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Ignore it, maybe it'll go away

By Michael J. Smith on Friday March 31, 2006 11:51 AM

A week or so back, Tim D called our attention, in a comment, to the recent Mearsheimer/Walt report on the Israel lobby (a condensed version, without footnotes, is online at the London Review of Books). A few juicy excerpts:
Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest....

The Israel lobby... wants America to help Israel remain the dominant regional power. The Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in the United States have worked together to shape the administration’s policy towards Iraq, Syria and Iran, as well as its grand scheme for reordering the Middle East.

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.

Now of course this is not news, in one sense. People like Noam Chomsky and Michael Neumann and Norman Finkelstein have told this story before. What's news about the Mearsheimer/Walt broadside is that these are two very Establishment guys: Walt is the dean of Harvard's Kennedy Center and Mearsheimer is a professor at the University of Chicago, not exactly a hotbed of left-wing sentiment.

Is this a straw in the wind? Are significant sectors of elite opinion starting to get tired of being joined at the hip to an embarrassment like Israel? I'd love to think so.

I've often scratched my head trying to account for the irrationality of the Empire's policy in regard to Israel -- it doesn't do anything for us, at least since the end of the Cold War if not longer, and in fact it's a net liability. How can the managers of the Empire allow this to happen?

The best explanation I could come up with was that imperial management doesn't optimize, it seeks only to perpetuate and expand. That is, imperial management will react very rationally to anything that's a threat or even a serious obstacle to its purposes, but if some clique or cabal within the loosely organized camarilla of dominant interests has a pet project, they will be allowed to indulge it as long as it doesn't threaten to disrupt business in any important way.

I figure that Israel falls into this category -- as if the Soprano family were to indulge some cousin in a peculiar and perhaps even illegal sexual kink, as long as it didn't start to pose a problem to the family generally.

But in the Israel case, I strongly suspect that some elite elements are starting to worry that Cousin Kinko may be a little off the reservation, drawing too much attention from the cops, pissing off the neighbors unnecessarily.

The Lobby and its outriders have reacted with predictable fury -- Alan Dershowitz, having found a platform perfectly suited to him in The New York Sun, is running in circles, frothing at the mouth and snapping at his own tail; Max Boot, in the LA Times, amusingly exhumes Richard Hofstadter. My congressman, Jerrold Nadler, bestirred his blubbery bulk to accuse Mearsheimer and Walt of finding “Jewish conspirators under every bed and controlling every major American institution”. Best of all, perhaps, is Mad Marty Peretz at the New Republic, who writes, "Support for Israel is, deep down, an expression of America's best view of itself," and goes on to suggest that Martin Indyk isn't pro-Israel enough.

Interestingly MIA in this donnybrook is everybody's Aunt Sadie on 43d Street, The New York Times, which as far as I can tell has published not one word on this story. I've always said the Times is more interesting when it doesn't write than when it does, and surely this studied silence is intensely interesting. I don't know quite what to make of it, actually, but it'll be fun to see how long they can keep it up, and what mouse the mountain will bring forth at last.

Comments (8)


Chomsky hasn't said what you suggest he said, or agreed with: the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. To paraphrase him, "the tail doesn't wag the dog."

While he credited M&W's 'courage,' he has specifically said that he finds "The Lobby" quite less significant in its impact on policy than, for example, the armaments lobbies.

Chomsky looks elsewhere for explanations of US policy toward the Middle East, and finds it very similarly motivated as US policy toward other regions.


AG is right -- I was being sloppy by including Chomsky in my list. Chomsky is a very rational guy himself, and he sees more rationality in the way the Empire is run than I do. C. has made himself admirably clear on this topic -- as he always does -- in this Z magazine piece.

Personally, I agree with Chomsky's point about the broad outlines of American Middle East policy, which has largely been guided by imperila rationality. It's the close identification with Israel that I find irrational; and I don't think Chomsky's rational analysis of US Middle east policy in general can be extended to cover the massive irrationality of the Iraq war.

Tim D:

Yes, actually there was a very good piece by Joseph Massad on CounterPunch along the same lines.

By the way, Tom Dispatch recently featured an incredible two part interview with Chalmers Johnson on the military industrial complex's stranglehold on the U.S. government. The article featured a fairly honest statement on the likelihood of the Democrats fomenting any significant change in imperial policies:

We need to concentrate on this, and not from a partisan point of view either. There's no reason to believe the Democrats would do a better job. They never have. They've expanded the armed forces just as fast as the Republicans.

...What does this administration think it's doing, reducing taxes when it needs to be reducing huge deficits? As far as I can see, its policies have nothing to do with Republican or Democratic ideology, except that its opposite would be traditional, old Republican conservatism, in the sense of being fiscally responsible, not wasting our money on aircraft carriers or other nonproductive things

...I don't see the obvious way out of our problems. The political system has failed. You could elect the opposition party, but it can't bring the CIA under control; it can't bring the military-industrial complex under control; it can't reinvigorate the Congress. It would be just another holding operation as conditions got worse.

Tim D:

I just finished watching Norman Finkelstein's lecture at Colombia University and I must say I was shocked how, despite the incontrovertible evidence in favor of the Palestinians, young students - not Israel lobbyists and agents - could just absolutely ignore and dismiss his points. There is no rational counter argument to anything he said. *sigh* I'm on the last 30 pages or so of his Beyond Chutzpah and it really is stomach churning to read about the kinds of human rights violations that are being committed by the IDF. Sorry...just kind of thinking out loud.


Columbia students are by and large a pretty conventional, complacent, and even reactionary bunch these days -- not like when I was a lad. Even so, it's a testimony to the power of brainwashing -- no idea that they haven't seen on CCN can even be entertained. I think you have to start off bloody-minded and contrarian before there's even a gap to let the daylight in.

So how do you encourage bloodymindedness and a contrarian spirit?


I wish I knew. Some are born with it, some achieve it, and I think as things develop, more and more people will have it thrust upon them.

When in doubt, go with the most obvious explanation for the inexplicable. The U.S. needs Israel as a bargaining chip when dealing with our oil lovin' buddies like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, come to think of it, needs Israel to help keep attention off its own suppression of ethnic minorities.

Nothing will ever really satisfy the folks at TNR (et al.) when it comes to compulsively equating criticism of the Israeli Government with anti-Semitism. However, one way to deflect that kind of ad hominem attack is to lay out U.S. policies in Israel alongside similar policies in other Arab nations. It should be a no-brainer to explain that (as colonial powers always have done), the best way to keep a group of subordinates off-balance is to constantly play them off against one another over a limited number of prizes-- fanning tribal discord into open conflict whenever you can while disguising your efforts as "peaceful." Oh, and picking one side or the other to sell "protection" to when the results of the firestorm become particularly nasty. Unless you can wangle a way to pick both sides, of course. That's even better.

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