April 4, 2006

“Israel Lobby” paper laced with half-truths

Following in the tradition of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, last March we were given “The Israel Lobby,” a paper by Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s own John Mearsheimer. For all of their attention paid to presenting an argument free of anti-Semitism, perhaps anticipating the obvious response to their claims, the primary message “The Israel Lobby” leaves the reader with is such: “The core of the Lobby is comprised of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests.” But while the image of American Jews somehow forcing America’s government and people to view Israel favorably through control of the media and political institutions deserves plenty of attention, I would like to focus on some of the less outrageous errors in the paper.

First, the authors begin their paper with the simple assertion that since the Six Day War in 1967, “the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel.” Anyone who drives a car and fills it with gasoline knows this is not the case. If there is any one country that serves as the focal point of U.S. policy in the Middle East, it is Saudi Arabia, home to one-fourth of the world’s known oil reserves: a nation that has maintained a very close, though discreet, relationship with the U.S. since the 1930s. Saudi Arabia, like Israel, receives millions of dollars in American aid and advanced military equipment, yet never has America gone to war to protect Israel, as America did for Saudi Arabia in 1991. Meanwhile, while Israel is a free and open democratic state (a fact Mearsheimer and Walt attempt to question), Saudi Arabia remains one of the most opressive regimes in the Middle East. It denies its people any sort of political and religious freedoms, has one of the worst records on human rights in the world, effectively enslaves half of its population (women), and blatantly encourages radical Islam (Wahabbism), anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism. And yet here we are, actively supporting a nation that not only goes against virtually all American values and serves as a support ground for terrorists, but whose populace has one of the worst images in the American mainstream. If there is any country that would need an overbearing lobby to twist American policy in the Middle East, it’s Saudi Arabia, not Israel.

Second, while the paper makes it seem as if Israel is the primary recipient of American support in the Middle East, the authors ignore the billions of dollars and continued diplomatic support given to Israel’s often hostile neighbors. Based on the author’s statistics, Israel has received $140 billion (2003 dollars) since 1973. Meanwhile, Egypt, home to five of the 9/11 hijackers, has received about $50 billion (2004 dollars) from 1975 to 2004, and receives roughly $1.3 billion a year, second to Israel. The Palestinian Authority, the governing body over people who celebrated American deaths on 9/11 by dancing in the streets, has received roughly $1 billion annually since it was created in 1993, and most of that ended up either in Yasser Arafat’s Swiss bank accounts or paying for things such as terrorist-training summer camps for Palestinian youths. Furthermore, were one to count U.S. military deployments overseas, of which Israel does not have or need one, we would see that the U.S. spends approximately $3 billion a year (the same amount as Israel’s total foreign aid according to the paper) defending South Korea. Given how little the U.S. provides for Israel, the U.S. is receiving a fantastic return because Israel defends itself and puts no American troops in harm’s way. In case you were interested, the cost of defending Europe from the Russian threat, our NATO commitment, runs at about $80 billion annually, but that of course comes from the $400 billion defense budget, not the $14 billion foreign aid budget.

Third, Mearsheimer and Walt argue the U.S. invaded Iraq to protect Israel, in large part due to the influence of the “Lobby.” This claim borders on lunacy. As the authors themselves concede, Israel has one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. But more importantly, as a true realist would understand, Israel maintains a nuclear arsenal with a first-strike capability, meaning Israel’s sovereignty would never be threatened by a country such as Iraq. Israel can easily defend itself. There are many more likely reasons that America decided to oust Saddam Hussein, but to guard Israel was certainly not one of them.

Fourth, Mearsheimer and Walt make the absolutely ridiculous, dangerous, and irresponsible claim that America need not intervene in or fear a nuclear-armed Iran. Iran poses a threat to many nations, not just Israel. I need not go into the details of what could happen with a fanatical and opressive regime holding nuclear weapons, but let’s be clear that not just one nation has an interest in preventing such a situation. America’s interest in protecting Saudi Arabia and its resources would play as much a role as the interests of any other nation in stopping Iran. Above all, America faces an immense threat should nuclear weapons enter the arsenal of Iran, a nation that actively supports terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, aids in the killing of Americans and Iraqis in Iraq, harbors known members of Al Qaeda, aims to destabilize the Middle East, and has ambitions to become a regional hegemon. Israel has a lot at stake as well, but America’s actions towards Iran in the coming months and years will reflect America’s security interests and the world’s, not just Israel’s.

Fifth, the authors say America’s support for Israel jeopardizes American security. Mearsheimer and Walt would do well to read a book by a fellow realist, Dying to Win by Robert Pape. Al Qaeda’s terrorist campaign against America and the West has little to nothing to do with Israel; it has to do with the American military presence in the Middle East, which is a result of America’s relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. Israel is on America’s side in this fight; it is not Israel’s fight to begin with. Mearsheimer and Walt would have you believe that it is in America’s best interest to sever our close ties with Israel in favor of strengthening our relationships with oil-rich tyrants and theocratic dictators. This would only harm American interests. The saying goes that, “If they didn’t have an Israel, they’d invent one,” and while the focus of much of the negative sentiment throughout the Muslim world may be directed toward Israel, America would become the sole point of government-directed hatred aimed at keeping oppressed populations more concerned with bogus foreign threats than their own leaders’ tyranny. Not to mention the invaluable intelligence and support, both technological and logistical, that would be lost by ending our close relationship with Israel. In short, ending America’s support for Israel would only hurt America.