneur, it was time for me to get involved. He persuaded me to make a political contribution to the Democrats’ anti-Vietnam War darling, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, which earned me an invitation to the 1968 Democratic Convention, where I booked a room at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel. In the early evening hours of August 28th, I walked out onto the sidewalk, only to be rendered speechless by the sight of police officers beating protesters across the street, at Grant Park. Intervening to stop one particularly vicious volley, I stepped between a protester and an officer, where I met the business end of his billy club.

It was later reported that so much tear gas was used that Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee, felt its effects while standing in his Hilton shower–news to millions of Americans convinced that he never actually got off his derriere to protest while riots raged below him. Humphrey, who went on to lose the election, was not the only politician affected by riots in 1968. In France, President Charles de Gaulle was the focus of widespread demonstrations, sparked by young Parisians who resented his heavy-handed authoritarian style. While his party recovered nicely–expanding its majority in a hastily-called June election–de Gaulle never did. Recognizing that he had split the country, which saw him as out of touch, the old general resigned the presidency in a moment of grace less than a year later.

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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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January 14, 2013

Marshall Parks for the Middle East

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON — On December 4, 2008, exactly 40 years after returning from a tour as an infantryman in the Vietnam War, United States Senator Chuck Hagel spoke of peace. “When I think of jobs and improving people’s conditions,” he told the nonpartisan Israel Policy Forum, “I think of what Stef Wertheimer has been doing in Turkey and Israel.” Hagel explained that Wertheimer — one of Israel’s wealthiest men — “has five very high-tech industrial base firms in Turkey and Israel. They’re planning twenty more. I’ve been there. I’ve seen them. Here he has Palestinians and Israelis and Jews working side by side in these plants, and he is helping educate their children. They have futures, they have opportunities. This is not some idealistic dream, in fact it’s happened.”

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December 5, 2012

Iran, the U.S. and Azerbaijan: the Land of Fire

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON – In December 1991, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, United States Secretary of State James Baker gave a speech at Princeton University on the relationship between the U.S. and the “Newly Independent States” of the former USSR. In his remarks, Baker took aim at a curious target: the tiny Republic of Azerbaijan — about the size of the state of Maine — which Baker described as undeserving of American recognition until it accepted a long list of conditions the U.S. had required of few other nations. Soviet watchers saw it as the work of the U.S. lobby of Azerbaijan’s neighbor and sworn enemy, Armenia, to blacklist the ancient nation in the Caucuses region on the Caspian Sea.

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