The following are excerpts from Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), originally published on Truthdig, republished on Alternet on October 9, 2007, and abstracted here by permission from the latter source.
Why Dems and Republicans Bow to the Israel Lobby provides some ideas about what it is that motivates Republican and Democratic presidential candidates alike to take the positions they do on foreign policy with respect to Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East in general. The entire article is recommended.
America is about to enter a presidential election year. Although the outcome is of course impossible to predict at this stage, certain features of the campaign are easy to foresee. The candidates will inevitably differ on various domestic issues — health care, abortion, gay marriage, taxes, education, immigration — and spirited debates are certain to erupt on a host of foreign policy questions as well. What course of action should the United States pursue in Iraq? What is the best response to the crisis in Darfur, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Russia’s hostility to NATO, and China’s rising power? How should the United States address global warming, combat terrorism, and reverse the erosion of its international image?
Yet on one subject, we can be equally confident that the candidates will speak with one voice. In 2008, as in previous election years, serious candidates for the highest office in the land will go to considerable lengths to express their deep personal commitment to one foreign country — Israel — as well as their determination to maintain unyielding U.S. support for the Jewish state.
This observation is hardly a bold prediction, because presidential aspirants were already proclaiming their support for Israel in early 2007.
John Edwards: “your future is our future.” Mitt Romney: “in a country I love with people I love”…(1) Iran must be stopped; (2) Iran can be stopped; (3) Iran will be stopped!” John McCain: “when it comes to the defense of Israel, we simply cannot compromise.” Newt Gingrich: “Israel is facing the greatest danger for [sic] its survival since the 1967 victory.” Hillary Clinton: this “moment of great difficulty for Israel and great peril for Israel … what is vital is that we stand by our friend and our ally and we stand by our own values. Israel is a beacon of what’s right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism.” Barack Obama: (although Obama expressed some sympathy for the Palestinians’ plight in the past and made a brief reference to Palestinian “suffering” at a campaign appearance in March 2007) is unequivocal in his praise for Israel and made it manifestly clear that he would do nothing to change the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Sam Brownback and Bill Richardson: expressed pro-Israel sentiments with equal or greater ardor.
What explains this behavior? Why is there so little disagreement among these presidential hopefuls regarding Israel, when there are profound disagreements among them on almost every other important issue facing the United States and when it is apparent that America’s Middle East policy has gone badly awry? Why does Israel get a free pass from presidential candidates, when its own citizens are often deeply critical of its present policies and when these same presidential candidates are all too willing to criticize many of the things that other countries do? Why does Israel, and no other country in the world, receive such consistent deference from America’s leading politicians?
There is a strong moral case for Israel’s existence and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy. But given Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, moral considerations might suggest that the United States pursue a more evenhanded policy toward the two sides, and maybe even lean toward the Palestinians.
Yet we are unlikely to hear that sentiment expressed by anyone who wants to be president, or anyone who would like to occupy a position in Congress.
The real reason why American politicians are so deferential is the political power of the Israel lobby.
Democrats and Republicans alike fear the lobby’s clout. They all know that any politician who challenges its policies stands little chance of becoming president.
The Lobby and the U.S. Middle East Policy
The lobby’s political power is important not because it affects what presidential candidates say during a campaign, but because it has a significant influence on American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
The United States has played an important and steadily increasing role in Middle East security issues since World War II, driven initially by oil, then by anti-communism and, over time, by its growing relationship with Israel.
Since the Six-Day War of 1967, a salient feature — and arguably the central focus — of America’s Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. For the past four decades, in fact, the United States has provided Israel with a level of material and diplomatic support that dwarfs what it provides to other countries. That aid is largely unconditional: no matter what Israel does, the level of support remains for the most part unchanged. In particular, the United States consistently favors Israel over the Palestinians and rarely puts pressure on the Jewish state to stop building settlements and roads in the West Bank. Although Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush openly favored the creation of a viable Palestinian state, neither was willing to use American leverage to make that outcome a reality.
The United States has also undertaken policies in the broader Middle East that reflected Israel’s preferences. Since the early 1990s, for example, American policy toward Iran has been heavily influenced by the wishes of successive Israeli governments. Tehran has made several attempts in recent years to improve relations with Washington and settle outstanding differences, but Israel and its American supporters have been able to stymie any détente between Iran and the United States, and to keep the two countries far apart. Another example is the Bush administration’s behavior during Israel’s war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Almost every country in the world harshly criticized Israel’s bombing campaign — a campaign that killed more than one thousand Lebanese, most of them civilians — but the United States did not. Instead, it helped Israel prosecute the war, with prominent members of both political parties openly defending Israel’s behavior. This unequivocal support for Israel undermined the pro-American government in Beirut, strengthened Hezbollah, and drove Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah closer together, results that were hardly good for either Washington or Jerusalem.
Many policies pursued on Israel’s behalf now jeopardize U.S. national security. The combination of unstinting U.S. support for Israel and Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory has fueled anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world, thereby increasing the threat from international terrorism and making it harder for Washington to deal with other problems, such as shutting down Iran’s nuclear program.
Although this book focuses primarily on the lobby’s influence on U.S. foreign policy and its negative effect on American interests, the lobby’s impact has been unintentionally harmful to Israel as well. Take Israel’s settlements, which even a writer as sympathetic to Israel as Leon Wieseltier recently called a “moral and strategic blunder of historic proportions.”
Israel’s situation would be better today if the United States had long ago used its financial and diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable Palestinian state on those lands.
Just as an example,
Clinton, Barak and Lieberman talk Iran
“Iranian nuclear threat and instability in Lebanon – these are only some of the subjects high-level American and Israeli officials will discuss at third annual Saban Forum in Washington
WASHINGTON: A former US president, two leading US presidential candidates (Hillary?), two former Israeli prime ministers and numerous other senior ranking American and Israeli officials will convene this coming Friday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in the Brookings Institution in Washington DC for a three-day forum entitled ‘America and Israel: Confronting a Middle East in Turmoil.’ “
Outside the Saban Institute, there was a protest against Hillary and Bill Clinton meeting with Israel’s most vile racist, Avigdor Lieberman. They did anyway. A photo of Hillary’s profuse greeting of Lieberman can no longer be found. It is just an example of the degree to which presidential candidates are willing to go in order to prove their undying allegiance to Israel. Just imagine Hillary meeting with David Duke.
Continuing with Mearsheimer and Walt:
The Lobby’s Modus Operandi
It is difficult to talk about the lobby’s influence on American foreign policy, at least in the mainstream media in the United States, without being accused of anti-Semitism or labeled a self-hating Jew. It is just as difficult to criticize Israeli policies or question U.S. support for Israel in polite company. America’s generous and unconditional support for Israel is rarely questioned, because groups in the lobby use their power to make sure that public discourse echoes its strategic and moral arguments for the special relationship. The response to former President Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid perfectly illustrates this phenomenon.
Carter unambiguously defends Israel’s right to live in peace and security. Yet because he suggests that Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories resemble South Africa’s apartheid regime and said publicly that pro-Israel groups make it hard for U.S. leaders to pressure Israel to make peace, a number of these same groups launched a vicious smear campaign against him. Not only was Carter publicly accused of being an anti-Semite and a “Jew-hater,” some critics even charged him with being sympathetic to Nazis.
Yet despite the lobby’s efforts, a considerable number of Americans — almost 40 percent — recognize that U.S. support for Israel is one of the main causes of anti-Americanism around the world. Among elites, the number is substantially higher. Furthermore, a surprising number of Americans understand that the lobby has a significant, not always positive influence on U.S. foreign policy.
In a national poll taken in October 2006, 39 percent of the respondents said that they believe that the “work of the Israeli lobby on Congress and the Bush administration has been a key factor for going to war in Iraq and now confronting Iran.” In a 2006 survey of international relations scholars in the United States, 66 percent of the respondents said that they agreed with the statement “the Israel lobby has too much influence over U.S. foreign policy.”
Of course, the American public would be even more aware of the lobby’s influence and more tough-minded with regard to Israel and its special relationship with the United States if there were a more open discussion of these matters.
The main reason for this gap is the lobby’s formidable reputation inside the Beltway.
Not only does (Israel Lobby) exert significant influence over the policy process in Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but it is even more powerful on Capitol Hill.
“We can count on well over half the House — 250 to 300 members — to do reflexively whatever AIPAC wants.”
Steven Rosen, the former AIPAC official who has been indicted for allegedly passing classified government documents to Israel, illustrated AIPAC’s power for the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg by putting a napkin in front of him and saying, “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”
These are not idle boasts….when issues relating to Israel come to the fore, Congress almost always votes to endorse the lobby’s positions, and usually in overwhelming numbers.
Why Is it so Hard to Talk About the Israel Lobby?
Because the United States is a pluralist democracy where freedom of speech and association are guaranteed, it was inevitable that interest groups would come to dominate the political process.
Yet it is clearly more difficult for Americans to talk openly about the Israel lobby. Part of the reason is the lobby itself, which is both eager to advertise its clout and quick to challenge anyone who suggests that its influence is too great or might be detrimental to U.S. interests. There are, however, other reasons why it is harder to have a candid discussion about the impact of the Israel lobby.
Questioning the practices and ramifications of the Israel lobby may appear to some to be tantamount to questioning the legitimacy of Israel itself. Because some states still refuse to recognize Israel and some critics of Israel and the lobby do question its legitimacy, many of its supporters may see even well-intentioned criticism as an implicit challenge to Israel’s existence. Given the strong feelings that many people have for Israel, and especially its important role as a safe haven for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and as a central focus of contemporary Jewish identity, there is bound to be a hostile and defensive reaction when people think its legitimacy or its existence is under attack.
Any discussion of Jewish political power takes place in the shadow of two thousand years of history, especially the centuries of very real anti-Semitism in Europe. Christians massacred thousands of Jews during the Crusades, expelled them en masse from Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and other places between 1290 and 1497, and confined them to ghettos in other parts of Europe. Jews were violently oppressed during the Spanish Inquisition, murderous pogroms took place in Eastern Europe and Russia on numerous occasions, and other forms of anti-Semitic bigotry were wide spread until recently. This shameful record culminated in the Nazi Holocaust, which killed nearly six million Jews. Jews were also oppressed in parts of the Arab world, though much less severely.
A key element of anti-Semitic accusations is the claim that Jews exercise illegitimate influence by “controlling” banks, the media, and other key institutions. Thus, if someone says that press coverage in the United States tends to favor Israel over its opponents, this may sound to some like the old canard that “Jews control the media.”
Similarly, if someone points out that American Jews have a rich tradition of giving money to both philanthropic and political causes, it sounds like they are suggesting that “Jewish money” is buying political influence in an underhanded or conspiratorial way. Of course, anyone who gives money to a political campaign does so in order to advance some political cause, and virtually all interest groups hope to mold public opinion and are interested in getting favorable media coverage.
The Israel lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy or anything of the sort. It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie. Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential priorities, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.
We do not believe the lobby is all-powerful, or that it controls important institutions in the United States. As we will discuss in several subsequent chapters, there are a number of cases where the lobby did not get its way. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of evidence that the lobby wields impressive influence. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most important pro-Israel groups, used to brag about its own power on its website, not only by listing its impressive achievements but also by displaying quotations from prominent politicians that attested to its ability to influence events in ways that benefit Israel.
J. J. Goldberg, the editor of the Jewish weekly newspaper the Forward and the author of Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, nicely captures the difficulty of talking about the lobby: “It seems as though we’re forced to choose between Jews holding vast and pernicious control or Jewish influence being nonexistent.” In fact, he notes, “somewhere in the middle is a reality that none wants to discuss, which is that there is an entity called the Jewish community made up of a group of organizations and public figures that’s part of the political rough-and-tumble. There’s nothing wrong with playing the game like everybody else.” We agree completely. But we think it is fair and indeed necessary to examine the consequences that this “rough-and-tumble” interest group politics can have on America and the world.
If the Israel Lobby were only a liberal democratic organization, I think most people would approve of its actions. But it is not. It is the most right wing or hard Zionist organization afloat drumming up wars and conflicts it sees as beneficial to Israel, and supports a Likud (no state) conception in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is its problem. It does not uphold liberal democratic principles.