Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies

An improved understanding of the dynamics of the conflict between Hamas and Israel — one that goes beyond “they started it” — is probably a prerequisite to any enduring reduction of the violence and the terrible human suffering that the conflict now entails.

A detailed new assessment (pdf) by an analyst at the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute traces the evolution of the Israel-Hamas conflict prior to the end of the recent ceasefire and identifies steps that both sides would likely have to take in order to arrive at a long-term truce.

“Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have a unified position towards the other,” writes Sherifa Zuhur, professor of Islamic and regional studies at the Strategic Studies Institute. “Each group is socialized in particular ways, through the educational system, employment experiences; and for Israelis, in the military, in political parties, families, and bureaucracies.”

Based on her own interviews and analyses, the author attempts to elucidate the social, cultural and political factors at work.

A struggle to control the narrative of the conflict is itself part of the conflict and Prof. Zuhur’s account may not be fully embraced by anyone.  On the whole, her analysis seems more sympathetic to Hamas, whose objective, she says rather incongruously, “is not the destruction of Israel” but only the “liberation of Palestine.”

But even those who cannot accept her terms or the way she frames some of the issues may find food for thought in her 100-page paper (which does not represent an official U.S. Army position).

She concludes optimistically that “each side is still capable of revising its desired endstate and of the necessary concessions to establish and preserve a long-term truce, or even a longer-term peace.”

See “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics” by Sherifa Zuhur, U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008.

The 1970 Crisis in Jordan, and More from FRUS

Many of the roots of today’s conflicts in the Middle East can be discerned in the crises of the past, some of which are newly documented in the latest volume of the official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

The new FRUS volume includes a section on the Nixon Administration’s response to the intense fighting between the Jordanian military and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September 1970, which threatened to topple the monarchy of King Hussein.

Another section treats “the Nixon administration’s efforts to replace the political and military structure left by the former British Empire with a newer structure that met America’s … needs,” as well as “the Nixon administration’s efforts to articulate a grand strategy toward the Middle East region through arms sales and military modernization for its regional allies.”

See Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969-1972; Jordan, September 1970 (published December 23, 2008).

The new FRUS volume was completed earlier this year, prior to the unexpected departure of Dr. Edward C. Keefer from the State Department Office of the Historian.  He had served for years as General Editor of the series, but left abruptly in what was perceived as a sign of mounting turmoil in the Historian’s Office.

Widespread concerns about continuing upheaval in the Historian’s Office were addressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a meeting with historians on December 22.

Secretary Rice announced that she had established “an outside Review Team to provide recommendations about how to ensure the FRUS series remains the gold standard for diplomatic history scholarship.”

Aside from its importance to diplomatic historians and other specialists, the FRUS series embodies the vital principle that all U.S. foreign relations activities, no matter how highly classified they may initially be, will eventually be brought to light and published for the world to see.  Thanks to a remarkable 1991 statute, it is actually against the law for the FRUS series to be anything other than “thorough, accurate, and reliable.”

Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings

The importance and the hazards of government secrecy are now widely understood.  But the principles and practices of secrecy policy as it has developed over the years remain obscure to many.  A new anthology published this week aims to present “the best that has been thought and written” on the subject.

“Government Secrecy: Classic and Contemporary Readings” presents an impressive cross-section of views, from many competing and complementary perspectives.  They include the theoretical (Georg Simmel), the sociological (Max Weber, Edward Shils), the adversarial (Howard Morland), and a lot more (from William Colby, Morton Halperin, Harold Relyea, Howard Zinn, James X. Dempsey, Thomas Blanton, William Weaver, Joseph Stiglitz, Lee Strickland, Herbert Foerstel, myself and others).

It is the distillation of an entire library’s worth of material that should be of interest to students of government and political science, as well as concerned citizens who find themselves confronting official secrecy.

“Government Secrecy” was edited Dr. Susan L. Maret of San Jose State University and Dr. Jan Goldman of the National Defense Intelligence College.

FAS Releases Survey Results on the Attitudes of Scientists Toward Law Enforcement – FBI to use results to improve relations with the scientific community

A survey conducted by the Federation of American Scientists and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealed that while scientists are disposed to assist in criminal investigations, they often fear working with law enforcement agencies. The survey questions were designed to evaluate the working relationship between FBI field agents and scientists, and the results, published December 22, 2008 in Science Progress, indicate a reluctance to discuss research with law enforcement and other issues that are specific to the science community.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that some scientists held negative views of law enforcement. This survey is the first step in recognizing the scope of the problem and addressing it directly.

“The results suggest a larger percentage of scientists show cooler feelings towards the FBI than the general public, and often misunderstand why FBI agents might be contacting them,” said Michael Stebbins, Director of Biology Policy at the Federation of American Scientists. “FAS is now working with the FBI to develop specific solutions for alleviating the concerns of scientists and strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the scientific community.”

“The FBI proactively initiated this outreach effort with FAS to engage the scientific community, seek their input, and gather useful information enabling us to improve the relationship. The results of this survey will go a long way to helping us better understand the challenges we face and to overcome some of the misconceptions that exist between law enforcement and scientists,” said Dr. Vahid Majidi, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.  “This information will enable us to devise a strategic plan to address this matter and to continue working with the scientific community to enhance our relationship.”

FAS and the FBI will apply the lessons learned in this survey towards developing training materials for field agents to improve the relationship between scientists and law enforcement.

“Perhaps the most important step toward building a better working foundation is for law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, to establish procedures for contacting science experts,” said Stebbins. “Many of the scientists’ concerns would be alleviated if the specific goals the agent hoped to achieve were clarified. If clear boundaries are established then the cooperation of scientists and law enforcement agents will likely improve.”

The Survey:

FAS collaborated with the FBI, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to develop the survey questions and distribute it to the scientific community. The survey contained a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions and was distributed to 10,969 AAAS member scientists. 1,332 surveys were completed and the resulting data produced an average margin of error associated with the total data set of +/- 2.7%.

Key findings of the survey:

  • Despite suspicions of the FBI and opposition to law agencies monitoring scientific research, scientists are willing to aid in certain situations.
  • Scientists feel that the FBI does not work well with the scientific community, specifically that law enforcement officers don’t understand their work (76%), that these agencies are more interested in restricting research for security purposes than they are in the scientific value of the work (71%), that officers have an overzealous approach to security issues and an interest in censorship (63%), and that research will be restricted from publication (55%).
  • Only 15% of surveyed scientists indicated any personal past contact in a professional capacity and these attitudes are likely based on stereotypes instead of actual experiences
  • Relations with the FBI would improve if law enforcement agents approached scientists in a professional manner by setting up an appointment or initiating contact through official channels such as the scientist’s department head or supervisor.

Increasing scientific literacy among agents and officers will ensure clearer communication since scientists are most comfortable talking about their work with others familiar with scientific concepts, possibly because they are less concerned that the research will be misunderstood.

Seismic Evaluation of Structural Insulated Panels

In August of 2008, UC Berkeley Professor Khalid Mosalam presented a paper coauthored by FAS’s Joe Hagerman and Henry Kelly at the 5th International Engineering and Construction Conference. The paper presents Mosalam’s findings from research into the seismic performance of structural insulated panels. There is a considerable lack of information available about the behavior of SIPs when subjected to seismic loads. The paper focuses on the characterization of the mechanical properties and seismic performance of SIPs using experimental techniques. Specimens studied include both OSB faced and cementitious SIPs, where panels were tested without panel-to-panel connections.

The full text pdf copy of the paper can be found here.

Access to OLC Opinions Still in Contention

Legal opinions issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel that interpret the law for the executive branch on questions of surveillance, detention and other disputed national security policies are among the Bush Administration records that are most urgently sought by members of Congress and others, and are often among the records that are most tightly withheld.

More than four years after it was first requested by Congress, the Justice Department last week finally delivered a copy of a 2001 opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) on the “Legality of the Use of Military Commissions to Try Terrorists” (pdf) to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Committee, said the Justice Department had also promised to provide his Committee with six other OLC opinions related to terrorism, detention and interrogation policy, but then declined to do so, instead offering an opportunity for Committee staff to review the documents at the Justice Department.  He criticized the Department for “going back on its word.”

Senator Leahy had originally requested the 2001 OLC memorandum in a June 15, 2004 letter to then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.

The newly disclosed memorandum, which was always unclassified, is believed to have been “part of the deliberative process of the Executive Branch in connection with the establishment of military commissions,” according to John P. Elwood of the OLC.  He noted, in response (pdf) to a question from Sen. Russ Feingold, that “The conclusions of the memorandum have been affected by subsequent case law, most particularly the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006).”

Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on December 3 that certain OLC opinions may be withheld from the Obama transition team until the new Administration takes office on January 20, either because the documents are privileged or because of their high classification level, the Washington Post reported on December 4.

“The Bush administration talks about working together, but they care more about continuing their secretive practices,” Senator Leahy said.  “Just as there is no justification for denying the incoming administration legal opinions that were the basis for Executive Branch policy, there is no justification for denying them to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“We will be working hard to have the Justice Department leadership team in place as soon as possible so we can begin to peel back the layers of secrecy that has defined this administration,” he said.

Executive Branch Reorganization, and More from CRS

Noteworthy publications from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available online include the following (all pdf).

“Executive Branch Reorganization and Management Initiatives: A Brief Overview,” updated November 26, 2008.

“Islamist Militancy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Region and U.S. Policy,” November 21, 2008 (new format, with map).

“Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2006: A Fact Sheet on Department of Defense Authority to Train and Equip Foreign Military Forces,” updated November 25, 2008.

“Department of Defense ‘Section 1207’ Security and Stabilization Assistance: A Fact Sheet,” updated November 25, 2008.

“Water Infrastructure Needs and Investment: Review and Analysis of Key Issues,” updated November 24, 2008.

“Whales and Sonar: Environmental Exemptions for the Navy’s Mid-Frequency Active Sonar Training Program,” updated November 14, 2008.

“Afro-Latinos in Latin America and Considerations for U.S. Policy,” updated November 21, 2008.

“Party Leaders in the United States Congress, 1789-2009,” updated November 25, 2008.

“Containing Financial Crisis,” updated November 24, 2008.

“The Constitutionality of Campaign Finance Regulation: Buckley v. Valeo and Its Supreme Court Progeny,” updated November 18, 2008.

“Presidential Appointee Positions Requiring Senate Confirmation and Committees Handling Nominations,” updated March 18, 2008.

“Recess Appointments Made by President George W. Bush, January 20, 2001-October 31, 2008,” updated November 3, 2008.

“Nominations to Article III Lower Courts by President George W. Bush During the 110th Congress,” updated October 20, 2008.

“The Motion to Recommit in the House of Representatives: Effects, Recent Trends, and Options for Change,” November 20, 2008.

“Organic Agriculture in the United States: Program and Policy Issues,” updated November 25, 2008.

The Myth of Nuclear Modernization and the Ikea Bomb.

In the closing days of the Bush administration, we see nuclear advocates laying down markers for the debate about nuclear weapons that is expected early in Senator Obama’s presidency. In a recent speech at Carnegie and in an article in Foreign Affairs, Robert Gates, slated to stay on as Secretary of Defense, has called for developing a new nuclear bomb — the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) (“so-called” because it is no more reliable than current warheads and it will not replace them, but it is otherwise appropriately named).  General Kevin Chilton, head of Strategic Command, has made similar statements.

Those of us who are interested in working toward a world free of nuclear weapons realize that progress will involve many steps, some large, some small. One important step will be ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some CTBT supporters suspect that the outlines of a deal are coalescing: those who want the RRW will try to make the CTBT and the RRW a package deal, arguing that we will be able to maintain a reliable, safe nuclear deterrent without testing, as the CTBT would require, only if the weapon labs are allowed to proceed with weapon modernization. The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission interim report appears to be at least sympathetic to this view. This artificial link is based on both faulty logic and a long list of unstated and unsupportable assumptions.

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Welcome Back

So its been quite a while since I’ve given this blog the attention it deserves. And that’s unfortunate, because we’ve been up to some quite exciting stuff in the past few months, including (among other things): a trip to china about building a demonstration there in the wake of the Sichuan Earthquake, some exciting talks about developing a home energy retrofit plan that would save energy and create jobs, some interesting meetings regarding indoor air quality in manufactured housing, exciting updates on FAS’s research on the seismic capacity of SIPs, as well as some very exciting news in the world of building research.

I’ll be making several posts in the coming weeks to catch things back up to speed, and you can expect more regular updates in the near year.