Saturday, October 13, 2007

The wrong lobby

Waltz and Mearsheimer have become internationally famous for their Israel Lobby article which has now been published as book. This ain't bad going for international relations (IR) professors, a job that whilst respected rarely catapults you stardom (Condoleezza Rice being an obvious exception). It's important to realise that within IR they are the big men of the Realist school of the thought - that countries have national interests and act in accordance to them. All classic power politics stuff. The problem is that they keep getting it wrong. They didn't see the end of the cold war coming, they didn't see the pacification of Europe, and its gradual union via the EU. Indeed in the early post-coldwar era Mearsheimer was recommending that Germany builds nuclear weapons to balance the threat from France! He felt that only if states had a balance of power would the system be stable. So wrong, wrong, then wrong again. How, then, were they to explain the U.S. picking on its own terms, on its own timetable, to invade Iraq and plunge the country into the biggest military crisis since Vietnam? Well they couldn't - because it is, particularly in retrospect, such a dumb thing for America to have done. So if the administration hadn't been acting in the U.S. national interest, why did they go into Iraq? Because they were tricked - by the Israel Lobby. This is essentially the core argument of the Israel Lobby.

You shouldn't throw the bath water out with the baby though: their essential point was wrong - that a domestic lobby for a foreign power could persuade the US to act against its own interests - but they make very many good points about the influence and power of the pro-Israel lobbies (plural being more accurate) in the US, and particularly the lack of debate in the US media on Israel. In fact if you want to hear all sides of the story, you would do much better following the vigorous and nuanced debate that takes place in Israel itself, rather than in America.

In the hue and cry that followed the articles publications one of the more interesting comments was made by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national-security adviser. He said that the Israel lobby does exist, and that it is influential in Washington, but it was only one of various successful national lobbies. Equal to the pro-Israel lobby was in his opinion the Cuban-American lobby and the Armenian lobby, with the Greek and Taiwanese groups not far behind.

It Waltz and Mearsheimer want an example of a national lobby exerting its influence in a way that is pushing the U.S. in a policy clearly at odd with its immediate interests, they should have taken the Armenians. The ongoing attempt to get both houses of the US Congress to condemn as genocide the Armenian massacres by Ottoman Turkey in 1915, is exactly that. The declaration might have a noble intent, but it will never be anything but symbolic. What is not in doubt is that the implications are that U.S.-Turkish relations are going down the pan.

4 comments:

KGS said...

Hi Toby,

You're correct about Waltz & Mearsheimer's failed logic about Israel lobbies ability to "steer American foreign policy.

The lion share of the Israel/US alliance rests firmly on the belief that Israel is "an asset" to US foreign policy, not becuase of an lobby.

If Israel no longer is able to maintain the status quo in the region and becomes a liability (a string of failed military conflicts like last summer) then that alone will be the detemining factor in whether the US makes a dramatic shift in FP vis-a-vis the Jewish state.

I don't however see that happening.

When it comes to the invasion of Iraq...you have it wrong. The US could not have allowed Saddam nuke capability anymore than Iran. Though US intell was wrong about just how far Saddam had advanced his WMD capabilities, so did all of the international intelligence agencies as well. Placed within that context, the US made the right decision.

I doubt that the Duefler report was wrong, when it stated that Iraq's WMD programs could have been easily restarted. Sanctions against Iraq were about to be shelved due to the immensely corrupted UN run OIL FOR FOOD program.

The IC would not have been willing to return to Iraq, after divesting itself from that care taker state. Hussein would have been free to begin where he left off, all at the expence of his own people.

Whatever happened to his WMD's or the materials and machinery used in the process is of course reduced to that of specualtion. More than likely it was spirited away to Syria.

About Turkey. While US / Turkish relations may indeed be going south, the US congress' decision to recognize the genocide of Turkish Armenians was the right thing to do, and shouldn't be made the scape goat for any failed relations. The fact that Turkey butchered almost two million Armenians should be the reason for any failure in relations, not the moral resolution passed in the US congress.

KGS said...

One more point, how can the claim of a supposed lack of US debate on the Israel/US relationship be taken seriously, when the authors of books promoting just that are raking in the money?

Perhaps it's the failed reasoning behind such thinking that is to blame for its lack of popularity in US society. Did you ever ponder that one?

Which brings me back to the first point about the supposed stifling of debate in the US. Jimmy Carter embodies the reason why his and Watltx & Measheimners thinking is such a miserable failure.

Carter who said he wrote the book in order to promote debate, has since then refused every occasion to "debate his book's" premise. He refuses to debate, while being offered an umpteenth number of TV interviews spelling out his factually challenged thesis.

No, it isn't due to any lack of debate, its just that the logic and reasoning behind it is so fouled up, that most Americans write it off as nonsense.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

I respect your tenacity in clinging to the idea that there must have been 'something' there, that it was spirited away to Syria or where ever; even when the Bush administration has long ago has given up trying to seriously suggest that the WMD thing was anything other than bad intelligence and wishful thinking. But there you go, clearly I'm never going to convince you differently.

By the way, to use one of your favourite words - the idea that all intelligence agencies agreed on the Iraq assessment prewar is a US-media "canard" (doesn't it mean duck in French? It's not a word I heard much before the blogosphere popularised it). The central WMD evidence came from a defector the Germans had who the CIA never spoke to directly. The Germans (and hence French and British) knew the guy was schizophrenic and didn't put much faith in his 'evidence', but the famous 'groupthink' within the US intelligence community seized on the German reports as a smoking gun.

Moving on: funnily enough I heard the mayor of settlement in the West Bank say that there had to be some deal with the Palestinians because "we don't want to live in a apartheid state." I pushed him on what he meant by this, and he explained that if Israel keeps the occupied territories the Palestinians couldn't be allowed to vote because they would simply outvote the Israelis, but at the same time they couldn't be denied a vote because that would be apartheid and he thought that was morally repugnant. So what to do? His solution was that whilst the Palestinians would continue living in the West Bank and voting in local elections there, they would vote in general elections in Jordan. I suggested King Abdullah might not be so keen on this plan, and he agreed with a smile that it was rather 'long term'! :-) He seemed like a very kind hearted guy desperately trying to come up with a solution to hopeless situation for himself and his citizens (not wanting to move, but knowing not moving caused so many problems). I don't envy his dilemma.

Anyway my point is Jimmy Carter uses the word apartheid and everyone in the U.S. goes ape-shit calling him a racist, blah blah blah. It's not enough in the US discourse for him to be just wrong, he must be evil as well. Meanwhile an Israeli settler looks at the situation around him, and kinda says with a shrug - yeah this is like apartheid, which is why we desperately need to come up with a solution that is fair to all. He's not using the word as an emotional mallet, but as a shorthand description for what he sees around him.

I don't mean to suggest that there isn't a debate in the U.S. media on Is.-Pal. I just think the debate that there is, is hopelessly emotional, personalised, and polarised. It just ends up with two side screaming abuse at each other, and not doing anything to actually help.

KGS said...

Yes I differ with your analysis, and for all the right reasons. Iraq's move of "stuff" (with the help of the Russians) into Syria is not disputed, long columns of trucks did indeed makes its way to Syria just before hostilities resumed.

That Israel just recently took out a nuke facility along its northern border with Iraq, doesn't seem to raise any doubts with you of "Iraq's WMD" programs. Hmmm, You are able to sit in judgement of the thought, due to the inability of the West to 100% confirm some rather sahdy transfer of "stuff" by Saddam before he was thankfully removed by the Brits & US.

Viewed in light of his parking of Iraq's entire air force in Iran, I don't think my hypothisis can be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

When it comes to politics, its a well known practice to disc a position that appears to have been lost, no matter how well a point can be made for it.

It's one of the reasons why the Israeli's were loathe to discuss the Mohamed al-Dura affair, regardless of how right they were in claiming the IDF's innocence in killing him.

It's only becuase of individual, private efforts that they have now come out and said that the event was a Palestinian hoax.

As for Apartheid, that scenario would apply IF Israel were to remain in complete control of the WB, in an atmosphere where Pali terrorism remained unchanged.

However, Israel has been on board with wanting to do "land swaps" for over a decade. Any mention of Apartheid by Carter and ilk, is an attempt to yoke Israel in a S:african racist mantel, and its wrong.

That carter continues to reject debating his book that was in his own words "to be used in generating debate"...speaks for itself. He's a loon. That he's up to his neck in saudi money (though that in itself is not wrong) and not mention it, while chastizing the pro-Israel lobby....well, speaks legions about his intellectual dishonesty.

As for the word canard, it appears that you are more attached to the use of it than I. I fail to see the facination other than to find something to poke fun of. I'll refrain from digging into your piles of material looking for "often used words". :-)

If there is any emotionalism being projected in the Israel/Palestinian debate, it comes from the ankle biters of Israeli policies, who find it very difficult to back their logic with solid factual evidence.

Basing one's case against Israel on findings from B'tselem or Amnesty International might be the easy way out, but hardly factual.

CAMERA has long documented their biases and un-factual information.

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