The mainstreaming of Walt and Mearsheimer

Without acknowledging that he's doing so, Tom Friedman today voices the central theme of The Israel Lobby

Published September 18, 2011 10:19AM (EDT)

(updated below)

There were numerous reasons that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer were accused in prominent venues of all sorts of crimes -- including anti-Semitism -- when they published The Israel Lobby, but the most common cause was the book's central theme: that there is a very powerful lobby in the U.S. which is principally devoted to Israel and causes U.S. political leaders to act to advance the interests of this foreign nation over their own.  In The New York Times today, Tom Friedman -- long one of Israel's most stalwart American supporters -- wrote the following as the second paragraph of his column, warning that the U.S. was about to incur massive damage in order to block Palestinian statehood:

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel's leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America's.

Isn't that exactly Walt and Mearseimer's main theme, what caused them to be tarred and feathered with the most noxious accusations possible?  Indeed it is; here's how the academic duo, in The Israel Lobby, described the crux of their argument as first set forth in an article on which the book was based:

After describing the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the United States provides to Israel, we argued that his support could not be fully explained on either strategic or moral grounds  Instead, it was due largely to the political power of the Israel lobby, a loose coalition of individuals and groups that seeks to influence American foreign policy in ways that will benefit Israel . . . We suggested that these policies were not in the U.S. national interest and were in fact harmful to Israel's long-term interests as well.

Is that not exactly the point which The New York Times' most "pro-Israel" columnist himself just voiced today?  This thesis has long been self-evidently true.  Indeed, many of the same Israel-loyal neoconservatives who accused Walt and Mearsheimer of promoting an anti-Semitic trope of "dual loyalty" -- by daring to suggest that some American Jews cast votes based on what's best for Israel rather than the U.S. -- themselves will explicitly urge American Jews to vote Republican instead of Democrat because of the former's supposedly greater support for Israel (you're allowed to argue that American Jews should make political choices based on Israel but you're not allowed to point out that some do so).  Ed Koch just ran around the 9th Congressional District in New York successfully urging American Jews to vote for the GOP candidate based on exactly that appeal ("Koch, a Democrat, endorsed [the GOP candidate] in July as a way to 'send a message' to Obama on his policies toward Israel").  And in The Wall Street Journal this week, Rick Perry excoriated President Obama because of the small handful of instances where Obama deviated ever-so-slightly from the dictates and wishes of the Israeli government.

Walt and Mearshiemer merely voiced a truth which has long been known and obvious but was not allowed to be spoken.  That's precisely why the demonization campaign against them was so vicious and concerted: those who voice prohibited truths are always more hated than those who spout obvious lies.  That the foreign affairs columnist most admired in Washington circles just expressed the same point demonstrates that recognition of this previously prohibited fact has now become mainstream.  

Unfortunately, though, it is still a fact.  While there is little doubt that blocking Palestinian statehood will damage the U.S. in substantial ways, there is a reasonable debate to be had about whether Palestinian statehood is actually beneficial to the Palestinians.  But American politicians won't be entertaining that debate as they exercise their veto because, as The Israel Lobby documented and Tom Friedman today put it, "the powerful pro-Israel lobby . . . can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America's."  Obama officials recognize how vital it is to improve how the U.S. is perceived in the Muslim world and go to great lengths to achieve that goal -- including, supposedly, just fighting a war in Libya in part to accomplish that -- yet (predictably egged on by Democratic Congressional leaders) are prepared/required to throw all of that away because of the imperative of honoring the Netanyahu government's obsession with denying Palestinian statehood.


UPDATEChina yesterday "warned of a spike in tensions in the Middle East if the United States vetoed the Palestinian bid for membership," pointing out: "If the US chooses to fly in the face of world opinion and block the Palestine UN bid next week, not only will Israel become more isolated but tensions in the region will be heightened even more."  The New York Times this morning ponders what will happen when the veto "fuels deeper resentment of the United States."  A normal, healthy government would be eager to avoid those harms, but as Tom Friedman says, American leaders are "hostage" to "the powerful pro-Israel lobby" and will thus subject the country to that damage in order not to incur its wrath.  

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------