Daniel Lazare reviews Mearsheimer and Walt in The Nation magazine, Oct. 22 (posted Oct. 4). Considering that Lazare is anti-Zionist (which he makes abundantly clear in his harsh treatment of Abraham Foxman’s rebuttal book that he reviews in the same article), he is surprisingly cutting in his treatment of M & W’s thesis that Iraq was invaded largely for the sake of Israel and at the behest of its “Lobby”:
… Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites, and The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy does not portray Israel as uniquely evil or “singularly pernicious.” But just because a book is not bigoted does not mean it is good, and the one that Mearsheimer and Walt have written suffers from significant methodological deficiencies, which is a polite way of saying it’s a mess. In expanding their 13,000-word article into a 500-page book (with more than 100 pages of notes!), they have succeeded mainly in exacerbating the flaws of their original argument. They seem to know little about how American government works, how lobbyists function or how the United States interacts with the world at large. They are blind to history and tone-deaf to ideology. Because they blame America’s Middle Eastern rampage on a knot of wily Zionist agents, they seem to think that the US role in the region would turn benign if those agents were removed.
The result is, bizarrely enough, an exculpatory portrait of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the “Vulcans,” whom Mearsheimer and Walt depict as naïve but fundamentally well intentioned. The American people should not blame them if they’ve made a mess of things in Iraq. It’s not their fault, you see. Foreigners made them do it– or, if not foreigners, then Americans loyal to foreign interests.
Mearsheimer and Walt are a classic example of pundits hatching a thesis and then hacking away at the facts to make them fit. This is not to deny that their argument possesses a certain superficial plausibility. Clearly, Israel’s influence in Washington is enormous. …
They advance a dualistic view that has the US national interest in one corner and the Israel lobby in the other, with the latter consistently riding roughshod over the former. This entirely artificial distinction leads to some remarkable conclusions, the most astounding of which is that the invasion of Iraq did not originate in a breakdown or crisis in American politics but rather was imposed on a reluctant Bush Administration from without: “There is abundant evidence that Israel and the lobby played crucial roles in making that war happen…. Had the circumstances been different, they would not have been able to get the United States to go to war. But without their efforts, America would probably not be in Iraq today.”
The same goes for US policy regarding Syria and Iran. According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the lobby has pushed Bush “to take a more confrontational line toward Syria than he would probably have adopted on his own,” while “Israel and the lobby…are the central forces today behind all the talk in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill about using military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.” If it wasn’t for the lobby, they add, “the United States would almost certainly have a different and more effective Iran policy,” which is to say, one that relied more on persuasion than military force.
The United States as inherently diplomatic and nonconfrontational? Few people, on either the right or left, would take such a notion seriously. Mearsheimer and Walt assume a degree of pliability on America’s part that is astonishing given the record of American belligerence during the postwar period and especially since 9/11, when the United States has gone into imperial overdrive.
Nowhere is this upside-down Weltanschauung more apparent than in the authors’ contention that oil was not a factor in the invasion of Iraq …. The entire article is at The Nation Website.