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Pressure Groups and US Middle East Policy

Study alleges US sets aside
own security interest for Israel's

By Tom Regan
Christian Science Monitor
March 21, 2006

A research paper by two leading American political scientists alleges that the US relationship with Israel is not good for US security, and that the Israeli lobby in the US, particularly the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, has helped exaggerate to the US media and public the importance of making the protection of Israel a key part of US foreign policy.

John J. Mearsheimer, a professor of political science and a co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School, published their paper, "The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," on the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University website. A shorter version was also published by the London Review of Books.

Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt question the relationship between the two allies right from the beginning of the paper:

The US national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering US support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized US security.
This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries is based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives. As we show below, however, neither of those explanations can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the United States provides to Israel.

The 81-page paper then says that the "overall thrust of US policy in the region is due almost entirely to US domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the 'Israel Lobby.'" While other special interest groups have skewed US policy in their favor, the authors write that no group has been so successful at diverting the US national interest from what it should be as the Israel lobby, "while simultaneously convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially identical."

The paper also says that the unquestioning relationship with Israel actually makes winning the war on terror a much more difficult task.

More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.
As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel. Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons – which is obviously undesirable – neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation. The danger of a nuclear handover to terrorists is equally remote, because a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would go undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards. The relationship with Israel actually makes it harder for the US to deal with these states. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbors want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire.

Justin Raimundo of, a long time critic of the activities of the Israeli lobby in the US, writes that the authors also cite incidents when the lobby groups went after Jews who were advocating a different approach to US policy in the region.

When Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote a letter to President Bush expressing his opposition to the "security wall," and asking that the US put pressure on Israel to stop construction, he was accused of "perfidy" by leading figures in the Lobby. The nature of the attacks revealed an attitude toward Israel not unlike that held by the Communists of the Cold War era toward the Soviet Union. As Mearsheimer and Walt point out:
"Critics declared that, 'It would be obscene at any time for the president of the World Jewish Congress to lobby the president of the United States to resist policies being promoted by the government of Israel.' When Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, suggested to Condi Rice that the Israelis should be pressured to reopen a Gaza Strip border crossing, the Lobby went ballistic, and Reich soon recanted, announcing that 'the word "pressure" is not in my vocabulary when it comes to Israel.'"

United Press International also reports that the paper suggest the role played by the Israeli lobby in shaping US policy towards Iraq prior to the war is now being repeated in the US position towards Iran.

In the Jan./Feb. 2003 edition of Foreign Policy, Walt and Mearsheimer wrote "An unnecessary war," which questioned the major rationales being offered at the time by the Bush adminstration for war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

If the United States is, or soon will be, at war with Iraq, Americans should understand that a compelling strategic rationale is absent. This war would be one the Bush administration chose to fight but did not have to fight. Even if such a war goes well and has positive long-range consequences, it will still have been unnecessary. And if it goes badly – whether in the form of high US casualties, significant civilian deaths, a heightened risk of terrorism, or increased hatred of the United States in the Arab and Islamic world – then its architects will have even more to answer for.

The latest Walt and Mearsheimer research paper is being widely criticized by Israel supporters.

CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, said that the paper is "marred by numerous errors." An article on the group's website said that a similar article "submitted by a student would flunk."

In fact, even a cursory examination of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy reveals that it is riddled with errors of fact, logic and omission, has inaccurate citations, displays extremely poor judgement regarding sources, and, contrary to basic scholarly standards, ignores previous serious work on the subject. The bottom line: virtually every word and argument is, or ought to be, in “serious dispute.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the paper has "sparked instant controversy."

An official with a pro-Israel organization in Washington said that the authors' disagreement "is not with America's pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel, and with Democrats and Republicans in successive administrations and Congress, who so strongly and consistently support the special relationship between the United States and Israel."

The Jerusalem Newswire called the paper a new example of "the centuries-old libel that the Jewish people have somehow taken control of the affairs of the most powerful nations on earth," dressed up in academic attire.

It is unclear how they feel about Washington's close ties to brutal dictatorial regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, since they chose to spend their time engaged in the more popular pastime of Israel-bashing.
Naturally, the report has topped headlines in the leftist international media, and in particular in the Middle East, where no love is lost for either Israel or the United States.

The nature of the relationship between Israel and the US is also explored in political analyst Kevin Phillip's new book "American Theocracy," but more from the US end. Mr. Phillips writes about the role of "prophetic Christians" who believe that one of the key signs of the Second Coming will be the Jewish settlement of the whole of Biblical Israel, and how this powerful religious group within the US, often working with the Israel lobby mentioned by Walt and Mearsheimer, affects US policy in the Middle East.

Ha'aretz reported Monday that President Bush reiterated US support for Israel, saying that the US would use military force to protect Israel from Iranian threats if necessary. The president also said he would prefer to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program diplomatically.

Also on Monday, Reuters reported that the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Jonathan Pollard. Mr. Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, had wanted access to classified documents in his sentencing file. With comment, the court "declined to review a US appeals court ruling that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims for access to such documents for clemency petitions."

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Additional Resources

Book – Against Our Better Judgment

Book – The Israel Lobby

AIPAC Speeches by Policymakers

Magazine – Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Book – They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby

Book – Stealth Pacs: Lobbying Congress for Control of U.S. Middle East Policy

Book – The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement With Israel, 1947 to the Present

Book – The Lobby: Jewish political power and American foreign policy

Book – Fifty Years of Israel

Book – America and the founding of Israel: An investigation of the morality of America’s role

more resources


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

Council for the National Interest – Opposition to AIPAC

Anti-Defamation League

U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation

Muslim Public Affairs Council

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