Writing on his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt notes the uptick in war hysteria directed at Iran, and, like a good realist, looks at the US-Iranian military equation with a cold-eyed attention to facts and figures. He lists the huge military and economic disparities in favor of the US, bare numbers that speak truth to war propaganda, and then wonders aloud:
"The more one thinks about it, the odder our obsession with Iran appears. It’s a pretty unlovable regime, to be sure, but given Iran’s actual capabilities, why do U.S. leaders devote so much time and effort trying to corral support for more economic sanctions (which aren’t going to work) or devising strategies to ‘contain’ an Iran that shows no sign of being able to expand in any meaningful way?"
In search of an answer to this puzzling question, Walt goes on to explore the non-military aspects of the Middle Eastern conflict, averring that "simple bean counts like the one presented above do not tell you everything about the two countries, or the political challenges that Iran might pose to its neighbors." Pointing to Iranian support for Hezbollah and influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Walt nevertheless urges us not to overstate the alleged Iranian "threat" and allow ourselves to be stampeded into another unnecessary war. One couldn’t agree more, and yet I can’t help but notice Walt failed to answer his own question: why are our "leaders" devoting so much time and effort to corral support for murderous sanctions (remember Iraq) and other acts of war?
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The answer, of course, is contained in the pages of a book Walt co-authored, with John Mearsheimer, that tells a good part of the story. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy is invariably described as "controversial," or even "extremely controversial," but this is merely an indication of how tame our political discourse has become in the Republic’s late senescence. In reality the book merely demonstrates, at length and in great detail, a simple truism that everyone already knows and long ago learned to live with: the decisive influence of Israel’s partisans in the formulation and conduct of US foreign policy.
This dominant position has been true since the Reagan years, and, what’s more, it has been common knowledge: after all, it was Fortune magazine, not The National Socialist News, that rated the Israel lobby the second most powerful in Washington. This lobby unites the broadest coalition in American politics, ranging from the left wing of the Democratic party all the way to the furthest reaches of the ultra-right, not to mention including the bipartisan political establishment in Washington.
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A huge ongoing propaganda campaign is constantly churning out pro-Israel materials directed at a wide variety of special interest groups: the lobby’s most well-known success story is the Christian fundamentalist faction, which believes in the key role played by Israel as a harbinger of the second coming of Christ. The lobby has parlayed this into a powerful domestic constituency fanatically devoted to Israel’s cause — and not just the cause of the current Israeli government, but of the most extremist and expansionist elements in the Israeli polity.
A less well-known triumph of niche marketing is the Israeli propaganda effort directed at the gay community. The Israeli government has sponsored ads appearing in San Francisco’s bus shelters extolling the IDF because it doesn’t discriminate against gays, and a recent tour of Israel’s gay hot spots promises a visit with hunky IDF soldiers. Pat Robertson and the advocates of gay liberation — together at last!
We’re an empire now, and it’s perfectly rational for every state actor in the world who wants something from Uncle Sam to not only show up at the imperial court in Washington and seek the favor of the most powerful ruler in world history, but also to make an appeal to his subjects. Since Congress long ago ceded its war-making and oversight powers to the executive, an American president, once in office, can wreak considerable havoc in the conduct of our foreign affairs.