Sunday, November 18, 2007

Conspiracy theory dismantled

From a review of "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in The Weekend Australian, by Bret Stephens November 17, 2007 [very brief excerpts only - follow the link for the full article]:

JOHN J. Mearsheimer ...[and]...Stephen M. Walt ...are prominent and highly respected theorists of the realist school of international relations.... That is in part why, when The Israel Lobby first saw light in March 2006 as a long article in the London Review of Books, it caused a worldwide sensation and why its charges were taken with the utmost seriousness by gleeful admirers and shocked detractors alike....

In short, much of The Israel Lobby's authority derives from its authors' resumes. Something similar can be said of the book's effect, particularly of the damage it has caused by throwing a mantle of academic legitimacy over some of the most disreputable ideas to infect political discourse...

... The Israel Lobby makes the case, briefly, that US support for Israel is not only wildly and irrationally excessive but has increasingly become a strategic liability; that it can no longer be justified on moral grounds; that it has led the US into one catastrophic misadventure in Iraq and may soon lead it into further misadventures against Syria and Iran; and, what is key, that it has been sustained only by the strenuous and sometimes bullying exertions of a "loose coalition" of pro-Israel interest groups and individuals, which in turn are often co-ordinated with the Israeli Government.....

.... Precisely because it has issued from two respected establishment figures and comes cloaked in a tone of academic reasonableness, The Israel Lobby and its claims have been subjected to exceptionally close scrutiny during the past 1 1/2 years by any number of careful analysts and researchers. What their collective labours have demonstrated beyond any doubt is that behind the authors' conclusions lies a farrago of shoddy or nonexistent scholarship and rank intellectual dishonesty....

....consider the challenge for a reader or reviewer who must wade through not just The Israel Lobby's 355 pages of text but its no fewer than 1399 footnotes, many of which contain references to multiple sources. The opportunities for intellectual mischief are staggering, and Mearsheimer and Walt rarely miss a chance to take them.

Amid the blizzard of detail, however, one thing stands out: the complete absence of original scholarship. Scarcely any primary source materials cited; no first-hand interviews; no hint that Mearsheimer or Walt bothered to visit Israel during the course of their researches or so much as spoke to an actual member of the lobby against which they level heavy charges of working at cross-purposes with vital US interests.

.... Instances in which Mearsheimer and Walt present claims that are wholly unsubstantiated or blatantly contradicted by a reading of the sources they themselves cite in their footnotes multiply in dizzying profusion. It is no doubt for this reason, among others, that Benny Morris, a controversial Israeli historian on whose scholarship and credentials Mearsheimer and Walt heavily rely, wrote of their original essay that were it "an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body".

True, the authors are on somewhat safer ground with some of their other sources. But what [nasty] sources those are! In addition to Chomsky, one finds respectful appeals in The Israel Lobby to the work of Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish supporter of Hezbollah, as well as to revisionist historian Ilan Pappe, the hysterically anti-Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and radical online newsletter Counterpunch. Where, moreover, the likes of the Brookings Institution and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy are dismissed by Mearsheimer and Walt as lapdogs of the Israel lobby, these other disseminators of supposedly more objective information escape identification as voices from the far Left or the lunatic fringe.....

.... their whole argument is geared towards insinuating (sundry disclaimers notwithstanding) that not Islamist but Jewish behaviour, objectively considered, is the menace to the peace of the world.

...."Some Islamic radicals," they grudgingly concede, "are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West's materialism and venality, its alleged theft of Arab oil, the support for corrupt Arab monarchies, its repeated military interventions in the region, etc." .... if it is the case that Osama bin Laden is "genuinely upset" (!) over our sins against Islam, why should Mearsheimer and Walt's principal prescription for palliating this discontent be to cut back or sever our ties with Israel? Why not press for cutting our ties to the Saudi royal family, or voluntarily paying more taxes on oil, or devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to improving America's moral tone so as to lessen the offence to bin Laden family values? Ah, but none of those would lead us back, always back, to Israel and its American lobby....

....What need for manipulation by unseen forces when the simple truth... is that friends of Israel have "a pretty good product to sell" and that this product is not fake, fabricated or ersatz but a country whose democratic history and daily tribulations resonate in a compelling way with a whole variety of American audiences: Jewish and Gentile, religious and secular, liberal and conservative?

... why, with all the conspiracy theories that political scientists have at their disposal at any given moment, [should] Mearsheimer and Walt have alighted on this one[?] ...that is a question to which the answer may finally have to be sought in modes of investigative analysis beyond the routinely political.

This article was opriginally published in Commentary Magazine [subscription required] by Bret Stephens, a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and author of the paper's "Global View", a weekly column.

1 comment:

John said...

I cannot understand why this is so hard to believe. Why is the Jewish community so upset about this?

The power of lobbies in our government is well-documented, and as far as the people are concerned, there's nothing wrong with lobbies. I think there's something wrong with lobbies. I don't like lobbies. I wish lobbies were made illegal. But enforcing such a law would be very difficult. The people need to be more involved with their government.

It's not just Israeli lobby that is influencing policy. We have military industrial complex, the gun lobby, the pharmaceutcals and on and on.

Let's just say that even if it isn't true, then Jews should be trying to work toward reducing the power of all lobbies. If they don't want to assist in such an endeavor, then what else are we suppose to assume than to say that what Mearsheimer-Walt are saying is correct?

John Feier