'Israeli lobby' didn't con Bush into invading Iraq

James Klurfeld
April 7, 2006

The late and much missed Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan had a favorite way of dealing with protagonists who engaged in heated but not always accurate disagreement with him: "Sir," he would reply in his clipped cadence, "you have a right to your own opinions but not your own facts."

I have much the same reaction to a controversial, at times vicious, article in the London Review of Books that argues that the Israeli lobby in Washington has somehow forced the U.S. government to favor Israel's interests over its own. The authors are John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Unfortunately the article is riddled with factual errors and comes off more as a polemic than a reasoned argument. The authors are shockingly naive in their understanding of American ethnic politics or, for that matter, how policy is made in Washington. They are also blind to the implications of their charges of dual loyalty of American Jews who have served in government or think tanks or worked for the media. In that, there is the noxious odor of anti-Semitism, intended or not.

Mearsheimer and Walt have a right to their opinion. The question of whether Israel is an asset or liability to American interests goes back to the founding of that nation in 1948. No less a figure than Secretary of State George C. Marshall told President Harry Truman that, if Truman recognized Israel, he would resign from office. Truman - partly because he believed it was the right thing to do, partly because he was responding to overwhelming public opinion - overruled Marshall. Marshall stayed.

Mearsheimer and Walt are leading proponents of the realist school of international relations theory: Foreign policy must be based only on vital interests, not moral concerns. Mearsheimer, in particular, has often been a provocateur, once arguing the world would be a safer place if all nations had nuclear weapons. But U.S. foreign policy has never been wholly in the realist camp. Our values have always been a factor in setting policy.

Aside from the numerous errors of fact (for example, saying Israel was better armed than the Arabs in the 1948 war), there are at least two major problems with Mearsheimer and Walt's presentation. One is the equivalence the authors attribute to Israeli and Palestinian actions. It just isn't so.

After the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel accepted the United Nations' plan for an exchange of that land in return for peace. The Arab response was the famous three no's: no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.

Every time there has been a real attempt to negotiate land for peace, Israel has responded positively, whether it be after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem in 1977 or the Oslo Accords of 1992. And then there were the far-reaching proposals from Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the summer of 2000 that Yasser Arafat rejected out of hand and then started the second intifada

The other major problem is that the authors contend the neo-conservative Israeli lobby forced the Bush administration into invading Iraq to help Israel. This borders on silly. The decision was made by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. None of them is part of the neo-conservative, pro-Israel cabal that the authors say pushed the nation to war.

Has the United States made mistakes? Obviously. My column last week said that Washington had failed to adequately oppose Israel's settlement policy, a 40-year mistake. But it has been the Palestinians' failure to meet the Israelis even halfway - and their use of terrorism - that has caused the U.S. tilt toward Israel.

The authors say this doesn't matter: Tilting toward Israel, no matter what the reason, is not in this nation's interest. It makes the United States a target of terrorism.

That is morally obtuse, and rubs against what this nation has always stood for.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.