April 4, 2006


Harvard Takes On the Israel Lobby (Joshua Holland, 4/04/06, AlterNet)

A few weeks ago two scholars published a study that might have languished in the obscurity of academia.

But the paper was about the impact that the "Israel Lobby" -- which the authors characterized as a loose confederation of like-minded individuals and groups -- has on U.S. policy in the Middle East. So, predictably, it set off a nice little firestorm with accusations of anti-Semitism flying around our most hallowed Ivy League colleges and members of Congress discussing how to respond to the study's "charges."

"The Israel Lobby," by political scientists Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, offered nothing new to the debate about U.S. policy toward the Middle East. The authors established no groundbreaking facts and unearthed no shocking original documents that could change the course of historical understanding.

As Walt and Mearsheimer noted, only their conclusion -- that the Israel Lobby's unprecedented success has shifted U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East away from a narrow focus on America's national interests -- is controversial, and then only by a matter of degree. The data from which they drew that conclusion came largely from Israeli academics and journalists and, as the authors point out, "are not in serious dispute among scholars."

The queer thing is that America's best leaders have always acted against the narrow self-interest of the Realists on this issue, even before there was an Israel, nevermind an Israel Lobby:
Even more impressive, Truman and Bush showed they could go head-to-head with their mighty brain trusts and be right in the bargain. Truman did this most dramatically when he decided to recognize the state of Israel eleven minutes after it was declared, on May 14, 1948.

McCullough reports: "Some [US] delegates actually broke into laughter, thinking the announcement was somebody's idea of a joke... Marshall dispatched his head of UN affairs to New York to keep the whole delegation from resigning."

Marshall himself had opposed recognizing Israel so strongly that he told Truman to his face that he would vote against the president if he took that decision. In an eerie parallel with Bush's relationship with Powell, Marshall was appalled that "political" considerations could sway a foreign-policy decision, while his own implied resignation threat became a central part of the political equation.

Until they recognize that America has sweeping moral interests rather than narrow security one such folk will never understand U.S. policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2006 8:59 AM

I think we have tight security interests that happen to include Israel.

Posted by: Genecis at April 4, 2006 11:25 AM

Our interests in the region are most naked geopolitical realism: strategic resources and naval choke points.

Israel is our hostage against surrender. Without Israel and the Israel lobby, our realism would have long ago been overcome by isolationism, pacifism and partisan in-fighting.

Thus our moral interests are inseparable from our geopolitical interests.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 4, 2006 1:41 PM

We gave up on South Africa, Palestine and Northern Ireland once they ceased being significant naval choke points--actually, once we ended up with the only navy....

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2006 1:48 PM