Monday, April 28, 2008

Nuclear Deterrence Workshop Write-Up

One of the perks of being an underpaid graduate researcher is that you get to sit-in on events hosted by your professors (which usually involves free food). Last week I attended an all-day roundtable on nuclear deterrence, which included my professor Shibley Telhami, but also Thomas Schelling, John Mearscheimer, Stephen Walt, Stephen Van Evera, William Quandt, and lots of other amazing scholars. It was quite an experience to sit around the table with such big names and listen to their exchanges. The roundtable focused on: the credibility of US foreign policy and US deterrence, deterring non-state actors and nuclear proliferation among non-state actors, Iran's nuclear program, and the role of public opinion in deterrence. Most of the conference centered on deterring non-state actors, beginning from the assumption that, since non-state actors have no 'home base' to target in response to an attack they are more difficult to deter. I was pleased that, from the beginning the participants distinguished between Al Qaeda - which can easily be categorized as a terrorist organization, and groups like Hamas and Hizbullah, which not only have national territories that could be targeted in a policy of deterrence, but which are actually legitimate political representatives engaged in resistance operations (and occasionally use terror as a tactic).

Another topic touched on during the roundtable was the decay of the nuclear taboo. One participant pointed out that the rhetoric and weapons-systems projects (the missile defense system) of the Bush Administration has severely damaged the nuclear taboo, which of course affects not only state use of nuclear (or biological or chemical) weapons, but also their use by non-state actors. All states have an interest in maintaining the nuclear taboo - and we cannot condemn other nuclear programs in other states while we ourselves discuss their use in conventional battle-field scenarios and make them increasingly key in European balance of power politics. By contrast, some non-state actors, specifically the most radical groups who want to overhaul ALL of societies norms may be MORE likely to use nuclear weapons because they are outside the bounds of what is accepted by current social norms.

Comments on US credibility were perhaps the most depressing - one participant pointed out that US capacity to create carnage is still widely respected, but that US ability to rebuild or engage in more complex activities is pretty much non-existent. However another participant pointed out (presciently) that most of the actors we are concerned with (the Bin Ladens and opposition movements of the world) were well aware of the failures of empire long before we fudged ours - making reference to earlier comments made by Bin Laden in taped statements pointing out the follies of the Roman Empire, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the overthrow of colonial governments.

My favorite comment came from a controversial academic - and he basically said "Why the hell are we even talking about nuclear deterrence? What did we do wrong since the fall of the Soviet Union that we are STILL worrying about deterrence." IE - why does everyone want to nuke us? This was the point of the roundtable where everyone nodded their head and resigned themselves to the fact that successive US administrations have made such egregious and arrogant foreign policy decisions that we will most likely be holding this roundtables annually.

Friday, April 25, 2008

You know how everyone hates Congress but loves their own Congressperson?

I'm a crazy liberal - but I love my home-state senator Richard Lugar (with the exception of his position on farm subsidies - I even interned for him a few times) Obama likes him too!!

I don't know which is more shocking, the US condoning illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories or Bush writing a letter all by himself?

"A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago . . . . gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank." The WaPo article from yesterday is here.

Israeli-Syrian Peace Talks on the Horizon?

Although Dick Cheney would probably sacrifice himself on the altar of the DNC in order to keep this from happening - there is some movement on Syrian-Israeli peace (that is if the US manages to stay out of it)

You can read about the talks here.

The CIA or the Office of Strategic Plans? "CIA to describe North Korea-Syria Nuclear Ties"

I'm attending a conference today and a colleague joked about how the CIA knew that it was in fact North Koreans visiting the nuclear sites in Syria: "Easy - they were wearing Hard Rock Cafe Pyongyang t-shirts"
The consensus among those I know seems to be that this is a last-ditch attempt by administration hawks to ensure that talks with North Korea do not take place (and that Israeli-Syrian peace talks are also derailed)

CIA to describe North Korea-Syria nuclear ties

Officials will tell Congress members this week that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor last year when it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, a U.S. official says.

By Paul Richter and Greg Miller
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

April 23, 2008

WASHINGTON — CIA officials will tell Congress on Thursday that North Korea had been helping Syria build a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, a U.S. official said, a disclosure that could touch off new resistance to the administration's plan to ease sanctions on Pyongyang.

The CIA officials will tell lawmakers that they believe the reactor would have been capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons but was destroyed before it could do so, the U.S. official said, apparently referring to a suspicious installation in Syria that was bombed last year by Israeli warplanes.

The CIA officials also will say that though U.S. officials have had concerns for years about ties between North Korea and Syria, it was not until last year that new intelligence convinced them that the suspicious facility under construction in a remote area of Syria was a nuclear reactor, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing plans for the briefing.

The administration is planning to ease sanctions on North Korea as part of talks aimed at removing Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. The six nations involved in the talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, have been negotiating since 2003.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary: The Newest Neocon

I know that Hillary has to court the Israeli vote - but this is downright irresponsible. I wish I could sit her down and tell her that just because she has female reproductive organs doesn't mean she needs to mold herself into a 21st Century Attila the Hun . . . .

Clinton threatens to 'obliterate' Iran if Israel attacked

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton threatened to "obliterate" Iran if it launches a nuclear attack on Israel, in an interview broadcast Tuesday.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton told ABC News, asked what she would do as president were Iran to launch a nuclear attack on Israel.

"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

The tough talk came just prior to Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, a key milestone in the marathon Democratic nominations race pitting Clinton against her rival Senator Barack Obama.

Clinton must win the Pennsylvania primary, but she needs to do more than simply scrape past Obama to rescue her trailing White House bid, pundits say.

Obama's camp Monday accused Clinton of trying to scare voters, as she rocked their White House race with a dark campaign ad featuring images of Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

The ad uses pictures of Pearl Harbor, bin Laden and the devastating 2005 hurricane that swamped New Orleans, mirroring the "3:00 am phone call" spot credited with helping Clinton to win in Texas and Ohio last month.

"You need to be ready for anything -- especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis," the male narrator intones. "Who do you think has what it takes?"

Both Democrats have vowed to defend Israel against any Iranian attack, but they differ on how to engage the Islamic republic over its nuclear ambitions.

Both call for diplomacy, but Obama has gone further, renewing a promise of "direct talks" at a leaders' level with Tehran and others the United States regards as foes, at a candidate debate here last week.

Iran should be presented with "carrots and sticks," the Illinois senator said, while stressing "they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons."

At the debate, he said: "An (Iranian) attack on Israel is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one whose security we consider paramount."

"That would be an act of aggression that I would consider unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Carter: Hamas will accept Israel

Carter: Hamas will accept Israel

Jimmy Carter describes his talks with Hamas

Former US President Jimmy Carter has said that Hamas is prepared to accept the right of Israel to "live as a neighbour next door in peace".

After meeting Hamas leaders last week in Syria, he said it was a problem that the US and Israel would not meet them.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has challenged Hamas to prove its goodwill by renouncing violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to see Mr Carter, who was ending his regional visit in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army has launched a formal investigation into the death of a Reuters cameraman killed in the Gaza Strip last week.

Two Palestinians died in Israeli air strikes in the territory on Monday: one person in the southern city of Rafah and a Hamas militant at Beit Hanoun, a border town from where rockets are often fired at Israel.


In a speech in Jerusalem, Mr Carter said Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking had "regressed" since the US hosted Middle East talks in November at Annapolis.

Hamas indicated... that if Israel is willing to have a mutual ceasefire... they will accept it
Jimmy Carter

He defended his talks in Damascus with exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal.

"The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved," he told Israel's Council on Foreign Relations.

Hamas had reiterated its position that it could accept an Israeli state within its pre-1967 borders and live in peace with Israel, he said.

"Hamas indicated... that if Israel is willing to have a mutual ceasefire and a renunciation of violence in Gaza and in the West Bank, they will accept it, and as a first step they would even accept just limiting that to Gaza," he said, speaking to the BBC's Newsnight programme.

Israel, the US and the European Union regard Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organisation.

Hamas is officially dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Call for proof

Mr Carter also said the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas and other militant groups during a raid into Israel two years ago, was being held up by the lack of direct communication between Israel and Hamas.

Mr Carter said the difficulty was in agreeing the identity of the Palestinian prisoners to be released in return.

He said Egyptian officials had told him that Israel had agreed to release 1,000 prisoners but accepted only 71 names on a list of hundreds of prisoners submitted by Hamas.

Speaking in Manama on a tour of the Middle East, Ms Rice said Hamas should show their willingness to make peace by releasing Corp Shalit and halting rocket attacks on Israel.

She also called on the group to recognise the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, whom they ousted from Gaza last summer.

Shell investigation

Israel has said it will investigate the death of Palestinian Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, who died with several other civilians in Gaza last Wednesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says it has evidence an Israeli tank team fired either recklessly or deliberately at Mr Shana.

The Israeli army denies deliberately targeting civilians.

Israeli Human rights group B'tselem has reported that Mr Shana was killed by a flechette shell, which rains down thousands of small metal darts.

The group called for use of the shell to cease immediately and for a criminal investigation of the event.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's Better than Asking Ahmed Chalabi!

My day job is working with Professor Shibley Telhami at the University of Maryland, and we just received the most recent survey data from a survey he designs and contracts to Zogby International. The poll is conducted in the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, KSA, and the UAE) with a sample size of around 4,000 and deals with a range of issues, from religion and politics to views of the US. The results aren't surprising - but sometimes the obvious needs to be documented. And as Professor Telhami said (when asked by some guy from WINEP - "why do you conduct these polls?"), "It's better than asking Ahmed Chalabi!" You can find the results of the poll here.