Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mearsheimer and Walt take on AIPAC

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

Why President Cheney is having the last laugh?

Is it possible that Cheney and his aide John Hannah are reading out loud the first sentence -- "The Dick Cheney era of foreign policy is over" -- in Look Who's Running the World Now which was published in The Washington Post over the weekend? In the article, one of Washington's leading brown nosers, David J. Rothkopf, asserts that "Cheney's influence has waned in the White House" since President Bush
no longer depends on the vice president as he did in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when Bush was still learning national security on the job and the nation was in crisis. The president today is better schooled [?], more experienced and more confident. Second, Rumsfeld, who is Cheney's staunchest supporter after the president and whose vacation home is just a few steps away from Cheney's on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has lost a lot of his clout. No longer the center of attention, as he was during the offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumsfeld has legions of his own detractors.

Here where Rothkopf hopes to win a few brownie-nose points:"
Now, Rice is in her ascendancy at State. Diplomatic, thoughtful and a good listener, she is the Un-Cheney. She has the ear and trust of the president and she has been embraced by U.S. allies for her efforts to repair the damage to ties frayed by first-term policies.

And this:
One longtime associate of Hadley who worked closely with him in this administration says, "Steve is very, very, very, very, very, very, very [that's all?] cautious. He is a lawyer not just by training but by disposition." Despite traditional rivalries between the NSC and State, one State Department official said, "My only concern is whether he is too invisible, whether the administration wouldn't be better off if he were more out in front on the issues."

But when reading the following is when Cheney and Hannah are having a very, very, very, very, very, very, BIG LAUGH:
As it happens, the Bush administration devoted itself to containing the weapons of mass destruction threat of a terrorist-supporting Gulf state during its first term. Now diplomacy, however frustrating, has replaced preemption even though the administration is now facing such a threat, this time more real than imagined.

And this is from today Washington Post
President Bush issued a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled U.S. experience in Iraq.
The long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."
The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States.
The preemption doctrine generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficient to justify preventive war.
In his revised version, Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."
Such language could be seen as provocative at a time when the United States and its European allies have brought Iran before the U.N. Security Council to answer allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons. At a news conference in January, Bush described an Iran with nuclear arms as a "grave threat to the security of the world."
In a letter introducing the new strategy document, Bush also said, "We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead of being at their mercy."
Some security specialists criticized the continued commitment to preemption.
"Preemption is and always will be a potentially useful tool, but it's not something you want to trot out and throw in everybody's face," said Harlan Ullman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To have a strategy on preemption and make it central is a huge error."
A military attack against Iran, for instance, could be "foolish," Ullman said, and it would be better to seek other ways to influence its behavior. "I think most states are deterrable."

As I noted in earlier posts, Rothkopf has been one of many pundits who have been predicting/wishful-thinking that Cheney and the neocons were on their way out, and that Rice the "realist" was now in control. Dr. Srauss describes Rice's "realism" as cosmetic, as "Bushism with a 'human face.'" I call it "Chenism for suckers."