Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Walt and Mearsheimer

I haven't read the book but did read the original article, which I found to be basically uncontroversial. While people can debate the extent of the Israel lobby's influence, I find this to be completely intellectually dishonest:
“Everything in the book that isn't just blatantly obvious is ridiculous. The Israel lobby controls U.S. foreign policy? In this country all ethnic groups attempt to influence foreign policy towards their country of origin. That is normal and legitimate. Ask the Greeks, Armenians, Turks. You would think that neither of them had ever lived here in America… In a sense, of course, they haven't…” he chuckled, before getting back to the business at hand. The class, filled with new grad students, all laughed too.

To say that the Israel lobby is no different in terms of influence and power than Turkish or Armenian lobbies is ridiculous. They influence foreign policy much, much more than other similar lobbies. I am sympathetic to this argument, however:

But wait a minute — these guys really don't seem to understand America at all. And I don't mean our affection for Israel a beacon of democracy, blah, blah — I'm talking about our visceral identification with the Jewish people specifically, something inherent in our national character. Sure, the pro-Israel lobby is powerful and effective, but most of the time it's going with the flow of American attitudes rather than redirecting them. It's not just those wacky Christian Zionists they identify as part of the elite Lobby, bending America to their will — our association with the Israelites of the Old Testament (and by implication, their modern heirs) is part of our foundational mythology and shapes our modern attitudes. When John Winthrop told his flock that "we shall be as a city upon a hill," the allusion was to the City of David atop Mt. Zion. They and subsequent settlers explicitly saw themselves as making an exodus from the fleshpots of Europe to wander in the wilderness, which is why both Franklin and Jefferson proposed images of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt for the the Great Seal of the United States, and why Lincoln called us God's "almost chosen people."

I agree that Americans have an affinity for Israel and the Jews historically that has little or nothing to do with the lobby. This affinity, however, works hand in hand with the Israel lobby in Washington to strongly mold our foreign policy. And our one-sided approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is unjustifiable either morally or strategically.

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