In 2006, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an article in the London Review of Books entitled “The Israel Lobby.” The article was generally met by intense criticism as it questioned some of the basic beliefs of many Israeli supporters. Despite being labeled as anti-Semites, Mearsheimer and Walt decided to expand the article in a book. “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” is a look into the power of the Jewish lobby in the US and the extent to which the groups in the lobby are able to influence American foreign policy. Their conclusion was simply that the Jewish lobby in the US has too much power and are supporting policies that run contrary to the interests of Israel and the US.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section is devoted to the reasons for the special American-Israeli relationship and an explanation of the Israeli lobby – what exactly is the Israeli lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt discuss the strategic value of Israel as well as the moral reasons for lending the Jewish state unconditional support. Predictably, the authors find that Israel has no more strategic value than, say, Jordan, though it is falsely considered as very strategically important to the US. The moral case that is so often used to justify American support is erroneous; the authors contend that there is a strong moral case to support Israel’s existence, but not unconditional US support.
[tweetmeme] The second part of the book details three recent events in which the lobby helped form a US policy that was counterproductive in that it supported the well-being of neither the US or Israel. The authors look at the work of the lobby in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the invasion of Iraq and the second Lebanon war in 2006. In all three cases, the authors contend that the lobby helped move US policy away from the interest of the US and as well as away from American popular opinion.
One of the main arguments made by the authors was that the lobby influences policy in a way that is typically detrimental to the US in some way; that the lobby tends to look out for Israel more than the US. Given this line of reasoning, I found a problem with the use of Iraq by Mearsheimer and Walt. In the chapter on the 2003 invasion, the authors make it abundantly clear that the lobby was pushing hard for the Bush administration to invade Baghdad. Yet they also stress the fact that most supporters of the Iraqi war in the lobby genuinely thought that the fall of Saddam would be a good thing for the US. The eye on US interests by the lobby in the decision to go to war contradicts the claim of the authors that the lobby put Israeli interests over US interests. This contradiction is not evident in the chapters on Palestine and Lebanon, however, as the authors give reasonable proof that the US policy would have been different without the lobby and that the actual US policy led to a less secure US and Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s conclusion:
The bottom line is hard to escape: although America’s problems in the Middle East would not disappear if the lobby were less influential, US leaders would find it easier to explore alternative approaches and be more likely to adopt policies more in line with American interests.
It is difficult to disagree with the conclusions of Mearsheimer and Walt considering the myriad evidence they present as well as the evidence that a quick look at American politics can give. The smearing of Chas Freeman – among others – and the undisputed support for Israel by nearly all American politicians is reason enough to give thought to the possibility that the Israeli lobby is too strong.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the book is that it provides almost too much information. Typically, people do not like to have their assumptions proven clearly wrong. Unfortunately, in the US the assumption that the US backs Israel for legitimate reasons is widespread. Mearsheimer and Walt use evidence from lobby activists, US and Israeli government officials, newspapers and other sources to clearly show the activities of the lobby. Even one who eyes the Israeli lobby skeptically would close the book shocked by the power of the lobby. By providing such a overwhelming analysis and argument, Mearsheimer and Walt allow readers to dismiss the authors as anti-Semites or out of touch with reality because the findings of the book differ so greatly from the typical assumptions of most. Of course, it is bizarre to charge that an author is too detailed in his argument, but the reactions to the book by many simply highlights the schism that exists between reality and the assumptions of average Americans.
With Israel increasing findings itself in the center of Middle East disputes, the decisions of the US government in relation to Israel are becoming more important. Because of this, an understanding of the way in which the Israeli lobby is able to influence American policy is necessary. Though the book is several years old, the information provided to still valid and, indeed, perhaps more so considering the actions of the IDF in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and the unquestioned American support of alleged war crimes.
“The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” is an important read for anyone who is interested in the Middle East or American politics. Furthermore, it should be taken to heart by all Americans who do not understand the extent to which the lobby is able to push the government away from public opinion.
Photo from Distorted Knowledge