November 14, 2007
Why No American President Will Stand Up to Israel
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
Experts in the West and ordinary people in Arab lands have understood for many years that the United States does not have an independent policy toward the Middle East. President Jimmy Carter, a man of good will, tried to use American influence to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the source of dangerous instability in the Middle East. However, Israel was able to block Carter's attempt, while blaming Yasser Arafat. Carter's plan would have given rise to a Palestinian state. Israel did not want any such state, because obvious military aggression is necessary in order to steal the territory of an official state with defined borders. It is much easier to steal land from a non-state.
By preventing the rise of a Palestinian state, Israel has been able to continue with its theft of the West Bank. Palestinians who have not been driven out have been forced into ghettos, cut off from schools, hospitals, water, and their olive groves and farmlands. In a recent book, President Carter called the existing situation "apartheid." Carter was demonized by the Israel Lobby for his use of this word, but some experts consider Carter's choice of words to be an euphemism for the continuation of what I. Pappe and N. G. Finkelstein call "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine."
That the vast majority of Americans know nothing of this is testimony to the power of the Israel Lobby.
A number of writers have exposed Israel's misbehavior and the power of the Lobby, but until now, the Lobby has been able to marginalize its critics by smearing them as "anti-semites," "nazis," and "Jew-haters." In a new book, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt have broken the Israel Lobby's power to suppress truth by demonizing and intimidating all who would criticize Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt are scholars holding distinguished appointments at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, two of America's pre-eminent universities. Their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, published by the highly regarded American publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is a masterpiece of scholarship and documentation. Footnotes comprise 23 per cent of the book's pages.
Mearsheimer and Walt easily succeed in making their case that neither strategic nor moral grounds can explain U.S. support for Israel. Only the power of the Israel Lobby can explain the juxtaposition of a dwindling moral and strategic case with ever-increasing U.S. backing for Israel, even to the disadvantage of U.S. national and strategic interests. Indeed, both executive and legislative branches are so completely compromised by the Lobby that the different elements of U.S. Middle East policy "have been designed in whole or part to benefit Israel vis-a-vis its various rivals."
Chapter by chapter, Mearsheimer and Walt demonstrate the deleterious effects the Lobby has had on U.S. relations with Palestinians, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon. The two scholars conclude:
"The lobby's influence helped lead the United States into a disastrous war in Iraq and has hamstrung efforts to deal with Syria and Iran. It also encouraged the United States to back Israel's ill-conceived assault on Lebanon, a campaign that strengthened Hezbollah, drove Syria and Iran closer together, and further tarnished America's global image. The lobby bears considerable, though not complete, responsibility for each of these developments, and none of them was good for the United States. The bottom line is hard to escape, although America's problems in the Middle East would not disappear if the lobby were less influential, U.S. leaders would find it easier to explore alternative approaches and be more likely to adopt policies more in line with American interests."
There is nothing anti-semitic about this book. Mearsheimer and Walt do not challenge Israel's right to exist or the legitimacy of the Israeli state. They believe the U.S. must defend Israel from threats to its survival. They even regard AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as a legitimate American lobby and not as an unregistered agent of a foreign state.
The motives of the two scholars, apart from respect for truth and the obligation to speak it, are to further Israel's and America's legitimate interests. Mearsheimer and Walt agree with numerous Israeli historians and commentators that Israel's policy toward Palestine and the Arabs, together with the Lobby's suppression of critics, have been "directly harmful to Israel." The inflexibility that Israel has imposed on U.S. foreign policy has America mired in wars--now a half decade or more old--in Iran and Afghanistan. Even as Muslim rage threatens to engulf America's puppet in Pakistan, vice president Dick Cheney, Israel and its neoconservative allies strive to initiate war with Iran.
This is a high price to pay for Israeli territorial expansion even if the U.S.-Israeli policy of war and coercion succeed. If military aggression fails to bring the Middle East under the hegemony of the U.S. and Israel, the dangers to energy flows and Israel's existence could result in the use of nuclear weapons. It is insane for the United States to expose the world to such risks for the sake of Israel's misguided policy toward Palestine.
Other scholars, especially those whose sense of justice is offended by the cruel oppression Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israel, are more critical than Mearsheimer and Walt. The latter do Israel and the Lobby a service by defining the issue as one of U.S. and Israeli legitimate national interests rather than casting it as a case of crimes, inhumanity, and injustice.
It remains to be seen how much more blood and treasure Zionist fanaticism will extract from Americans. But one thing is certain: the Israel Lobby is far too powerful for America's good and Israel's.
Forty years ago the Lobby was sufficiently powerful to force President Lyndon Johnson to cover up the intentional Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that resulted in 34 Americans dead and 174 wounded. Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared: "No American President can stand up to Israel."
Forty years later the Israel Lobby is able to reach into Catholic universities and to overturn tenure decisions. The courageous scholar Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, because he is an effective critic of Israeli policies.
In America today academics and intellectuals who fail to toe the Lobby's line are unlikely to receive support from conservative or liberal foundations. Even Mearsheimer and Walt's article, "The Israel Lobby," commissioned by the Atlantic Monthly and from which their book evolved, had to be published overseas in The London Review of Books when the Atlantic Monthly's editors' courage failed them.
American patriots who glorify in their country's status as the "sole superpower" have much to learn about the subservience of their country's foreign policy to a tiny state of five million people. There is no better place to begin than with Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby.