John Mearsheimer, the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, and Stephen Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and author of Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy, have collaborated on a well researched study which details the activities of so-called the ‘Israel Lobby’ in the United States over many years, and discusses the effects of these activities. It further details the current efforts underway by this lobby, and its neo-conservative supporters, to convince the White House and Congress that the United States should now move towards regime change in both Syria and Iran, engaging in ‘preemptive’ warfare as necessary.
An edited and abbreviated version of the longer eighty-three page study may be read by clicking on the headline above. The abbreviated study may be downloaded in PDF format here.
I consider this the signature study of the phenomena referred to as the ‘Israel Lobby’ and its unbelievable influence over the foreign policy of our country.
The headline above is my own.
Here are a few extracts from the abbreviated version:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece 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 jeopardized 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.
Beginning in the 1990s, and even more after 9/11, US support [for Israel, some $140 Billion since World War Two] has been justified by the claim that both states are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab and Muslim world, and by ‘rogue states’ that back these groups and seek weapons of mass destruction. This is taken to mean not only that Washington should give Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and not press it to make concessions until all Palestinian terrorists are imprisoned or dead, but that the US should go after countries like Iran and Syria. Israel is thus seen as a crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America’s enemies. In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.
‘Terrorism’ is not a single adversary, but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or ‘the West’; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.
As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel. Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons – which is obviously undesirable – neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation. The danger of a nuclear handover to terrorists is equally remote, because a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would go undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards. The relationship with Israel actually makes it harder for the US to deal with these states. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reasons some of its neighbors want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire.
The study lists all the reasons the US provides, or could provide, for its lavish and unconditional support for Israel and its policies, and then details how irrational and self-defeating that support may have become. That we seem to have done its bidding without question and on command is thoroughly documented.
So if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America’s support for Israel, how are we to explain it?
The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.
Jewish Americans have set up an an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington ‘muscle rankings’.
The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will. 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 are also steadfast supporters.
The paper details the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’ in respect of the current US administration and those of the recent past. It also discusses the consequences of those activities.
In all fairness to President Bush, his own anger and frustration with Israeli officials and the ‘Lobby’ is discussed, along with the reasons for his gradual capitulation.
I’ve quoted just a few brief pieces of this lengthy document but I consider the entirety of it a must read, and though it is beyond doubt a disturbing and chilling glimpse at the extraordinary power of a relatively small group of people, it does end on an optimistic note:
There is a ray of hope, however. Although the Lobby remains a powerful force, the adverse effects of its influence are increasingly difficult to hide. Powerful states can maintain flawed policies for quite some time, but reality cannot be ignored for ever. What is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about US interests in this vital region. Israel’s well-being is one of those interests, but its continued occupation of the West Bank and its broader regional agenda are not. Open debate 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.
April 4, 2006 UPDATE: A good argument against the predominance of the ‘Israel Lobby’ can be found here at CounterPunch. The piece does, however, agree that our interests in the Middle East dissuade us from the kind of alliance we have with Israel, outdated and counterproductive as it now appears to be.