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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Panning Walt/Mearsheimer from the radical left

Radical left publication Tikkun, a heavy critic of Israel and America, prints a review by Stephen Zunes that finds "The Israel Lobby" to be complete garbage.

The funny part is that Zunes' argument mirrors the arguments that some radical Arabs have made against the book - that America's policies are so reprehensible in total that blaming the Israel Lobby alone absolves the US for its supposed awful foreign policy. So this is an argument that US policy is uniformly reprehensible and not only in the Middle East!

The overbearing power and McCarthyite tactics wielded by the American Jewish establishment against critics of Israeli government policies—particularly against prominent Jewish progressives like Michael Lerner—has made critical discourse about U.S. support for the Israeli government extremely difficult. As a result, it is all too easy to buy into the arguments put forward by John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt in their newly-released book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007) that the ‘Israel Lobby’ is primarily responsible for the tragic course taken in U.S. Middle East policy. The Tikkun Community has recently sponsored a series of public events with the authors, and Rabbi Lerner wrote a lengthy piece in the September/October issue of this magazine largely defending their perspective.

As a political scientist and international relations scholar specializing in the United States’ role in the Middle East, I must disagree. I am in no way denying that the Israel Lobby can be quite influential, particularly on Capitol Hill and in its role in limiting the broader public debate. However, it would be naíve to assume that U.S. policy in the Middle East would be significantly different without AIPAC and like–minded pro–Zionist organizations...

Mearsheimer and Walt, along with their defenders, fail to make the distinction between the undeniable fact that ‘the Lobby’ has limited debate (particularly within the Jewish community) regarding U.S. policy toward Israel and the question as to whether it is the major reason for U.S. policy being the way it is. As Professor Massad puts it, the Israel Lobby is responsible for “the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies.” Indeed, as I pointed out in my article “Is the Israel Lobby Really That Powerful?” [Tikkun, July/August 2006], U.S. policy toward both Israel/Palestine and the region as a whole is quite consistent with U.S. foreign policy toward Latin Amer-ica, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.

Any serious review of U.S. foreign policy in virtually any corner of the globe demonstrates how the United States props up dictatorships, imposes blatant double-standards regarding human rights and international law, supports foreign military occupations (witness East Timor and Western Sahara), undermines the authority of the United Nations, pushes for military solutions to political problems, transfers massive quantities of armaments, imposes draconian austerity programs on debt–ridden countries through international financial institutions, and periodically imposes sanctions, bombs, stages coups, and invades countries that don’t accept U.S. hegemony. If U.S. policy toward the Middle East was fundamentally different than it is toward the rest of the world, Mearsheimer and Walt would have every right to look for some other sinister force leading the United States astray from its otherwise benign foreign policy agenda. Unfortunately, however, U.S. policy toward the Middle East is remarkably similarly to U.S. foreign policy elsewhere in the world.

...Mearsheimer and Walt correctly observe how Washington’s support for Israel despite its human rights abuses against the Palestinians “makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights,” but there is no mention of the equally hypocritical U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Morocco, and other repressive Arab regimes. Similarly, they are accurate in observing how “U.S. efforts to limit nuclear proliferation appear equally hypocritical given its willingness to accept Israel’s nuclear arsenal.” But is this any more hypocritical than signing a nuclear cooperation agreement with India or selling sophisticated nuclear–capable fighter bombers to the Pakistani government in spite of those countries’ nuclear arsenals?

As a result, the idea that U.S. policy would somehow be “more temperate,” (again to use the words of Walt and Mearsheimer) were the Lobby not so powerful falsely assumes that U.S. policy toward other Third World regions in which the United States had strong strategic, geo–political and economic interests has historically been more temperate than it has been in the Middle East. This is particularly important to keep in mind given that their argument about the Lobby’s influence goes beyond that of Israel and Palestine to include the rest of the Middle East as well, including the Persian Gulf region, in which the United States has had hegemonic designs since before modern Israel came into being.

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In any case, it is incorrect to assume that most members of Congress stridently defend the policies of the Israeli government because their careers would be at stake if they did otherwise. Indeed, the majority of the most outspoken congressional champions of the Israeli government are from some of the safest districts in the country and need no support from pro–Israel political action committees (PACs) or Jewish donors in order to be re–elected. In last year’s article, I examined a number of cases in which members of Congress allegedly had been defeated as a result of their standing up to AIPAC and made the case that their position on Is-rael was actually just one, and not the most significant, factor in their defeat.

In 2006, ‘pro–Israel’ PACs and individuals are estimated to have contributed more than $9 million to party coffers and congressional campaigns. While that is a significant amount, it ranks significantly below that of PACs and individuals supporting the interests of lawyers ($58 million), retirees ($36 million), real estate interests ($33 million), health professionals ($32 million), securities and investment interests ($29 million), the insurance industry ($21 million), commercial banks ($16 million), the pharmaceutical industry ($14 million), the defense industry ($13 million), electrical utilities ($12 million), the oil and gas industry ($11 million), and the computer industry ($10 million), among others. If campaign contributions had such a direct impact on policy as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, Congress should therefore have a strong and consistent pro-labor agenda since contributions given in support of unions representing public sector workers, the building trades, and transportation workers each were significantly higher than the total contributions given in support for the Israeli government. Furthermore, with rare exceptions, PACs allied with the Israel Lobby do not contribute more than 10 percent of the total amount raised by a given campaign.

The vast majority of the (admittedly few) House members who refuse to follow AIPAC’s line are easily reelected. For example, every Democratic member of Congress who refused to support the July 2006 House resolution supporting Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, a resolution subjected to vigorous lobbying by AIPAC, was reelected by a larger margin than they were two years earlier.

...Perhaps the most misleading argument put forward by Walt and Mearsheimer is their claim that the 2003 invasion of Iraq “was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.” This is ludicrous on several grounds. First of all, Israel is far less secure as a result of the rise of Islamist extremism, terrorist groups, and Iranian influence in post–invasion Iraq than it was during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, when Iraq was no longer a strategic threat to Israel or actively involved in anti–Israeli terrorism. Indeed, it had been more than a decade since Iraq had posed any significant threat to Israel and both Israel’s chief of intelligence and the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff made public statements in October 2002 emphasizing how Israel’s military strength had grown over the previous decade as Iraq’s had grown weaker.

...While a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among the top policy makers in Washington who pushed for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is also true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among liberal Democrats in Congress and leftist intellectuals in universities who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, it is absurd to imply that those who were most responsible for the decision to invade Iraq—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush—would place the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States. And they were perfectly capable of making such a stupid and tragic miscalculation on their own.

The entire article is like a funhouse mirror that in some sections accidentally show things accurately.