A new study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argues that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by the pro-Israel lobby, and furthers the view that protecting Israel was the primary motivation for the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
A front page story in today’s NY Sun reports that the academic paper has garnered rave reviews from the likes of white supremacist David Duke and a senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
I’m always critical of the Left for stifling an honest and open debate by accusing anybody who disagrees with them of being racist and sexist, so I’m willing to respond to Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s arguments without branding them “anti-Semites.” I must say, however, that there is certainly a lot in the article that provides fuel for anti-Semites, including its discussions of the influence of Jewish money and the Jewish media. After reading the paper, it’s no surprise that David Duke is thrilled.
Essentially, Walt and Mearsheimer argue that there is neither a compelling moral or strategic case for U.S. support for Israel. In fact, American aid to Israel is a large cause of Muslim and Arab hatred for America. Therefore, the only valid explanation for why the U.S. supports Israel is the power of the “Israel lobby.” The Israel lobby pressures the U.S. to act with Israel’s security in mind, most recently with the invasion of Iraq. The authors conclude by calling for an “open debate” on the influence of the Israel lobby, which they argue “will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well.”
Due to the length of their paper it will be impossible for me to respond to all of their arguments, so I just wanted to address some of their points that jump out at me.
To start they “use ‘?the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” Included in this is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); “Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson”; “Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will. ” Also mentioned are publications as far ranging as the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Times, The New York Times, Commentary, the New Republic and the Weekly Standard. Think tanks including: American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Key members of the Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration all have/had close ties to this Israel Lobby.
By defining the “Israel Lobby” so broadly to the point where it encompasses any prominent person or institution that expresses support for Israel, the authors can dismiss the possibility that there are people who actually believe there is a legitimate moral and strategic case for supporting Israel.
There clearly are moral and strategic reasons for supporting Israel. Strategically, Israel’s interests have historically been intertwined with America’s while Israel’s Palestinian and Arab neighbors have sided against America. Let us not forget that Palestinians were celebrating on the streets when America was attacked on Sept. 11. (You can view the video here.) Walt and Mearsheimer would attribute this reaction to the fact that Palestinians see U.S. policy as being too pro-Israel. But even if you start before 1973, when U.S. support to Israel was cemented by the Yom Kippur War, you see a similar pattern of Israel’s enemies siding with America’s enemies. Israel’s Arab enemies were backed by the Soviet Union. In World War II, Palestinians sided with Nazi Germany, and the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was Adolf Hitler’s special guest in Berlin during the war. Here’s a photo of them getting chummy.
Today, as America copes with an Islamist threat that Israel has been dealing with for decades, the two nation’s interests are more intertwined than ever before.
There are plenty of moral reasons for America to support Israel. Despite being surrounded by enemies, Israel is an open democracy. The authors write that, “Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.” But Israel’s laws don’t stipulate that only Jews can be citizens, they say that Jews are automatically granted citizenship. The context for this is clear: during the Holocaust, Jews had nowhere to go, even America denied them entry, so they could not avoid Nazi persecution. When Israel was founded three years after the end of the war, one of their objectives was to make sure that Jews always had a refuge. But this does not make Israeli-Arabs second-class citizens, as the authors claim. There is even an Israeli-Arab Member of Knesset.Can you imagine a Jew being elected to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government?
The authors write, “Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.” It is worth responding to this in two ways. First, the fact that the U.S. is forced to veto so many resolutions speaks more to the fact that the UN disproportionately condemns Israel. Second, the authors don’t provide any specific examples of resolutions vetoed by the U.S. that they believe should have passed. If you look at the list of vetoed resolutions, you will see that most of them condemn Israel for taking actions that would be deemed legitimate forms of self-defense for any other UN member. One of the vetoes, for instance, condemns Israel for assassinating Hamas co-founder and leader Ahmed Yassin, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians. Should the U.S. be condemned if it were to kill Osama bin Laden in a targeted assassination?
The authors discuss how President Bush slowly came to support Israel and sideline Arafat in 2002. The reason they give for his shift is the influence of the Israel Lobby. However, the authors do not mention that in January 2002 Arafat was caught red-handed when Israel intercepted a ship from Iran, bound for the Palestinian territories, containing 50 tons of weapons and explosives. This event is widely-viewed as the tipping point for Bush, when he realized Arafat could not be trusted as a peace partner. His change in attitude is clear from this story, written shortly after the event.
Moving on, the authors say that, “?Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical.” But other than one quote from Philip Zelikow, a former member of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the basis for their conclusion are statements by Israelis and Israel supporters urging the toppling of Saddam. It’s a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. Just because those pushing for regime change in Iraq such as John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz are also pro-Israel, it doesn’t mean that they supported regime change because they are pro-Israel.
The type of people who supported the toppling of Saddam tend to favor the use of aggressive tactics to deal with external threats, and tend to be hawkish about fighting terrorism. It makes sense that these people would also be supportive of actions Israel takes to defend itself against terrorism. So, these two positions can clearly be correlated without one position causing the person to hold the other.
Turning to the present, the authors discuss how the Israel Lobby is trying to influence U.S. policy toward Iran. “?Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US,” they write. “?If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran.”
Yes, it is true that Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map, but its parliament also opens sessions by chanting “Death to America!” Even if Iran’s missiles don’t have the capacity to strike U.S. soil, there is no telling what a terrorist group would be capable of if it were given nuclear material, and Iran has a record of being one of the world’s most notorious sponsors of terrorism. Also, America still has 130,000 troops in Iraq, and Iran has already been supporting the insurgency there. Short of detonating a nuclear bomb, a nuclear Iran poses many risks to the U.S. Possession of a nuclear weapon would allow Iran to assert its authority more confidently in the Middle East and cause economic problems for the U.S. For instance, it could restrict movement along the Strait of Hormuz, where 90 percent of oil imported from the Persian Gulf moves through. The acquisition of a nuclear bomb by Iran could also set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East by prompting Egypt and Saudi Arabia to pursue nukes.
And besides, what was so great about “living” with the nuclear menace of the Soviet Union? While we now know that the Soviets never launched a nuclear missle, we didn’t know this at the time. Generations of American children grew up living in fear of a nuclear strike. In China, Mao leveraged his possession of a nuclear weapon to maintain his grip on power and assert influence throughout Asia. And today, North Korea’s possession of nukes helps prop up Kim Jong Il’s evil regime, and gives it a freer hand to torture and starve its people and send them to gulags.
None of the anti-Israel arguments made by Mearsheimer and Walt are anything new. But it is troubling that they are being advanced by prominent academics and have the stamp of Harvard’s Kennedy School.