Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mearsheimer & Walt - Americans are buying it!

I just heard Larry Wilkerson on CSPAN giving a very smart talk about the failure of the White House's foreign and defense policies. Wilkerson is a retired colonel in the US Army (that's just one rank below General), and he is best known for serving as Colin Powell's Chief of Staff in the State Department. He is a big Powell-backer of course. He is currently teaching at William & Mary College. Anyway, I agree with many of the things he was saying. Then, during question time, some weirdo from Interpress Agency asked about Mearsheimer & Walt.

Wilkerson prefaced his remarks by pointing to some "egregious errors" in the study. He said that he was currently having his students read it, and one undergrad asked whether they same could not be said about the Cuban-American lobby as about the [at this point he paused a bit, searching for the right word] Israel-lobby. He said: yes, the Cubans are even more powerful, but the Middle East is of far greater strategic importance to the US than the Caribbean. Then he said something about how the study revealed some rather obvious truths, but these were truths that people were afraid to say out loud at cocktail parties - they were things whispered in dark corners. In short, Wilkerson seemed to be buying some of the study's central allegations: America has been acting against its interests in the Middle East BECAUSE of the Israel Lobby. He then said that after having assigned the study for his class, he has already felt the pressure from the university. He implied that this was evidence of "the Lobby's" (when he used this phrase, he attributed it to M&W) power.

If people like Wilkerson believe this stuff, M&W are winning the battle. It seems that the only people who are really criticizing them are Jews. For most Americans, that is likely to confirm their impression that M&W are basically right, even if there are some mistakes. I think this puts those who oppose the study's conclusions in a no-win situation. The more Jews deny, the more Americans believe. But if we don't challenge, people will also believe it.

You might say that it doesn't really matter what these guys are writing because no policy-makers are actually listening to them...but I think that the more these kinds of myths are repressed, the less they are forced to be responsible to reality. What I mean is that because people start believing that there is this secret truth that "the Lobby" is preventing those in power from seeing, and because they imagine themselves to be impotent via "the Lobby's" forces, they are never forced to examine that myth critically and to consider its actual policy implications. Given taht the current White House policy is doomed to fail - these guys are not going to get anything right anytime soon - eventually people might attribute that failure to "the Lobby's" influence.

The solution - force M&W to say what THEY would prescribe. Force them to propose alternative policies. Shift attention back to M&W's views of the Middle East their foreign policy proposals, rather than focusing on their interpretation of American foreign policy, which they've read through conspiracy-theory lenses.

2 comments:

Noah Kaye said...

Amos,

Can I get a link to the study?

Noah

Amos said...

I think we had it up before - it's probably in the archive now. But I just put it in the post (there's a link to Mearsheimer & Walt), and here's the URL separately:
http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011/$File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf