Editor's Notes: Jeopardizing American interests

Walt and Mearsheimer, bent on protecting the US from malign forces, actually risk achieving the opposite.

Here's an irony for you. Two prominent American academics, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, have just expanded a lengthy article that they published last year into a brand-new book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, assailing the pro-Israel lobby for skewing American foreign policy making and consequently jeopardizing American national security. According to their thesis, this lobby is so extraordinarily powerful - "No [other] ethnic lobby has diverted that policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest" - that its dominance was critical in forcing the US into Iraq. Its influence is so overwhelming that the US dare not press Israel to change its reprehensible policies on the Palestinians. Because of its power, and despite Israel's lack of moral standing, the US sustains a partnership with Israel that is prompting terrorism against American and other targets. The lobby's sway is so vast that critics are silenced and hostile politicians constrained. And with its commitment to Israeli interests over American, this "Israel Lobby" has badly undermined US relations with Iran for the past 15 years, destroying the possibility of constructive dialogue and leaving the US to contemplate going to war against Teheran - an option that simply would not be on the table were it not for the malevolent lobby. After all, the authors reason, "Iran has even offered to put its nuclear program up for negotiation and offered to work out a modus vivendi with Israel. Yet despite these promising opportunities, Israel and the lobby have worked overtime to prevent both the Clinton and Bush administrations from engaging Iran, and they have prevailed at almost every turn." Perceptive critics have already blasted gaping holes in much of this misconceived argument. Abraham Foxman of the ADL has devoted much of a book of his own - The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control - to demolishing the new volume and the duo's previous writings. He describes the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis as a "classic conspiratorial analysis" and argues that since their scholarship is "riddled with errors" that tend to slant it "in the exact same direction, we are dealing not with a little unfortunate carelessness but with a culpable degree of bias." While effectively countering the central assertion of pro-Israeli interests managing to persuade American governments to act against their own sense of US interests, Foxman worries that "one of the most unprofessional works of scholarship ever to emanate from supposedly respectable quarters" will be cited by "the anti-Israel forces and the avowed bigots... for a long time to come." I checked a single quotation to gauge the merit of Foxman's assertion of partiality - in a passage where the authors fault Israel for the failure of the 2000 Camp David attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. They cite Ehud Barak's foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami telling an interviewer, years later, "If I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected Camp David, as well." What they do not find room for is the continuation of Ben-Ami's comments in the same interview, when he expresses his conviction that the Clinton parameters for peace represented "the point of equilibrium between the negotiating positions of the parties" and overall faults Arafat for having "lost the opportunity of having a deal that is imperfect, inevitably imperfect, will always be imperfect, because this is the way peace processes are done all over, and he sent his nation into the wilderness of war and back in the time machine to the core of the conflict." The authors find no need, either, to cite senior Arafat aide Nabil Amr's subsequent open letter to Arafat, publicly assailing him for having rejected the opportunity of a deal with the Barak government, nor even the ascription of blame to Arafat for the failure by Clinton, the man who, after all, had hosted the attempt at peacemaking. Meanwhile David Remnick, in The New Yorker, while accepting the duo's description of "moral violation in Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands" and defending them against charges of anti-Semitism and racism, nonetheless castigates them for what he calls their portrayal of Israel as "a singularly pernicious force in world affairs." He is particularly resonant in deflating their depiction of Israel's purported unwillingness to solve the Palestinian problem as the root cause of jihadi terror, faulting them for having produced a narrative "that recounts every lurid report of Israeli cruelty as indisputable fact but leaves out the rise of Fatah and Palestinian terrorism before 1967; the Munich Olympics; Black September; myriad cases of suicide bombings; and other spectaculars." For these authors, he snipes, "It doesn't matter that Israel and the Palestinians were in peace negotiations in 1993, the year of the first attack on the World Trade Center, or that during the Camp David negotiations in 2000 bin Laden's pilots were training in Florida." In short, he scoffs, "Mearsheimer and Walt give you the sense that, if the Israelis and the Palestinians come to terms, bin Laden will return to the family construction business." The facts are, furthermore, that for all that Walt and Mearsheimer would have their readers believe otherwise, the Arab world has indeed fought a series of wars aimed at destroying Israel; terrorism for Israel is considerably more than, as they put it, "clearly a problem"; a nuclear Iran truly is an existential danger; Arafat chose not to cut a viable deal seven years ago; the US would pressure Israel to give ground if it felt that a genuine Palestinian peace partner was being ignored; Islamic extremists would be targeting the West and targeting Arab countries even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were resolved; Israel doesn't even know what its own policy should be on Syria, much less skew America's; Israel seeks to minimize the civilian casualties when hitting back at enemies north, south and east who strive to maximize our civilian losses - and no amount of cherry-picked, selectively quoted comments from public figures and analysts will change any of those realities. But the irony about this academic assault is that by placing those who work and speak for Israel and its interests on the defensive, these two scholars - who doubtless consider themselves to be American patriots, speaking out in the vital interest of their country - actually risk undermining America's well-being. Much as the authors would dispute it, America and Israel do share fundamental values and interests. They do both stand against tyranny and misogyny and religious extremism and the use of terrorism; they do both stand for equality and democracy and problem-solving through dialogue. This cannot be said of any other nation in this region. And it is in that light, and for the sake of those shared interests, that Israel, and those who care for and yes, lobby for Israel, would dearly want, right now, to be sounding the loudest possible alarms about the dangers posed to these and other US-Israel common values by the current Iranian regime's relentless march toward a nuclear weapons capability. For this is a regime that enforces fundamentalist Islam at home and seeks to export it overseas; that denies basic rights to its own people; that funds and trains and indoctrinates terrorists; that seeks the expansion of its hegemonic Islamist vision in this region and beyond; and for which a nuclear capability would represent a decisive milestone toward achieving its ambitions. That this extremist quest be thwarted is crucial to Israel's well-being. But it is crucial to America's well-being as well - to America's protection from terror, to its energy needs, to its support for the spread of democracy, to its ideological commitment to a benevolent world. Though of course it has no monopoly on understanding the dangers, Israel, considerably too close to Iran for comfort, is particularly well-placed to play a central role in assessing how best to address them. But Israel and those who speak for it are being cowed. The Israeli government has steadfastly ducked leadership of the battle to bring genocide-inciting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to justice under the terms of the UN's post-World War II "never again" resolution - staying silent out of concern that critics would accuse it of self-interested rabble-rousing. Israel has refused to publicly spearhead efforts to ratchet up economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Iranians for the same reason; heaven forbid that the Walts and Mearsheimers of this world would misrepresent what constitutes an effort to avoid military conflict through effective economic pressure as a bid by Israel to create the context for military intervention. (Israel's reticence hasn't helped, self-evidently: Walt and Mearsheimer - who assert confidently that the threat of a second strike would deter Iran from pushing the button or giving the bomb to a terrorist group, and thus airily dismiss the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel or the US as being "out of the question" - have accused Israel of whipping up conflict anyway.) And when, a few months ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in near desperation at the emboldening of Iran and the disinclination of the international community to pressure it into abandoning the nuclear drive, publicly urged the United States to try to find some kind of resolution in Iraq that prevents a further strengthening of the mullahs' regime, he knew that he was departing from his own government's policy, which is to stay mum on both Iraq and Iran - again to avoid the snipers' insistence that Israel is bent on pushing the US into war. Contrary to this part of the academic duo's thesis, Israel has no interest in conflict with Iran. Quite the reverse. A generation ago, when the Israeli government moved to thwart Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program, the air strike at Osiraq benefited from absolute surprise and from the fact that it needed to hit only a single, unprotected facility. Saddam had neither the raw materials nor the expertise to start over, and no capacity to retaliate. None of these advantages pertain where Iran is concerned, and Israel knows it. Israel's interest, its shared interest with the US, the free world and, not to forget, the people of Iran, is in the creation of a situation where the ayatollahs either choose to abandon the nuclear weapons drive or are ousted by their own people for failing to do so. The only way to achieve this is through concerted international pressure. Military intervention, whether carried out by Israel or by other players, carries the risk of failure, of terrorist retaliation, of exacerbated Muslim grievance against the US and Israel and the West. A military strike is indeed, as John McCain has stated, preferable to a nuclear Iran. But there is still a conviction in Israel that both can be avoided. THE JEWISH state really does know more than most about how loudly the alarm bells should now be ringing, about the dangers of extremist murderous regimes being allowed to flourish. Our nation does have the most bitter direct experience of the consequences. It took the United States far too long to internalize the scope of the danger last time around. And in 2007, given the advances in man's capacity to kill off his fellow man, it is far easier to carry out genocide than it was for the Nazis. In the wake of the Holocaust, indeed, the Jews' sovereign state has a moral responsibility to warn all the nations of the earth against the dangers of new genocides. But its voice has been muted, for fear that its legitimate concerns for its own and other nations' security will be misrepresented. Wouldn't it be ironic, then, if Iran were to succeed in its nuclear weapons quest, in part because clear-sighted politicians and analysts and experts in Israel and among its supporters in the US felt constrained by the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer - the two scholars ostensibly bent on safeguarding their country from our malign influence - from sounding the alarm as clearly as they would have wished. Wouldn't it to be ironic if that fundamentalist Iran were then able to remake this region in its own image, cast a shadow and worse over Israel, and, as it sought to expand Islamist hegemony, belatedly come to be recognized as a direct threat to the most basic American interests and values. Who, then, would have undermined the American national interest, and whose efforts to influence the national debate would have jeopardized American security?