Sunday, July 23, 2006

Does "the Israel Lobby" dominate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East?

The Washington Post recently published (July 16, 2006) an article by Glenn Frankel entitled "A Beautiful Friendship? - In search of the truth about the Israel lobby's influence on Washington" which reported on the furor that erupted with the publication of a "working paper" by Stephen Walt from Harvard (KSG - John F. Kennedy School of Government) and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago back in March entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy". Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz responded to the paper in April with a scathing rebuttal of his own entitled "Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt 'Working Paper'", both of which are available on the KSG web site.

My own view is roughly summarized in the paper, although I would prefer to use the term "the Pro-Israel lobby" to reflect my own view that "the lobby" is not emanating from Israel proper and is not exclusively about the interests of Israel alone and also state clearly that "the lobby" is a loose collaboration between right-wing American Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Jews and is far from being primarily Jewish in nature. Is it roughly aligned with the neoconservative movement, which itself is roughly a mix of right-wing American Christians and right-wing Jews. But it's not simply the neoconservatives alone. There are plenty of liberal Democrats who at least half-willingly go along with "the Pro-Israel lobby", if for no other reason than for contribution money or simple political expediency.

Some of Deshowitz' criticsisms are indeed valid and I myself say that the authors of the working paper did overreach a bit in some areas and did offer some conclusions without a thorough base of evidence. Some of Dershowitz' criticisms fall in the category of "true, but that doesn't affect the overall thesis". Being a great trial defense lawyer, he clearly knows how to milk the greatest value from even the tiniest or thinnest of points. But, I think it's fair to say that overall he doesn't significantly dent the overall thrust of the thesis of the working paper. His most salient point is simply that the paper might be misused by extemists, but that is always true.

In short, I believe that the working paper could easily be reworked to address all of Dershowitz' points of hard-core substance with no net change in its overall thesis.

Did "the Israel Lobby" (or what I call "the Pro-Israel lobby") drag us unnecessarily into the "liberation" of Iraq? In my view, the answer is an unequivocal and resounding "Yes, without a doubt." And the open question, relevant to present situations in the Middle East is where will they drag us next?

Ultimately, the important question is not whether such a "lobby" exists or what its effects are, but whether the vast majority of Americans are comfortable with the results that flow from the impact of the lobby. For the most part, the Washington Post article, the working paper, and the Dershowitz rebuttal are what the people in Washington call "inside baseball", meaning that as meaningful as it is to some of us, most people could care less. It is true that a lot of people are uncomfortable with a lot of the tactics and strategies being deployed by the Bush administration in its "war on terror", but it also appears that a lot of people simply want to see "results" and want terrorism to disappear from the television screen and the newspaper, no matter what the cost.

In any case, carefully read the paper, the counter-paper, and the coverage by the Washington Post, and then draw your own conclusions.

-- Jack Krupansky


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