Lobbies Influence, Not Make, US Foreign Policy
by Leon Hadar
For about two
decades after World War II, a powerful coalition of US Congressmen,
publishers, businessmen and military generals operating close to
the highest levels of government in Washington tried to ensure that
the United States would not recognize "Red China" and
would continue backing Taiwan (the Republic of China) with its goal
of ousting the communist regime in Beijing. The coalition included
figures such as Republican Senator Richard Nixon, Henry Luce, the
publisher of the Time and Life magazines, his wife
Clare Boothe Luce and renowned author Pearl Buck (The
common perception in Washington was that the so-called "China
Lobby" was politically invincible and that no US president
would dare challenge it by taking steps to establish ties with the
People's Republic of China.
I was reminded
of the "China Lobby" when I was attending an event in
Washington last week where the main topic of discussion was a
controversial study by two noted American political scientists
who allege that the Israel Lobby exerts enormous influence on US
foreign policy in the Middle East by tilting it in a pro-Israel
The two scholars
– Professors John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago and Stephen
Walt of Harvard University – argue in their report, The Israel Lobby
(which was published in a condensed version in the London Review
of Books), that the powerful lobbying group, the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as well individuals operating
in the bureaucracy, think-tanks and editorial pages are responsible
for the pro-Israeli slant of US policy-making and of the American
has managed to divert US foreign policy as far from what the American
national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously
convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially
the same," Prof. Mearsheimer and Prof. Walt write. "The
United States has a terrorism problem in good part," they add
a few pages later, "because it is so closely allied with Israel,
not the other way around."
The study ignited
very strong reactions not only in the media and academic circles
but also among many bloggers who criticize the authors for questioning
the loyalty of American Jews who support Israel and for perpetuating
professor Alan Dershowitz called the study "paranoid and conspiratorial"
while military historian Elliot Cohen described it as "anti-Semitic"
in an op-ed article in the Washington Post.
some of this bashing of the two scholars, one would have to conclude
that they had authored a sequel to Hitler's Mein Kampf. This
kind of criticism is unfair and, in a way, malicious. Criticizing
Israel and/or those lobbying on its behalf in Washington should
not be equated with "anti-Semitism" in the same way that
criticism of "affirmative action" policies, Zimbabwe's
Robert Mugabe, or South Africa's Aids policies should not be regarded
its political lobby in the US are political entities that promote
the specific interpretation of the political concept of Jewish nationalism
(Zionism) that is not shared by most of the Jews who do not live
in Israel and by more than 25 per cent of Israeli citizens who are
American citizen supports close ties with Israel depends on whether
he or she perceives that to be in line with US interest and/or values
and not on whether he or she is pro- or anti-Semitic.
In fact, some
US political figures like Presidents Richard Nixon and Harry Truman,
who shared some negative stereotypes of Jews, were still in favor
of strong political US ties with Israel while many American Jews
have been very critical of Israeli policies.
So if Prof.
Mearsheimer and Prof. Walt have concluded that Israel is pursuing
policies that run contrary to US interests and/or values, raising
that as part of public discourse is as legitimate as if they two
would be criticizing US ties to France or Japan. Similarly, the
Israel Lobby should not be treated any differently than other domestic
or foreign interests, including those of Saudi Arabia. In the same
way, one has the right to challenge any critic of Israel or its
lobby by challenging the criticism on its merit and not by applying
"negative stereotypes" to the critic, that is by suggesting
that he or she is an anti-Semite.
of the critics of Prof. Mearsheimer and Prof. Walt, I have actually
read their study and cannot find any flaw with their argument that
the Israel Lobby in the form of Aipac, not unlike the old "China
Lobby," is a very powerful player with enormous political and
financial resources that exerts a lot of influence on the executive
and legislative branches when it comes to US policy towards Israel
and in the Middle East.
I also agree
in general with their observation that there is a very influential
pro-Israeli community in the US that includes many influential Jews
and non-Jews (including many Christian evangelists). It seems to
me that Israel and its supporters in America should be proud over
their success in mobilizing so much support for that country.
why so many foreign countries envy Israel and try to model their
lobbying efforts in Washington after Aipac and its satellites. To
put it differently, you cannot have it both ways. If Coca-Cola succeeds
in becoming the most popular soft drink in America, it cannot then
bash those who point to that fact by accusing them of exhibiting
two authors are correct in pointing out the role of neoconservative
ideologues and policy-makers, most of whom would describe themselves
as supporters of Israel, in driving the US into the war in Iraq
and the costly Imperial-Wilsonian project in the Middle East. Many
of these neocons accept as an axiom that what is good for Israel
is good for America and vice versa and that American hegemony in
the Middle East would help protect Israel while Israel would help
secure American hegemony there.
and Prof. Walt, like many other analysts, disagree with that axiom
and insist that American and Israeli interests are not always compatible.
Interestingly enough, while there is a growing recognition in Washington
that the invasion of Iraq and the entire neocon agenda of "democratizing"
the Middle East have run contrary to US interests, many Israelis
seem to be also reaching the same conclusion: this agenda harms
long-term Israeli interests by destabilizing the Middle East.
There is no
doubt that US support for Israel has been responsible for much of
the Arab hostility towards Washington. Ending the alliance with
Israel would certainly reduce some of the Arab hostility and, by
extension, the costs of US intervention in the Middle East.
But it is the
US intervention in the region in its totality – support for Israel
AND the alliance with the pro-American Arab regimes – that is responsible
for the current anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.
Lobby, like the Saudi Lobby or the Iraqis who lobbied for US invasion
of their country, could be compared to what economists refer to
as "rent seekers," that is, interest groups who profit
from government policies, in this case US interventionist policies
in the Middle East.
From this more
balanced perspective, the Israel Lobby is no more responsible for
current US policies in the Middle East than the China Lobby was
responsible for US policies in East Asia in the 1950s and 1960s
(which were then driven mostly by Cold War-era strategic considerations).
can only operate and thrive in the context of existing consensus
in Washington over the US national interest. When that consensus
changes, any lobby, even the most powerful one, loses its influence
and its relevance.
have resisted the power of the Israel Lobby in the past when it
came to crucial decisions like selling arms to pro-American Arab
countries or to pressing Israel to make concessions as part of the
George W Bush and his top foreign policy aides (Vice-President Dick
Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice) have decided to adopt the neocon agenda has to
do with their perception of US national interests and not the power
of the Israel Lobby or, for that matter, American Jews (the majority
of whom did not vote for Mr. Bush and were against the war in Iraq).
if and when President Bush or another US president decides to change
policies in the Middle East based on calculation of American interests
– for example, by launching an opening to Iran – even the most powerful
lobby in Washington would not be able to prevent him or her from
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.