Terrorism, the Iraq war – now we can blame one mysterious, powerful group

By David Aaronovitch (THE TIMES, 04/04/06):

THERE ARE DIGNITIES that cannot be ignored. Titles like, say, the Count Palatine of Simmern or the Keeper of the Queen’s Swans command respect, as do the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago and the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I have no idea whether Simmern has an Elector any more, and I believe that the Keeper’s job (though not the Keeper) has been divided into two. But I can tell you that the last couple of positions are held by a John J. Mearsheimer and a Stephen Walt respectively, and that the holders have been causing a fuss.

In early March this brace of distinguished academics produced a very long paper entitled The Israel Lobby and a shorter (but still hefty) version of the essay was printed in The London Review of Books (read the article here). Their argument, in essence, is this: first, America is and has been acting against its own obvious interests in the Middle East since God knows when. The reason for this foreign policy perversity, they reveal, has been the influence on domestic politics of the Israel lobby, known simply throughout their document as “the Lobby”. “This situation,” they write portentously, “has no equal in American political history.”

Gollygee, as they say at Harvard. No equal, eh? So exactly what has the US been doing that has been so inimical to its wellbeing? For a start, say the profs, it has focused on the wrong threats. An example: “The terrorist organisations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them”; and indeed: “The US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.” Osama bin Laden is “motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians”. Presumably if the US told Israel to take a hike, then terrorism against the US would be substantially reduced — even if that against Israel, India, Bali or Iraqi Shia held steady or went up.

Having thus dealt with terrorism, W and M turn to “so-called rogue states” who — they discern, “are not a dire threat to vital US interests . . . even if these states acquire nuclear weapons — which is obviously undesirable”. This analysis includes both Iraq — retrospectively — and Iran, whose “nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US”. Which can, the profs argue, “live with a nuclear Iran”.

And while they’re in this optimistic frame of mind, they dismiss the notion of a possible threat to the US from nuclear technology transfer between states and terrorists, because “a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would go undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards”. An argument that, as we know, worked a treat with the Taleban.

To summarise, terrorists aren’t America’s enemy, they’re Israel’s. Rogue states armed with nuclear weapons aren’t America’s problem, they’re Israel’s in so far as they’re anybody’s. And rogue states wouldn’t be mad enough to assist anti-American terrorists to carry out plans for mass destruction — even though one did just that five years ago.

On, then, to the explanation for this strategic blindness on the part of US policymakers. It is “the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby”. But not the vulgar notion of conspiring Jews used by the Ku Klux Klan, the Syrian Defence Minister and some maverick politicians. The professors do not mean to suggest that “the Lobby is a unified movement with a central leadership . . . [or] a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. No, their lobby is a “loose coalition of individuals and organisations” who just happen to have got a stranglehold on US policy in a way [remember] “with no equal in American political history”.

The Lobby, for example, was a “key factor” in the decision to go to war with Saddam Hussein’s unthreatening Iraq. After all, according to W and M, Saddam would not have threatened US interests even if he had developed nuclear weapons. But the war was “motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure”. That, not oil or strategic considerations, is the reason for 2,000 US combat deaths.

And it has to be said at once that the Lobby is a problematic concept, as the profs use it. For a “loose coalition” the parts seem to do everything together, moving and thinking as one: the Lobby doesn’t tolerate even-handedness. The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate. The Lobby’s perspective prevails in the mainstream media. The Lobby created its own think-tank. The Lobby moved immediately to “take back the campuses”. Loose but so, so tight.

And how does it do it? Not because Jewish voters all vote for the most hawkish pro-Israel stuff, say the professors, because they don’t. Yet: “Thanks in part to the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections, the Lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch.” So it could be money: “Although they [Jews] make up fewer than 3 per cent of the population, they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties.” Commitment:

“Jewish voters have high turnout rates”. Geographical spread: “[Jews are] concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania . . . [so] presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.” As opposed to those sections of the electorate who candidates presumably seek actively to alienate. And if Jews are so clever, why don’t they also go to the key states of Ohio and Texas? Don’t ask; the professors don’t.

A reminder here. Their article is not about arguing that there is a Jewish vote (mostly Democrat) and an Israel lobby. Of course they exist. The professors are far more ambitious than that. The Israel Lobby is the most powerful lobby in American political history, persuading an entire nation into quasi-suicidal policies.

It helps them to make the case that the authors corral everybody who argues for pro-Israeli policies (or presumably — see above — even some sorts of anti-terrorist ones) into “the Lobby”. This is obviously flawed; most columnists and academics who are broadly pro-Israel argue their case out of conviction, not out of a desire to propagandise. Otherwise what is to stop me accusing Walt and Mearsheimer of being part of the Iranian lobby?

OK, let them be closet pro-Iranians. Let’s say we’re all lobbyists. And if we are, who is more powerful than the energy lobby that risks the future of the entire planet or, in 1940, the British lobby, which sought successfully to ensnare the US in a European war that it did not want? You want perfidy? We have it right here.

The problem with the Professors Mearsheimer and Walt is not that their arguments are silly or exaggerated, though many of them are. In a way I sympathise with their desire for redress, since there has been a cock-eyed failure in the US to understand the plight of the Palestinians. No, it’s what pornographers would call their “money-shot” that really offends. For, breaking into polemic, the professors finally claim that if the Lobby succeeds: “Israel will get a free hand with the Palestinians, and the US will do most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding and paying.”

Not the Jews.