It's an intellectual bombshell. John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt, two respected realist political scientists launch a frontal attack on the Israel Lobby in the recent issue of The London Review of Books. It's a very comprehensive and intelligent critique of AIPAC and the influence it exerts on U.S. policy in the Middle East:
The Israel Lobby
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical. More:It's long
I didn't find a lot of new info in the article. It's the way the two authors frame the issues that is interesting and provocative. Although I agree with most of the points they raise, I have three problems with their arguments:
1. The two focus on the role of AIPAC in influencing U.S. policy in the Middle East -- as they put it, "the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby'" -- without discussing what I think is the main driving force of American intervention in the region -- its alliance with the oil producing states there. To put it differently, even if Israel didn't exist, Washington would be drawn into close relationship with Saudi Arabia (and earlier Iran) as part of the Cold War strategy -- and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a part of an effort to maintain U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. Moreover, while there is no doubt that U.S. support for Israel has been responsible for much of the Arab hostility towards Washington, it's important to stress that U.S. ties with the Arab dictatorships (like Egypt) and auhtoritarian regimes (like Saudi Arabia) is very much at the center of the anti-American agenda purused by Osama bin Ladin, the Moslem Brotherhood, etc. In my book, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East, I call for U.S. disengagement from the Middle East, including by ending the alliances with the Saudis and the Egyptians -- and Israel. Mearsheimer and Walt create the impression that ending the alliance with Israel would help transform Arab attitudes towards the United Statesin a very dramatic way. I don't buy that. It would certainly reduce some of the costs of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. But it's the U.S. intevention in the region -- including the support for Israel -- that is responsible for the Arab sentiments towards Washington.
2. I wish that the two authors would also cover more extensively the role that the Christian Right has been playing in recent years, especially in the context of the Republican party, in terms of cementing the relationship with Israel. In fact, in some ways the Christian Evangelists have been more Catholic the Israeli Pope, so to speak... Again, even if AIPAC were to collapse tomorrow, this group of Christian activists would remain a powerful pro-Israeli force in Washington. At the same time, while the neoconservative ideologues have inlcuded many pro-Israeli Jews, it's important to remember that the notion of a U.S. hegemony in the Middle East that has been advanced by the neocons is based on the perception of U.S. national interests that are shared by many non-Jewish foreign policy analysts and practitioners, like Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld, and doesn't stem from any basic sentiments towards Israel. Ironically, the Bushies are now trying to sell their failed policy in Iraq by arguing that U.S. withdrawal from that country would harm Israeli interests... In fact, I think that the war in Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the rise of a radical Shiite government in Baghdad have harmed long-term Israeli interests. There is certainly no basis to suppose that the the notion of "democratizing" the Middle East -- a central component of the (supposedly pro-Israeli) neocon agenda -- will help advance Israeli interests.
3. Finally, I think that Mearsheimer and Walt could have purused their discussion of the Israel Lobby by considerting the following historical analogy: There was once a very powerful foreign policy lobby called the China Lobby and it doesn't exist anymore. The reason for that is that powerful lobbies can only operate in the context of existing consensus in Washington over the U.S. national interest. When that consensus changes -- as in the case of the opening towards Red China -- any lobby, even the most powerful one (as the China Lobby was) loses its influence (and relevance). What we need now is a honest debate in Washington over what exactly are U.S. interests in the Middle East and to what extent we need to continue maintain our presence there. That the Israel Lobby has become so powerful in Washington is in many ways a direct result of that rising American involvement in the region. (another example from domestic politics: If the U.S. federal government would not have been in the business of dispensing economic assistance to citizens and corporations, there would not have been lobbies in Washington trying to extract such assistance to their clients).
On another subject: The review of my book, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East by Martha Kessler in the new issue of Middle East Policy Journal is accessible now online