Far-right pundits like Pat Buchanan had long pointed at Israel and the Jews for America's problems abroad. But my finely tweaked Jew-dar had picked up signals that far more moderate pundits, like CNBC's Chris Matthews, were now echoing the Buchanan trope. They pointed out how many of the war's neoconservative boosters were pro-Israel Jews, and wondered aloud if these people weren't pushing a reluctant nation toward war to benefit the Zionist enterprise.
"If the war against Iraq goes well, the conspiracy theorists will remain on the fringe," I wrote. "But should America get sucked into a debilitating conflict, if Israel appears to have gained strategic ground at the expense of large numbers of American lives, the fringe will move onto center stage, and the calls to label Bush's policy a Jewish war will rouse us, sharply and painfully, from our couches."
Guess what? It's time to get off the couch.
"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt came out this week, a mainstream book by mainstream professors that will no doubt climb the mainstream charts.
Its core argument is that the pro-Israel lobby has hijacked American foreign policy. That lobby puts Israel's interests above America's own, and has led to any number of foreign policy blunders, and one bona fide disaster: the Iraq War.
Part II of the book -- which is a padded-out companion to the sloppily argued academic paper of the same title -- is titled, "The Lobby in Action."
And the crowning chapter of this section -- certainly one of the most interest to average Americans who couldn't find Palestine on a map -- is, "Iraq and Dreams of Transforming the Middle East." This chapter blames the "Israel lobby" and, by extension, the Jews, for the debacle of the Iraq War.
America's seeming military invulnerability, its desire to strike back at all enemies after Sept. 11, and its deep insecurity that another Sept. 11 was on the horizon all turned policymakers' heads toward Iraq, Walt and Mearsheimer write.
"But there was another variable in the equation," they go on, "and the war certainly would not have occurred had it been absent. That element was the Israel lobby ... Israeli officials and former Israeli leaders supported these efforts...."
"Pressure from Israel and the lobby was not the only factor behind the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element."
Told you so.
So far the controversy surrounding this book has focused on its unbalanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (It is not an exaggeration to say that in the view of the authors, the whole thing is Israel's fault, aided and abetted by the American Jewish Israel lobby and their puppets in the Congress and the White House. Five decades of Arab rejectionism and Palestinian terror, Yasser Arafat's torpedoing of the Oslo accords, a majority American and Israeli Jewish support for land-for-peace deals -- none of this matters.)
But the truly insidious and lasting impact of the book is to shift the blame for one of America's biggest foreign policy disasters onto history's favorite scapegoat.
The authors take pains -- well, four pages -- to note that Jews are loyal Americans and that their lobbying is legal, like that of other special interest groups. "The Israel lobby is the antithesis of a cabal or conspiracy; it operates out in the open and proudly advertises its own clout.... What sets it apart, in short, is its extraordinary effectiveness."
But these pages, which may as well have been titled, "Hey, Some of Our Best Friends Are Jewish," are contradicted time and again in the authors' selective re-telling of the events leading up the Iraq War.
A Jew, Douglas Feith, then at the Department of Defense, secretly manipulated intelligence. The Office of Special Plans, headed by neocon Abram Shulsky, forged close ties with Israeli sources to funnel faulty intelligence to government decisionmakers. In other words, all that stuff we said about those America-first, nonconspiratorial Jews? Just kidding: they really are a sneaky bunch.
Government officials, scholars and polemicists from all sides of the political spectrum -- from David Gergen to Noam Chomsky -- have found the Walt-Mearsheimer charges concerning America's Middle East policy and the Iraq War naive, wrong-headed and unsupported by the facts.
Perhaps the authors advanced their arguments because they deeply believe the Iraq War was a Jewish war.
Or perhaps they figure the best way to draw attention to America's policy vis-a- vis Israel is to drag in an issue that average Americans read and care about far more -- the war. Or perhaps the whole incendiary mess is just a bit of highly remunerative Jew-baiting -- nothing seems to stoke outrage and sell books more than getting the Jews riled up. There were lines around the block when Jimmy Carter came to Los Angeles to sign copies of "Israel: Peace or Apartheid."
Walt and Mearsheimer will appear at the Hammer Museum in Westwood Sept. 18, and I suppose they'll move a few books.
My suggestion is that you read the book as scholars will read it decades from now: not for its insights into American foreign policy, but for how respectable scholars can twist facts and spurn logic to lead societies down darkening corridors of hate.