More on Mearsheimer-Walt

More on Mearsheimer-Walt

The following is a thoughtful analysis of the issues raised by the Mearsheimer-Walt paper and related articles on the so-called Israel Lobby. The author is a former Soviet Jew who immigrated to the United States 15-20 years ago, and is a longtime prominent commentator on Russian affairs.

Simes apparently knows Mearsheimer personally and felt the need to defend him against the charge of anti-Semitism. Although the main point of Simes’ piece is to protest against such personal or out-sized attacks, his criticisms of Mearsheimer and Walt’s actual work are well-taken and well expressed. It was more serious a critique (and also clearly sympathetic to Israel) than those of Judt and other M & W defenders, who establish their “fairness” by registering a token criticism of M & W, here or there, while REALLY wanting to defend them and to bash pro-Israel Jews.

Click on the Web link if you want to read the entire article.

UNREALISTS By Dimitri K. Simes, Nixon Center/National Interest, May 26, 2006

…. Beginning in the late 1990s, a highly vocal group of
neoconservatives—many involved in the Project for a New American
Century—started a crusade for regime change in Iraq. In letters,
articles and speeches, they argued that there was no other way to
deal with Iraq than by wholesale regime change—and they did not
hesitate to attack those who disagreed with their assessment as
unpatriotic or cowardly. Removing Saddam Hussein was deemed to be
such a priority that, almost immediately after 9/11, then-Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was arguing that the United
States should attack Iraq before dealing with Al-Qaeda’s sanctuary
in Afghanistan.

Champions of regime change in Iraq were certainly not limited to
Jewish Americans or, even more generally, to supporters of Israel.
But it is also clear that many of those who were vociferous
proponents of the Iraq invasion were also those who
enthusiastically endorsed and even encouraged policy proposals
advanced by the segment of the Israeli political spectrum in
Benyamin Netanyahu’s corner of the Likud Party—essentially
requiring the United States to promote permanent revolution in the
Middle East as the only way to ensure Israel’s security and
survival. Those who disagreed with this agenda were accused of
being soft on terror and, in more recent years, of being “enemies
of democracy”, unsympathetic to Israel, or worse.

The important yet troubling discussion of the Israeli lobby this
spring is a dramatic illustration of our difficulty in having an
honest conversation about U.S. foreign policy among ourselves. The
“scandal” started when two professors—John Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago (who is also a valued member of The National
Interest’s Advisory Council) and Stephen Walt of Harvard
University—published a “working paper” that concluded that U.S.
foreign policy has been twisted by the “Israel Lobby” to such a
degree that it no longer reflects fundamental American interests
and values.

I disagree with many points in the paper, beginning with its first
footnote, which asserts that the very existence of an Israel lobby
suggests that a pro-Israel policy “is not in the American national
interest.” Policy in the modern American system is not determined
by a council of the learned and the disinterested. Fundamental to
our democracy is the notion that those with an interest in shaping
decisions should organize, advise and advocate—and anyone who wants
a role needs a lobby.

Also, although they acknowledge that what they call “the Lobby” is
in fact a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations”,
Mearsheimer and Walt never made sufficient distinctions among the
many groups and individuals who support Israel to varying degrees
for varying reasons. Being committed to Israel’s secure existence
does not necessarily make someone a member of “the Lobby”, and
grouping together organizations and individuals with very different
philosophies and agendas only confuses both who Israel’s supporters
are and how they exercise influence in Washington. Some groups,
like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are clearly
lobbyists and would not deny it. Others have strong affection for
Israel but act entirely on their own without any direction from
anyone inside or outside the United States.

And there are people like me, who disagree with specific Israeli policies on many
occasions, particularly on the settlements, but are not prepared to
dictate to Israel how to protect itself while it is subject to
regular terrorist attacks and menacing threats from Iran. (And here
I must note that Mearsheimer and Walt might have had greater
credibility if they had acknowledged that Israel never had a
credible Palestinian partner willing and able to assure the
security of the Jewish state in exchange for territorial

One can also fault Mearsheimer and Walt for a lack of
nuance or sensitivity. They do not express any special sympathy for
the Jewish predicament in the Middle East or in Europe, the
Holocaust notwithstanding. On a personal level, as someone who
experienced anti-Semitism firsthand in the Soviet Union, I would
have welcomed a little more understanding on their part—but there
is a great difference between not being particularly sympathetic to
a person or group and expressing bigotry or hatred, such as
anti-Semitism. Nothing in Mearsheimer and Walt’s paper merits the
latter accusation.

Still, Mearsheimer and Walt are serious people raising serious
issues in a serious way. They—and by extension all Americans who
want a rational discussion about U.S. foreign policy—deserve better
than the virtual lynching to which they were subjected by some
influential pundits. A former Israeli official commented that it is
“certainly time for a debate. Sadly, if predictably, response to
the Harvard study has been characterized by a combination of the
shrill and the smug”—including charges of bigotry, hatred and

Again, if you want to read the entire article, click here for the Web link.

By | 2006-06-01T05:11:00-04:00 June 1st, 2006|Blog|0 Comments

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