This morning I listened to an interview with professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the controversial political science paper "The Israel Lobby." Brian Lehrer had them on public radio. Many Kishkushim readers will remember the active discussion we had in these pages over Walt and Mearsheimer's arguments, which, put briefly, amount to the following two propositions: 1) that the United States acts against its national interest when it sides unequivocally with Israeli policy; and 2) that it is the pro-Israel lobby (mainly AIPAC) that exercises a disproportionate amount of influence over decision-makers in the U.S. to achieve that uncritical solidarity. The theory that undergirds their arguments is what they call "realism," which is just a clever name for the basic tenets of realpolitik: states should act in the international arena only after a realistic appraisal of national interest, making sure not to allow ideology or idealism to fool politicians. Realism also holds that states normally do act out of national interest, but that occasionally, domestic opinion and special interests pressure them into acting against it.
That paper caused a stir, and for good reason, because it bore more than superficial resemblance to antisemitic theories that conceive of Jews as the "string pullers" of government. (To be fair, W&M's Jewish string-pullers are public, not secretive, but still.) But after much ado, critics were able to point out the numerous errors in factual documentation and analysis of which W&M were guilty, to the extent that "The Israel Lobby" lost all pretention to being a respectable piece of scholarly literature.
However, the relevance of their question is in the process of being resurrected by subsequent political events, namely, the unequivocal and uncritical support that the United States - and only the United States - has lent to Israel's counter-aggression. Condy and W.'s lone championing of the cause has made us examine, once again, why the U.S. has chosen to become what many perceive to be the rubber stamp for Israeli decisions. I'd like to direct our readers to two interesting articles, one that sheds light and another that makes an argument.
The first, revealing, piece, in the New York Times today, shows that Bush Senior took a much more even-handed stance in Middle Eastern affairs than his son has, and that our own Bush Junior consciously reacted against that neutrality when he took office in March 2001. (Nor has the structural similarity between W.'s pledge to support Israel and his pledge to finish the job that his father refused during the Gulf War been lost on commentators.) The article suggests that, far from it being the influence of the "Israel lobby," it is the personal attachment that W. and his 70 million evangelical zionists friends in the U.S. that initially signalled the shift from neutrality to unequivocal support. Obviously, 9/11 solidified the relationship, as Israel was seen as an ally against the war on terrorism.
The second article, in Ha'aretz, written by the left-wing journalist Tom Segev (and one of my role models), regards the role of Europe in all this business. Despite tinges of sexism in the first line of the piece - calling Miri Regev and Condy "annoying starlets"?! - he makes an argument I have been pointing toward (though not expressing as well!) in previous posts.
[As a side note, Mearsheimer came off as a real loony bin in this interview. Asked by Lehrer if the Israel lobby was more decisive than the oil lobby in influencing the U.S. to invade Iraq, he basically said yes - at least, he weaseled his way out of the question by denying the significance of the oil lobby.]