John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt: Taken to task by David Remnick in the New Yorker
... Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites or racists. They are serious scholars, and there is no reason to doubt their sincerity. They are right to describe the moral violation in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. (In this, most Israelis and most American Jews agree with them.) They were also right about Iraq. The strategic questions they raise now, particularly about Israel’s privileged relationship with the United States, are worth debating––just as it is worth debating whether it is a good idea to be selling arms to Saudi Arabia. But their announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument—a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs. Mearsheimer and Walt have not entirely forgotten their professional duties, and they periodically signal their awareness of certain complexities. But their conclusions are unmistakable: Israel and its lobbyists bear a great deal of blame for the loss of American direction, treasure, and even blood.
In Mearsheimer and Walt’s cartography, the Israel lobby is not limited to AIPAC,
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It is a loose yet well-oiled
coalition of Jewish-American organizations, “watchdog” groups, think tanks,
Christian evangelicals, sympathetic journalists, and neocon academics. This is
not a cabal but a world in which Abraham Foxman gives the signal, Pat Robertson
describes his apocalyptic rapture, Charles Krauthammer pumps out a column,
Bernard Lewis delivers a lecture—and the President of the United States invades
another country. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Exxon-Mobil barely exist.
Where many accounts identify Osama bin Laden’s primary grievances with American
support of “infidel” authoritarian regimes in Islamic lands, Mearsheimer and
Walt align his primary concerns with theirs: America’s unwillingness to push
Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. (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.) 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.
It’s 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. The narrative rightly points out the
destructiveness of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and
America’s reluctance to do much to curtail them, but there is scant mention of
Palestinian violence or diplomatic bungling, only a recitation of the claim
that, in 2000, Israel offered “a disarmed set of Bantustans under de-facto
Israeli control.” (Strange that, at the time, the Saudi Prince Bandar told Yasir
Arafat, “If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is
going to be a crime.”) Nor do they dwell for long on instances when the all-
powerful Israel lobby failed to sway the White House, as when George H. W. Bush
dragged Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid peace conference....
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Nicholas Clifford - 9/10/2007
An understandably cautious piece from the editor. He apparently has read the new book, and I haven't (is it out yet?). But if it's like the original Walt-Mearsheimer piece, then it's hard to see how it paints Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs. Their concern is with what they see as an Israel lobby in the US. Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn't. Maybe it's the Big Bad Wolf of foreign policy, and maybe it isn't. Maybe it's responsible for Bush's curiously stand-offish approach to the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 (which Remnick doesn't mention), and maybe it isn't. But shouldn't the authors -- and others, like Tony Judt -- be allowed to address the question publicly, rather than seeing their appearances cancelled for unexplained reasons?