Everyone’s A Critic

My latest piece for Babylon Times, hosted by Souciant, reflects on the NY Times’ Thomas Friedman surprisingly confirming the words of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their book The Israel Lobby.

The UNSC Veto and “The Israel Lobby”

Back in 2007, when John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt released their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, I disagreed with many parts of their thesis. Most of the criticisms at the time attacked the authors as anti-Semites or made straw man arguments about points the authors were not making. Thus, Christopher Toensing of MERIP and I put together an article responding to Walt and Mearsheimer in what I think was a more rational manner. I later issued an update to that article.

While not agreeing with the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis, I disagree at least as much with the two major alternatives: what I’d call the Foxman thesis, and what I’d call the

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the controversial book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy

Chomsky thesis.

Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League wrote a book in response to Walt and Mearsheimer which offered very little beyond the same straw man arguments and insinuations of nefarious motives about the Israel Lobby authors. But Foxman’s case, separate from his critique of Walt and Mearsheimer, is that the Israel Lobby, as symbolized by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) simply educates the public and Congress but is only one of many lobbying groups and, in the end, American Middle East policy was based on a careful analysis of American interests, which, to Foxman, are usually identical to Israeli ones.

Professor Noam Chomsky, well-known critic of American and Israeli policy, contends that the Lobby is very powerful as long as it goes along with extant US policies. That is, it does not play a significant role in determining those policies, but does close off debate and discussion about it.

When I wrote my own response to Walt/Mearsheimer, I was living and working on this issue in California. Having now spent three years in Washington, and having been at hundreds of meetings with Congress members and their aides, and State Department and White House staff, it’s very clear that AIPAC is always the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Continue reading

AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. Continue reading

Obama Starts Rising to the Challenge

Well, color me stunned.

In my most recent article, I described Benjamin Netanyahu as having won his roll of the dice in the wake of the Israeli announcement of new Jerusalem building while Joe Biden was trying to restart the peace process.

I spoke too soon. Perhaps one can say my expectations of the Obama Administration had been lowered and so the recent developments come as a pleasant surprise. But pleasant it is, and the welcome stance from Washington is going to force some recalculations in Israel. How much of a recalculation is going to depend on how steadfast Obama can remain in the face of what is likely to be a growing backlash.

Obama is explaining things these days to Netanyahu

The Obama Administration may have accepted the excuse that the timing of the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo was a bureaucratic foul-up. But the Israeli apology, which went out of its way to make it clear that it was only the timing that was seen to be at fault, was not sufficient for Washington.

By stressing that the only problem was the fact that the announcement came while Joe Biden was in Israel trying to start “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel put the Obama Administration in a bad position. If Washington accepted the apology and let the matter go, the talks were doomed because it would have meant, to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, that the US was not objecting to the expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Even if they had continued, American credibility would have been so low as to make the talks pointless.

It is almost certain that such would have been precisely the course the Clinton or Bush, Jr. Administrations would have followed. But, recalling the early days of his administration, Obama broke that pattern. Continue reading