Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dual Loyalties - The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Cernig

Anyone want to bet against tomorrow's New York Times article by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt - an extract from their book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" - being a major item on political blogs of all stripes?

The authors are, respectively, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago (Mearshimer) and the Belfer Professor of International Affairs at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (Walt). No "loony lefty fringe" folks here, just foreign policy Very Serious People.

Mearsheimer and Walt wonder rhetorically why the current crop of presidential candidates, despite being so different on several other issues, are all in lockstep on any issue that connects with Israel - Iran, Syria, nukes, Palestine etc. The answer is simple:
Some might say that it is because Israel is a vital strategic asset for the United States. Indeed, it is said to be an indispensable partner in the "war on terror." Others will answer that there is a powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support, because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values." But neither of these arguments stands up to fair-minded scrutiny. Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem makes it harder, not easier, to defeat the terrorists who are now targeting the United States, and it simultaneously undermines America's standing with important allies around the world. Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so in public, or even raise the possibility.

There is also no compelling moral rationale for America's uncritical and uncompromising relationship with Israel. There is a strong moral case for Israel's existence and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy. But given Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, moral considerations might suggest that the United States pursue a more evenhanded policy toward the two sides, and maybe even lean toward the Palestinians. Yet we are unlikely to hear that sentiment expressed by anyone who wants to be president, or anyone who would like to occupy a position in Congress.

The real reason why American politicians are so deferential is the political power of the Israel lobby. The lobby is a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. As we will describe in detail, it is not a single, unified movement with a central leadership, and it is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that "controls" U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel's case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state. The various groups that make up the lobby do not agree on every issue, although they share the desire to promote a special relationship between the United States and Israel. Like the efforts of other ethnic lobbies and interest groups, the activities of the Israel lobby's various elements are legitimate forms of democratic political participation, and they are for the most part consistent with America's long tradition of interest group activity.
The trouble, of course, is that the Israel lobby has become a monster with too much power, too much cash and too little perspective. The NYT piece describes it as wanting "U.S. leaders to treat Israel as if it were the fifty-first state", free from the criticism other nations receive, even allied ones, and that "any politician who challenges its policies stands little chance of becoming president."

What this means is that:
the United States has provided Israel with a level of material and diplomatic support that dwarfs what it provides to other countries. That aid is largely unconditional: no matter what Israel does, the level of support remains for the most part unchanged. In particular, the United States consistently favors Israel over the Palestinians and rarely puts pressure on the Jewish state to stop building settlements and roads in the West Bank. Although Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush openly favored the creation of a viable Palestinian state, neither was willing to use American leverage to make that outcome a reality.

The United States has also undertaken policies in the broader Middle East that reflected Israel's preferences. Since the early 1990s, for example, American policy toward Iran has been heavily influenced by the wishes of successive Israeli governments. Tehran has made several attempts in recent years to improve relations with Washington and settle outstanding differences, but Israel and its American supporters have been able to stymie any d√ątente between Iran and the United States, and to keep the two countries far apart. Another example is the Bush administration's behavior during Israel's war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Almost every country in the world harshly criticized Israel's bombing campaign-a campaign that killed more than one thousand Lebanese, most of them civilians-but the United States did not. Instead, it helped Israel prosecute the war, with prominent members of both political parties openly defending Israel's behavior. This unequivocal support for Israel undermined the pro-American government in Beirut, strengthened Hezbollah, and drove Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah closer together, results that were hardly good for either Washington or Jerusalem.
All of this has worked against America's national interest, while working for Israels', say the two authors.
no ethnic lobby has diverted [U.S. foreign] policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest. The Israel lobby has successfully convinced many Americans that American and Israeli interests are essentially identical. In fact, they are not.
Read the whole thing. There's little in it that is open to arguable doubt, to my mind - I've written on occasion myself that I don't believe that all neocons are Jews but that rather the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. has chosen to walk in lockstep with Israel's own hardliners (not all Israelis) and with U.S. neocon warmongers. However I predict that the simple audacity of saying it in a major U.S. newspaper will create an intense buzz and backlash.

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