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Mearsheimer & Walt: First Chapter

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    Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy First Chapter By JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER and STEPHEN M. WALT
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2008
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      Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy
      First Chapter
      By JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER and STEPHEN M. WALT
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/books/chapters/0923-1st-mear.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin


      America is about to enter a presidential election year. Although the
      outcome is of course impossible to predict at this stage, certain
      features of the campaign are easy to foresee. The candidates will
      inevitably differ on various domestic issues-health care, abortion,
      gay marriage, taxes, education, immigration-and spirited debates are
      certain to erupt on a host of foreign policy questions as well. What
      course of action should the United States pursue in Iraq? What is the
      best response to the crisis in Darfur, Iran's nuclear ambitions,
      Russia's hostility to NATO, and China's rising power? How should the
      United States address global warming, combat terrorism, and reverse
      the erosion of its international image? On these and many other
      issues, we can confidently expect lively disagreements among the
      various candidates.

      Yet on one subject, we can be equally confident that the candidates
      will speak with one voice. In 2008, as in previous election years,
      serious candidates for the highest office in the land will go to
      considerable lengths to express their deep personal commitment to one
      foreign country-Israel-as well as their determination to maintain
      unyielding U.S. support for the Jewish state. Each candidate will
      emphasize that he or she fully appreciates the multitude of threats
      facing Israel and make it clear that, if elected, the United States
      will remain firmly committed to defending Israel's interests under any
      and all circumstances. None of the candidates is likely to criticize
      Israel in any significant way or suggest that the United States ought
      to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the region. Any who do will
      probably fall by the wayside.

      This observation is hardly a bold prediction, because presidential
      aspirants were already proclaiming their support for Israel in early
      2007. The process began in January, when four potential candidates
      spoke to Israel's annual Herzliya Conference on security issues. As
      Joshua Mitnick reported in Jewish Week, they were "seemingly competing
      to see who can be most strident in defense of the Jewish State."

      Appearing via satellite link, John Edwards, the Democratic party's
      2004 vice presidential candidate, told his Israeli listeners that
      "your future is our future" and said that the bond between the United
      States and Israel "will never be broken." Former Massachusetts
      governor Mitt Romney spoke of being "in a country I love with people I
      love" and, aware of Israel's deep concern about a possible nuclear
      Iran, proclaimed that "it is time for the world to speak three truths:
      (1) Iran must be stopped; (2) Iran can be stopped; (3) Iran will be
      stopped!" Senator John McCain (R-AZ) declared that "when it comes to
      the defense of Israel, we simply cannot compromise," while former
      House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) told the audience that "Israel is
      facing the greatest danger for [sic] its survival since the 1967 victory."

      Shortly thereafter, in early February, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
      spoke in New York before the local chapter of the powerful American
      Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where she said that in this
      "moment of great difficulty for Israel and great peril for Israel ...
      what is vital is that we stand by our friend and our ally and we stand
      by our own values. Israel is a beacon of what's right in a
      neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism,
      despotism and terrorism." One of her rivals for the Democratic
      nomination, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), spoke a month later before an
      AIPAC audience in Chicago. Obama, who has expressed some sympathy for
      the Palestinians' plight in the past and made a brief reference to
      Palestinian "suffering" at a campaign appearance in March 2007, was
      unequivocal in his praise for Israel and made it manifestly clear that
      he would do nothing to change the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Other
      presidential hopefuls, including Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and New
      Mexico governor Bill Richardson, have expressed pro-Israel sentiments
      with equal or greater ardor.

      What explains this behavior? Why is there so little disagreement among
      these presidential hopefuls regarding Israel, when there are profound
      disagreements among them on almost every other important issue facing
      the United States and when it is apparent that America's Middle East
      policy has gone badly awry? Why does Israel get a free pass from
      presidential candidates, when its own citizens are often deeply
      critical of its present policies and when these same presidential
      candidates are all too willing to criticize many of the things that
      other countries do? Why does Israel, and no other country in the
      world, receive such consistent deference from America's leading
      politicians?

      Some might say that it is because Israel is a vital strategic asset
      for the United States. Indeed, it is said to be an indispensable
      partner in the "war on terror." Others will answer that there is a
      powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support,
      because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values."
      But neither of these arguments stands up to fair-minded scrutiny.
      Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem makes it harder, not
      easier, to defeat the terrorists who are now targeting the United
      States, and it simultaneously undermines America's standing with
      important allies around the world. Now that the Cold War is over,
      Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Yet no
      aspiring politician is going to say so in public, or even raise the
      possibility.

      There is also no compelling moral rationale for America's uncritical
      and uncompromising relationship with Israel. There is a strong moral
      case for Israel's existence and there are good reasons for the United
      States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in
      jeopardy. But given Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in
      the Occupied Territories, moral considerations might suggest that the
      United States pursue a more evenhanded policy toward the two sides,
      and maybe even lean toward the Palestinians. Yet we are unlikely to
      hear that sentiment expressed by anyone who wants to be president, or
      anyone who would like to occupy a position in Congress.

      The real reason why American politicians are so deferential is the
      political power of the Israel lobby. The lobby is a loose coalition of
      individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign
      policy in a pro-Israel direction. As we will describe in detail, it is
      not a single, unified movement with a central leadership, and it is
      certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that "controls" U.S. foreign
      policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews
      and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel's case
      within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways
      that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state. The various
      groups that make up the lobby do not agree on every issue, although
      they share the desire to promote a special relationship between the
      United States and Israel. Like the efforts of other ethnic lobbies and
      interest groups, the activities of the Israel lobby's various elements
      are legitimate forms of democratic political participation, and they
      are for the most part consistent with America's long tradition of
      interest group activity.

      Because the Israel lobby has gradually become one of the most powerful
      interest groups in the United States, candidates for high office pay
      close attention to its wishes. The individuals and groups in the
      United States that make up the lobby care deeply about Israel, and
      they do not want American politicians to criticize it, even when
      criticism might be warranted and might even be in Israel's own
      interest. Instead, these groups want U.S. leaders to treat Israel as
      if it were the fifty-first state. Democrats and Republicans alike fear
      the lobby's clout. They all know that any politician who challenges
      its policies stands little chance of becoming president.

      The Lobby and U.S. Middle East Policy

      The lobby's political power is important not because it affects what
      presidential candidates say during a campaign, but because it has a
      significant influence on American foreign policy, especially in the
      Middle East. America's actions in that volatile region have enormous
      consequences for people all around the world, especially the people
      who live there. Just consider how the Bush administration's
      misbegotten war in Iraq has affected the long-suffering people of that
      shattered country: tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands
      forced to flee their homes, and a vicious sectarian war taking place
      with no end in sight. The war has also been a strategic disaster for
      the United States and has alarmed and endangered U.S. allies both
      inside and outside the region. One could hardly imagine a more vivid
      or tragic demonstration of the impact the United States can have-for
      good or ill-when it unleashes the power at its disposal.

      The United States has been involved in the Middle East since the early
      days of the Republic, with much of the activity centered on
      educational programs or missionary work. For some, a biblically
      inspired fascination with the Holy Land and the role of Judaism in its
      history led to support for the idea of restoring the Jewish people to
      a homeland there, a view that was embraced by certain religious
      leaders and, in a general way, by a few U.S. politicians. But it is a
      mistake to see this history of modest and for the most part private
      engagement as the taproot of America's role in the region since World
      War II, and especially its extraordinary relationship with Israel
      today. Between the routing of the Barbary pirates two hundred years
      ago and World War II, the United States played no significant security
      role anywhere in the region and U.S. leaders did not aspire to one.

      Woodrow Wilson did endorse the 1917 Balfour Declaration (which
      expressed Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in
      Palestine), but Wilson did virtually nothing to advance this goal.
      Indeed, the most significant U.S. involvement during this period-a
      fact-finding mission dispatched to the region in 1919 by the Paris
      Peace Conference under the leadership of Americans Henry Churchill
      King and Charles Crane-concluded that the local population opposed
      continued Zionist inroads and recommended against the establishment of
      an independent Jewish homeland. Yet as the historian Margaret
      Macmillan notes, "Nobody paid the slightest attention." The
      possibility of a U.S. mandate over portions of the Middle East was
      briefly considered but never pursued, and Britain and France ended up
      dividing the relevant portions of the Ottoman Empire between themselves.

      The United States has played an important and steadily increasing role
      in Middle East security issues since World War II, driven initially by
      oil, then by anticommunism and, over time, by its growing relationship
      with Israel. America's first significant involvement in the security
      politics of the region was a nascent partnership with Saudi Arabia in
      the mid-1940s (intended by both parties as a check on British
      ambitions in the region), and its first formal alliance commitments
      were Turkey's inclusion in NATO in 1952 and the anti-Soviet Baghdad
      Pact in 1954. After backing Israel's founding in 1948, U.S. leaders
      tried to strike a balanced position between Israel and the Arabs and
      carefully avoided making any formal commitment to the Jewish state for
      fear of jeopardizing more important strategic interests. This
      situation changed gradually over the ensuing decades, in response to
      events like the Six-Day War, Soviet arms sales to various Arab states,
      and the growing influence of pro-Israel groups in the United States.
      Given this dramatic transformation in America's role in the region, it
      makes little sense to try to explain current U.S. policy-and
      especially the lavish support that is now given to Israel-by referring
      to the religious beliefs of a bygone era or the radically different
      forms of past American engagement. There was nothing inevitable or
      predetermined about the current special relationship between the
      United States and Israel.

      Since the Six-Day War of 1967, a salient feature-and arguably the
      central focus-of America's Middle East policy has been its
      relationship with Israel. For the past four decades, in fact, the
      United States has provided Israel with a level of material and
      diplomatic support that dwarfs what it provides to other countries.
      That aid is largely unconditional: no matter what Israel does, the
      level of support remains for the most part unchanged. In particular,
      the United States consistently favors Israel over the Palestinians and
      rarely puts pressure on the Jewish state to stop building settlements
      and roads in the West Bank. Although Presidents Bill Clinton and
      George W. Bush openly favored the creation of a viable Palestinian
      state, neither was willing to use American leverage to make that
      outcome a reality.

      The United States has also undertaken policies in the broader Middle
      East that reflected Israel's preferences. Since the early 1990s, for
      example, American policy toward Iran has been heavily influenced by
      the wishes of successive Israeli governments. Tehran has made several
      attempts in recent years to improve relations with Washington and
      settle outstanding differences, but Israel and its American supporters
      have been able to stymie any d√ątente between Iran and the United
      States, and to keep the two countries far apart. Another example is
      the Bush administration's behavior during Israel's war against Lebanon
      in the summer of 2006. Almost every country in the world harshly
      criticized Israel's bombing campaign-a campaign that killed more than
      one thousand Lebanese, most of them civilians-but the United States
      did not. Instead, it helped Israel prosecute the war, with prominent
      members of both political parties openly defending Israel's behavior.
      This unequivocal support for Israel undermined the pro-American
      government in Beirut, strengthened Hezbollah, and drove Iran, Syria,
      and Hezbollah closer together, results that were hardly good for
      either Washington or Jerusalem.

      Many policies pursued on Israel's behalf now jeopardize U.S. national
      security. The combination of unstinting U.S. support for Israel and
      Israel's prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory has fueled
      anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world, thereby
      increasing the threat from international terrorism and making it
      harder for Washington to deal with other problems, such as shutting
      down Iran's nuclear program. Because the United States is now so
      unpopular within the broader region, Arab leaders who might otherwise
      share U.S. goals are reluctant to help us openly, a predicament that
      cripples U.S. efforts to deal with a host of regional challenges.
      This situation, which has no equal in American history, is due
      primarily to the activities of the Israel lobby. While other special
      interest groups-including ethnic lobbies representing Cuban Americans,
      Irish Americans, Armenian Americans, and Indian Americans-have managed
      to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions that they favored, no ethnic
      lobby has diverted that policy as far from what the American national
      interest would otherwise suggest. The Israel lobby has successfully
      convinced many Americans that American and Israeli interests are
      essentially identical. In fact, they are not.

      Although this book focuses primarily on the lobby's influence on U.S.
      foreign policy and its negative effect on American interests, the
      lobby's impact has been unintentionally harmful to Israel as well.
      Take Israel's settlements, which even a writer as sympathetic to
      Israel as Leon Wieseltier recently called a "moral and strategic
      blunder of historic proportions." Israel's situation would be better
      today if the United States had long ago used its financial and
      diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in
      the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable
      Palestinian state on those lands. Washington did not do so, however,
      largely because it would have been politically costly for any
      president to attempt it. As noted above, Israel would have been much
      better off if the United States had told it that its military strategy
      for fighting the 2006 Lebanon war was doomed to fail, rather than
      reflexively endorsing and facilitating it. By making it difficult to
      impossible for the U.S. government to criticize Israel's conduct and
      press it to change some of its counterproductive policies, the lobby
      may even be jeopardizing the long-term prospects of the Jewish state.

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