The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy Controversy Revisited

Sheila Musaji

Posted Apr 9, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Back in March I wrote an article on the publication of an important 83-page study The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy which was published on March 23rd by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University.  A shorter, edited version of this document was published by the London Review of Books.  The introduction to this study states the importance of this discussion which will hopefully prompt an open debate on the issues.

U.S. foreign policy shapes events in every corner of the globe.  Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East, a region of recurring instability and enormous strategic importance.  Most recently, the Bush Administration’s attempt to transform the region into a community of democracies has helped produce a resilient insurency in Iraq, a sharp rise in world oil prices, and terrorist bombings in Madrid, London, and Amman.  With so much at stake for so many, all countries need to understand the forces that drive U.S. Middle East policy.
The U.S. national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy.  For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel.  The combination of unwavering U.S. support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and eopardized U.S. security.
This situation has no equal in American political history.  Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state?  One might assume that the bond between the two countries is based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperativs.  As we show below, however, neither of those explanations can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the United States povides to Israel.

Instead, the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the “Israel Lobby.” Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.1  

In the pages that follow, we describe how the Lobby has accomplished this feat, and how its activities have shaped America’s actions in this critical region.  Given the strategic importance of the Middle East and its potential impact on [1] others, both Americans and non‐Americans need to understand and address the Lobby’s influence on U.S. policy.
Some readers will find this analysis disturbing, but the facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars.  Indeed, our account relies heavily on the work of Israeli scholars and journalists, who deserve great credit for shedding light on these issues.  We also rely on evidence provided by respected Israeli and international human rights organizations.  Similarly, our claims about the Lobby’s impact rely on testimony from the Lobby’s own members, as well as testimony from politicians who have worked with them.  Readers may reject our conclusions, of course, but the evidence on which they rest is not controversial.

Haaretz almost immediately published an article discussing this study, and the comments under the article show that Haaretz’ readers are concerned.  The anti-war movement has picked up on the importance of this study.  There has not been as much written in the mainstream press, or even on Arab or Islamic sites as would be expected, but this will certainly change as this study becomes more widely read.  UPI reports that the article, ” already stirring furious debate in U.S. academic and intellectual circles”. 

And, of course the smear attack on the authors has begun, and the first attack ably responded to by Glenn Greenwald in an article entitled “Using Character Smears to Prevent Foreign Policy Discussions.”  Already the authors of the study and the London Review of Books have been accused of anti-semitism which has traditionally been enough to stifle debate, and one article even manages to sneak the term islamofascists into the discussion.  When even a play about Rachel Corrie was too hot for New York it is likely that this study and its authors will be attacked in every way possible to lessen the impact, and to discourage most people from reading the actual document and drawing their own conclusions.

As Professor Patricia DeGennaro pointed out in her article “Debating ‘The Lobby’”:

As a professor of international affairs and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, I felt obliged to actually read “The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” which was posted on a Harvard website. I’ve also read much of the negative press about this academic paper and its authors, professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.
Whether you believe the paper is repulsive or revelatory, its arguments are legitimate grounds for a rational discussion. Twenty years ago, 12 former U.S. officials voiced concerns about this very subject in a book entitled They Dare to Speak Out by veteran Congressman Paul Findley. At that time, people were not ready to engage in an unbiased discussion of the topic. It seems little has changed.

In my original article I stated that “I am certain that we will see this discussion escalate over the coming months”, and this is already proving true.  In fact, rather than a discussion or a controversy, some are referring to this as a firestorm.  An open debate on the issues raised in the paper is needed, but what we are seeing primarily is a continuation of smear attacks, and an attempt to intimidate and suppress dissent.

Harvard removed its’ logo from the page the paper is posted on, and appears to be attempting to distance itself from the controversy created by the publication of the paper.  Harvard has announced that Stephen Walt will be stepping down as Dean of the Kennedy School, and denies that this has anything to do with the publication of the study.  Professor Walt has also published a letter stating that this is not related to publication of the paper, that the two events are unrelated, and that those who have seen such a connection are mistaken. 

Alan Dershowitz has now posted a 46-page rebuttal to the original paper on the Harvard site, and Noam Chomsky has spoken out in defense of the Israeli Lobby, and in fact appears to suggest that there is no such lobby.

Stay tuned as now that the “big guns” are weighing in, and as more information comes out on the AIPAC/Abramoff scandals, and the possible Israeli lobby influence on the U.S.-Iran controversy, the debate will surely grow and this subject will need to be revisited again.