John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt have recently published a "working paper" under their own names, though it seems many in the media believe this paper is a serious piece of scholarly research published under the Kennedy School seal.
The working paper is nothing more than a polemic that demonstrates that even distinguished professors of political science are capable of invoking the most tired, unimaginative, and demonstrably false cliches to establish a premise for a conclusion that must therefore be absurd. In this case, they want to establish that US policy toward Israel has harmed the American national interest, and so the next question must be why the US has acted to stupidly.
I'm not a political scientist by profession, but even I know that what is in the national interests of the United States is at best a complex issue. Yet Mearsheimer and Walt treat it with the kind of superciliousness that is nearly breathtaking and surely would count as a demerit coming from a student in PolSci 101 at even a third tier college.
These two substantiate this with the following examples:
- "the U.S. decision to give Israel $2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the October War triggered an OPEC oil embargo that inflicted considerable damage to Western economies."
- "The United States could not use Israeli bases during the war without rupturing the anti‐Iraq coalition and it had to divert resources (e.g., Patriot missile batteries) to keep Tel Aviv from doing anything that might fracture the alliance against Saddam."
- "History repeated itself in 2003: although Israel was eager for the United States to attack Saddam, President Bush could not ask it to help without triggering Arab opposition. So Israel stayed on the sidelines again."
- "The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel (e.g., Hamas or Hezbollah) do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or “the West”; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "
- "...rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around."
The authors have problems both with history and logic when making these examples.
- One could of course argue that the world would have been better off if Israel had lost the Yom Kippur War, but that would really take some imagination. Aside from the very real threat of expulsion or genocide of Jews in Israel, an Egyptian and Syrian military success would surely have strengthened the Soviet position in the region and created an entirely different dynamic.
- It would also take some imagination to believe that the US or Israel - rather than OPEC - were responsible for the (utterly unsuccessful) oil embargo. Even so, it would be immoral and unwise of the US or Europe to let the threat of oil embargo determine foreign policy, as this would have created an intolerable precedence.
- I'd even question the premise that the embargo hurt Western democracies. It directly led to a policy of energy conservation, the benefits of which are evident today, and should probably be renewed.
- It was, indeed, Saddam Hussein who wanted to drag Israel into the first Gulf War; and Israel who exercised restraint in setting aside its own security interests to perserve Bush's coalition. It is hard to understand how the deployment of Patriot missiles was a steep price to pay for this.
- Anyone who claims that Hamas and Hizballah perform terrorist acts against Israel in response to the "colonization" [sic] of the West Bank and Gaza is either a fool or a knave. For starters, these groups have made it abundantly clear they oppose Israel's existence on any part of the area they call "Palestine," and secondly, there have been terrorist attacks against Israel pre-dating 1967. As Dershowitz and others point out, there is in fact strong evidence that Israeli concessions encourage more terrorism.
- The linkages between Hamas, Hizballah, PIJ, Fatah, Al-Qaeda, and Iraqi insurgents is something I'm sure lots of intelligence agencies study carefully, but there are clear indications they at least cooperate on areas of common interest. The question should be: would Hamas, Hizballah, and PIJ be more favorably inclined toward a less Israel-friendly US? I doubt it - these are organizations that fully subscribe to an extremist narrative that includes the US as part of all that is evil in the world.
The premise for all this, then, very tenuous. It would take a lot to prove that US and Israeli interests are misaligned, and the authors are dishonest when they say that those misalignments that are apparent, are ignored. The US has, in fact, voted (and often shamefully) of UN SC resolutions against Israel; the US has put pressure on Israel on many known (and probably many unknown) issues; and US military support for Egypt and Saudi are hardly pleasing to Israel.
There are other faults as well. US foreign and military policy has provided greater and more assured protection to other allies than Israel: all of Western Europe during the Cold War, South Korea, Taiwan, Kuwait, to name some that are obvious. And there are examples of American foreign policy being indifferent in areas where they were needed: the early game in Bosnia comes to mind, as does the genocide in Rwanda.
Which isn't to say that the U.S. shouldn't consider the strategic value of its relationship with Israel. AIPAC is based entirely on the premise that the US and Israel have important common interests, and I'd speculate that they are under pressure to prove this is so.
But, of course, all alliances to which the US is party should be subject to the same disciplined and rigorous analysis.
Without a doubt, Mearsheimer and Walt will find their arguments thoroughly refuted from many angles. And when they lose academic credibility as a result, many will claim that the imaginary Zionist cabal that dominates academia is behind it.
Which will go to show that criticizing Israel is close to free: no matter how unreasonable it is, you can claim victimhood when it runs into opposition. Mearsheimer and Walt have made a career decision to move into the fringe occupied by David Duke and Noam Chomsky - hard to see how that can make them proud.