September 20, 2007
How Walt and Mearsheimer’s book got the pro-Israel lobby wrong
(Page 2 - Previous Page)It is one thing for the authors to omit telling details that would undermine their theory. When it comes to America's Syrian policy, however, they omit whole trends.
Mearsheimer and Walt ignore Israel's panic -- reported by many news sources -- in late 2005, when it became clear that elements in the Bush administration were seeking regime change in Syria as "transformative." Israeli officials strove to make clear that they had outlined all post-regime scenarios and none of them were good.
Bush's fury with the Syrians for undermining the single Middle Eastern success of his pro-democracy policy, Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" -- repeated in dozens of White House statements -- receives no mention in the Mearsheimer-Walt book. In fact, the only time the authors cite the successful ouster of Syrian occupation forces is when arguing that Israel's policies are inviting their return.
The authors forcefully rejected complaints that their book suffers from a lack of original research.
"The critical issue is whether or not we would tell a different story or someone else would tell a different story if they did more extensive interviewing than we did," Mearsheimer said. "And we're confident that would not be the case. We regard the story as basically correct, and doing more interviewing would not alter the story line in any way."
Yet such research would have led them to learn that it was not AIPAC but congressional Republicans who during last year's Lebanon War undercut the efforts by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), then the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, to include a line in a pro-Israel resolution urging "all sides to protect innocent civilian life." It would have led them to report that it was White House pressure, in part, that pushed Israel this April to distance itself for a week or so from Pelosi's efforts to assure Syria that Israel did not want war.
Questions about how Jews, Israel, the pro-Israel lobby and the U.S. government interact are critically important and beg for a little light. But "The Israel Lobby" is not the place to start. All Walt and Mearsheimer have achieved with their massive diversion based on unfounded accusations of overly broad Jewish influence is to help those who want to shut down that discussion.
Q & A with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt
Ron Kampeas, Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Washington bureau chief, recently sat down with scholars Stephen Walt, international affairs professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, to discuss their controversial new book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.
Ron Kampeas: How does one write a book about the lobby without interviewing the lobbyists and the people lobbied?
Stephen Walt: First, we did talk to a number of people who had either been connected with some of these organizations and who had worked on Capitol Hill to make sure the story we were assembling was an accurate one. Second, this is a difficult subject because lots of people won't talk on the record if you do try to interview them and a number of the people we do quote based on other sources were quoted anonymously in those sources as well. Third, there are limits to what any two people can do, and we felt there was such an abundance of evidence already available that we could get a very accurate story of the way these organizations operate. Based on that record, I guess the last point I would make is that the real issue is not the precise research methods we used but rather whether or not the story we told is an accurate one.
John Mearsheimer: The critical issue is whether or not we would tell a different story or someone else would tell a different story if they did more extensive interviewing than we did -- and we're confident that would not be the case. We regard the story as basically correct, and doing more interviewing would not alter the story line in any way.
SW: One other point -- there is really no disagreement about whether or not there is an influential set of pro-Israel organizations in the United States of America. No serious person questions that. The only question is whether their influence is beneficial to the United States and Israel or whether it's become harmful to the United States and Israel.
JM: And doing more interviews is not going to answer that question.
RK: What do you say to those who argue that statements from Israeli leaders and Jewish organizations in support of the Iraq War should be understood from the vantage point of having to deal with a Bush administration that was insisting on support for its major initiatives?
SW: I guess I'm not persuaded by the argument that the Bush administration told them "you're with us or against us and that's the way we do business." Because these organizations were not at all bashful about taking on the Bush administration when they didn't like his calling for a Palestinian state, when he pushed Sharon around, when he tried to push Sharon around about the reoccupation of the West Bank [in April 2002]. It's not to me anyway particularly credible that, you know, Adam Goldman [Bush's first liaison to the Jewish community] told everybody to get on board and they obediently supported the Iraq War [to avoid] a falling-out with the Bush administration.
RK: Last month, Larry Wilkerson, the former policy planning chief at the U.S. State Department and a fierce critic of neoconservatives in the Pentagon who backed the Iraq War, said that Israeli leaders expressed concerns beforehand about the invasion.