Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) — When John L. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt published an early version of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” last year as an essay in the London Review of Books, they were accused of anti-Semitism. In other words, they got the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Being called anti- Semites (which I’m convinced they are) added heft to their claim that criticism of Israel is routinely stifled.
Mearsheimer and Walt — professors at, respectively, the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government — argue the existence of a powerful U.S. lobby that exerts pressure whenever the debate on Israel turns negative. Using its influence, media access and money, the authors claim, this lobby is able to secure continued American support for Israel, despite evidence that this uncritical support is contrary to U.S. interests and to the welfare of Israel itself.
Were Mearsheimer and Walt simply saying that Israel’s hard- line policies have often done the country more harm than good (as have the Americans who confuse any criticism of Israel with a threat to its existence), they’d be on solid ground. They claim not to be espousing a theory of a Jewish cabal or a conspiracy — and they’re not. In “The Israel Lobby” there’s nothing secret about Jewish influence. Every bit of U.S. foreign policy that benefits Israel or harms the U.S. has a Jew behind it.
Contradictions, evasions and lapses of logic pepper the text. When the authors want to argue that Israel was not an effective U.S. ally in the Cold War, it’s a small country. When they want to argue that Israel can easily repel any aggression from hostile neighbors, it’s a land of military might.
They understand the difference between the politically motivated terrorism of the PLO and the religious terrorism of Islamists. But they’re hardly convincing when they argue that if we weren’t bombed by Soviet leaders (“ruthless men who placed little value on human life”) then we shouldn’t need to worry about being nuked by “irrational religious fanatics.”
In a long list of U.S. elections affected by Israel-lobby money, the authors cite the 2006 defeats of Representative Cynthia McKinney, Democrat of Georgia, and Senator Lincoln Chaffee, Republican of Rhode Island. Only three pages later, in parentheses, do they consider the possibility that McKinney’s widely reported altercation with a Capitol guard might have had something to do with her defeat.
They don’t even mention her suggestion, in a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus, that President Bush had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, or that general disgust with the GOP affected Chaffee’s fortunes.
Though Mearsheimer and Walt dismiss the simplistic charge that the two Gulf wars represented blood-for-oil conflicts, they go too far in the other direction, claiming that oil interests play virtually no role in U.S. foreign policy.
They find a contradiction between Dick Cheney’s arguing against sanctions on Iran as CEO of Halliburton in the ’90s but for invading Iraq as vice president, implying that after the election Cheney became another pawn of the Israel lobby. There’s no contradiction: In both cases he was taking a stance that promised big profits for big oil.
It’s all in the service of the larger point Mearsheimer and Walt are building up to: that the U.S. was led into the disastrous invasion of Iraq by Jewish neocons whose main concern was the security of Israel. To get there they cherry-pick quotes, ignoring the larger arguments for a new Middle East that gentile neocons, too, were making in letters and articles throughout the 1990s.
In general, critics of Mearsheimer and Walt have dismissed the charges of anti-Semitism against them. But what else can account for a scenario in which Jews are the center of every perfidy, exerting so much influence and dispensing so much money that the goyim spring into line? And how can research so shoddy, so quick to ignore anything that contradicts it, so ready to subjugate facts to ideology qualify as serious?
The eager reception the pair have found in some parts of the left may yet cause embarrassment when those who embraced them come face to face with their realpolitik. Their argument against U.S. support of Israel is that our alliances must be decided solely by self-interest.
That’s the very ideology that has led the U.S. to align itself with dictators in the past and to spurn countries that desperately needed American help. The disaster of Iraq may have led many on the left to think there’s no case left for liberal interventionism (which need not be military). But are leftists really willing to desert their long-held view that oppression should be named and confronted?
In the hands of Mearsheimer and Walt, the socialism of fools has become the foreign policy of idiots.
“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (484 pages, $26.)
(Charles Taylor is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)