The Article: Voices in the Wilderness, a multi-author article published by the National Interest on the Mearsheimer and Walt book on the Israel Lobby.
The Text: When the “The Israel Lobby” first appeared as an article in the London Review of Books, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt instantly became the targets of a barrage of unjustified and vicious personal attacks. Such influential pundits as Martin Peretz, Eliot Cohen and Alan Dershowitz—Walt’s colleague at Harvard—casually charged the pair with anti-Semitism, the nuclear option in any political debate. Under the circumstances, it was difficult not to feel respect for Mearsheimer and Walt’s courage and disgust with the assault on them, sentiments I expressed on the pages of The National Interest.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that their new book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, was controversial even before it appeared in print. Organizers cancelled several scheduled events with the authors, even at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a respected organization normally open to debate. Also unusual for major books, quotes on the back cover praise only Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s previous books—a clear signal that it was difficult to persuade prominent people to provide their names in a way that could appear to support this one.
After reading The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, I remain impressed with Mearsheimer and Walt’s bravery. I also do agree with their main argument—that there exists a powerful if loose pro-Israeli coalition which has a major impact on U.S. policy in the Middle East, including on key decisions like the decision to invade Iraq that might not have been made without a vigorous campaign by Israel’s supporters.
Still, the book is unlikely to make a dent in the U.S. debate on the Middle East. And not only because of the influence of pro-Israeli groups, but also because the argument Mearsheimer and Walt make is seriously flawed. First, as Geoffrey Kemp has observed, the authors conducted very few, if any, interviews with either lobbyists or policy and opinion leaders, whether in the executive branch, Congress or the media. They make what they consider logical inferences where personal insight is indispensable and easily available. And, of course, the fact that decisions made in government agencies, Capitol Hill cloakrooms or editorial offices appear objectively to reflect the preferences of Israel’s supporters does not mean that there are not other more powerful reasons to move in the same direction.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s view of Israel and its history clearly makes it difficult for them to accept that informed people of good will could side with Israel on their own, without pressure from the “Israel Lobby.” However, while the authors are distinguished scholars of international relations whose realist philosophy I generally share, they are not experts in the Middle East. Far too often in their extensive footnotes one reads citations that begin with the words “quoted from”—meaning that they relied not on original sources, but on quotations provided by others. Coupled with their clear lack of empathy with Israel, this leads to a questionable characterization of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In one example of this, Mearsheimer and Walt deny that “Egypt and Syria are principally responsible for starting” the 1967 war and argue that Israel could have tried “to solve the crisis peacefully.” This latter assertion is probably true, but Arab provocations—including terrorist attacks from Egyptian territory, Nasser’s closing the Straits of Tiran and the removal of the UN peacekeeping contingent on Nasser’s initiative—gave the Israeli government more than sufficient justification to proceed with a preventative strike. If another government or group of governments provoked the United States in this fashion, the country would quickly form a consensus that we should not wait to be attacked and should strike first.
Mearsheimer and Walt likewise deny that the Palestinians were principally responsible for the collapse of the Oslo process and argue that Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to put an end to the negotiations. They barely acknowledge that Barak made the decision in response to the intifada, a wave of terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians inside Israel right after Barak offered historic concessions that could have created a new Palestinian state in Gaza and the bulk of the West Bank. The authors may be right in pointing out that Barak’s accommodation was not as sweeping as sometimes portrayed, and they are correct to mention the impact on Palestinian opinion of Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. But suicide bombings against innocent civilians were hardly the only option available to the Palestinians in responding to Israeli conduct.
Finally, Mearsheimer and Walt fail to recognize the obvious—that in most cases, American public opinion and American policy will side with the Israelis with or without an Israel lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt in all seriousness point out that while there are some American columnists who frequently criticize Israeli policies, no major newspaper “employs any full-time commentator who consistently favors the Arab or Palestinian side.” But even if there were no Israel lobby, it is a little difficult to imagine an influential American columnist consistently supporting Yasir Arafat.
Notwithstanding their book’s shortcomings, Mearsheimer and Walt do perform an important service in pointing out how difficult it is to produce pragmatic decisions based on national interest in an area as important to the United States as the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Israel lobby has been so successful not only because of its power, skill, and determination, but also as a consequence of the broader deterioration of the U.S. foreign policy formulation process. The growing role of money in American politics, the proliferation of lobbies of all kinds and the evolution of too many members of Congress from public servants to private political entrepreneurs is increasingly eroding both the policy process and the quality of its products. It is increasingly difficult to formulate decisions based on enlightened national interest rather than domestic politics—in fact, such decisions occur today only as a result of courageous and sophisticated presidential leadership, something we have not seen during the last two administrations. And if statements by major presidential candidates are any guide, we may not see it after 2008 either.
Dimitri K. Simes is the president of The Nixon Center and the publisher of The National Interest.
Flawed but Still Important
When two distinguished professors of political science write a highly controversial book on U.S. foreign policy one expects a comprehensive explanation of their hypotheses and their chosen methodology to demonstrate and confirm their arguments. If one is identifying the power of one lobby (in this case the Israel lobby), how does this lobby’s influence compare to that of other ethnic lobbies—e.g, the Greek, Armenian and anti Castro Cuban lobbies? Certainly if they are making very controversial statements about the decision of the U.S. government to go to war, one anticipates an exhaustive list of primary sources who have spoken to the authors, on or off the record, to support or rebut their case. Most important, one looks for new government documents that add bona fides to their case.
The authors try to cover some of the methodological issues in their introduction and make the point that official documents on contemporary events are difficult to come by. For this reason they rely on multiple source footnoting. What they have produced is a 350-page text with an additional 106 pages listing secondary sources. By my count there are 1,247 footnotes; only three refer to correspondence with a source and only two mention interviews with sources. I could find no references to any communication with key players in the U.S. government, the Israeli lobbies and Israel who might have had some interesting confidential comments on the matter in question. It seems that their research lacked extensive field work, including background interviews, especially among the Washington elite who make up both the lobby and its targets. This is not a trivial matter, and as a consequence the book has a sharp, somewhat strident and detached tone—devoid of the atmospheric frills and descriptions of the personality quirks and complicated motivations of key players that are to be found in the works of the best investigative journalists. It is also superficial in its coverage of the Washington think-tank community, an issue that is worthy of more space than is available in this quick review.
Nevertheless, the book raises important issues for American foreign policy that must be addressed and should be debated. And the fundamental issue today is not whether the Israel lobby has huge influence in Congress and upon the White House—of course it does. The real question is whether the lobby has skewed American foreign policy in the Middle East in favor of Israel to the detriment of broader U.S. interests in the region. More specifically—and what is clearly a motivating factor behind the book—did the lobby play a seminal role in the Bush decision to invade Iraq in 2003, and is the lobby set upon dragging the United States into a war with Iran? They make a strong case that neoconservatives overwhelmingly pushed for war, especially after 9/11; that AIPAC supported the war and that many in the Israeli government felt the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be in their interests. These are old accusations, and these players were not the only ones leading the charge: Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush were not puppets. Furthermore, the senior U.S. military leadership, flush from its easy victory in Afghanistan, was a willing enabler. But, in my mind, there can be no doubt that had the neoconservatives and their allies opposed a war with Iraq, it would not have happened.
The case of Iran is likewise more complicated than the authors would have us believe. Intense dislike for the regime in Tehran can be found across the spectrum in Washington—and this goes back to the 1979–1980 hostage crisis. The authors suggest that Iranian efforts to work out a modus vivendi with the Bush Administration have been stymied by the lobby. They offer no hard evidence for this, merely the well-known fact that at various times Iranian leaders have suggested a deal is possible. But no one has a clue whether the current regime in Tehran is capable of following through on any agreement. There are good reasons for skepticism. This is not to say the use of force is inevitable. Given the mess in Iraq it is unlikely the lobby can use its powers to persuade Bush to attack yet another Muslim state. But if the Iranians do something stupid, that’s another matter.
Two concluding points: The authors are not anti-Semitic. They make no inferences that the American Jewish community is working against American interests. To the contrary, they believe diversity in the community is growing and is positive. Certainly, they are often one-sided and unfair in their criticism of Israel, but they are not anti-Israel in the virulent sense one finds throughout the Muslim world and among European left-wing intellectuals. The prestigious Chicago Council on Global Affairs has seen fit to cancel a scheduled presentation by the authors because of objections from individuals who threatened that their appearance would have serious negative consequences for the institution. This type of reaction is troubling. The book—however flawed and one-dimensional—deserves to be read and challenged in a wide number of forums.
Geoffrey Kemp is the director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center.
Stifling the Debate?
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s eagerly awaited The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy appeared ahead of schedule in the bookshops, continuing an odyssey of some note. Their thesis, accepted and then rejected (as too controversial) in 2005 by The Atlantic, was first published in London, joining the cut and thrust of Britain’s intellectual life via the London Review of Books. Its American debut in book form promises controversy on a scale not seen since Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” sought to frame a new world order.
Simply put, Mearsheimer and Walt argue that the unprecedented material and diplomatic support given to Israel over the past half century cannot be explained by either moral or strategic arguments. Instead, it is due to the power of the “Israel Lobby”, “ a loose coalition of individuals and groups that seeks to influence U.S. policy in ways that will benefit Israel.” They maintain that just as Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States in the post–Cold War era, the “Lobby” has stifled criticism of Israeli Middle East policy and suppressed a needed public debate in the United States. They say the lobby was responsible for suppressing criticism of Israel’s misconceived policy in southern Lebanon and has steered the United States away from a dialogue with moderates in Iran and from talks with Syria. The authors believe this is not only counter to U.S. interests, but also detrimental to long-term Israeli interests.
Given the dangers of advancing these views, Mearsheimer and Walt (and doubtless many others) see themselves speaking truth to power. They have ventured onto treacherous ground where politicians, think tanks, journalists and academics have long feared the taint of anti-Semitism. They argue that while U.S. policy choices are not specifically determined by the lobby, the public and political discourse is heavily influenced by the fear that criticism of Israel or Israeli policy renders critics subject to anti-Semitic charges—regardless of intentions or the substantive issues at stake. In the sense that one of America’s greatest assets is its capacity for a full debate in the public square, they maintain this asset is lost—resulting in distorted, often dysfunctional policy.
Mearsheimer and Walt pay special attention to the events of 2002, when the Bush Administration—supported by neoconservatives, the Christian Right and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—advanced its argument for war with Iraq. The authors believe that just when “one would have expected the United States to focus laser-like on al-Qaeda, the author of 9/11, the Administration chose to invade a deteriorating country that had nothing to do with the attacks.” They say that while there were several reasons for this, including the fear that Iraq had WMD that it might provide to terrorists and that toppling Saddam would deter others, a powerful pro-war faction that included the “Israel Lobby” believed that removing Saddam would advance both Israeli and U.S. interests—and that the lobby was a “critical element” in the administration’s decision to attack.
Notably, as the nation moved to a war footing, there was a strange silence; the public debate was muted. Foreign Affairs, for example, published few if any articles challenging the administration’s rationale for war between the summer of 2002 and the summer of 2003. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post later expressed regret for editorial policies that pushed criticism of the war to the latter pages. Congress led the applause for the administration’s drama, and Washington’s think tanks scheduled few if any events that questioned the administration’s rationale for war. Mearsheimer and Walt do not argue that this phenomenon is the direct result of lobby pressure, but rather that the lobby encouraged these developments—that its public pronouncements advocated this direction, and that its interests were consistent with these trends.
There are, of course, parts of the Mearsheimer-Walt argument that have already drawn sharp objections. The authors call the lobby a “group” or “cabal”—a loose collection of people who have positive things to say about Israel—that bends U.S. policy. But critics point out that to call the “Israel Lobby” a group is a misnomer. It is a collection of many groups and individuals, some of whom are Jewish and some who are not. They provide varying degrees of support for a range of regional objectives but share a broad common vision for the future of the Middle East and Israel’s role. To suggest there is a group—and use the word “cabal”, so often associated with anti-Semitic rhetoric—invites thoughts of a shadowy clique quietly operating outside the bounds of normal public discourse.
This is not the case. The lobby, AIPAC in particular, is a publicly registered organization acting, as other interest groups do, to mold public opinion and legislation in support of its objectives. Sometimes, these are not Israel-specific: AIPAC helped the Clinton Administration with military assistance for Egypt and Jordan and development assistance for Lebanon. Furthermore, the limits of its power became clear when the lobby failed to persuade the United States to reduce or commute Jonathan Pollard’s prison term for espionage, or to alter U.S. policy on other priority matters, including the relocation of the U.S. embassy from the Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Though it is accused of heavy-handed attacks on its opponents, AIPAC would argue that it has done nothing more than influence U.S. policy with powerful political arguments, financial support to friendly politicians and adroit placement of its supporters in the opinion sections of the media. The debate surrounding these questions will be explosive.
But this is just one of a number of difficult issues. There is, for instance, an extensive discussion of “dual loyalty.” The czarist forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which charges that Jews worked together to control the world at the direction of a secret council of elders, infused 19th-century European thinking and became a tenet of twentieth-century American anti-Semitism. The authors assert that 21st-century America, with its large and varied immigrant population, takes a different approach to this matter. They make the point that Jewish-Americans are among the most loyal and patriotic, and that “scholars and commentators use the term [dual loyalty] in a neutral and non-pejorative fashion to describe the widespread circumstances where individuals feel genuine attachment (or loyalty) to more than one country.” They add:
Indeed, political life in the United States has proceeded from the assumption that all Americans have a variety of attachments and loyalties—to country, family, employer, religion, just to name a few—and that American citizens will create formal and informal associations that reflect those loyalties and interests.
The book does not shy from the most pressing foreign policy issues of the day: U.S. policy toward Iran is fully, fairly and properly explored, along with the Israel lobby’s role in it, and U.S.-Syrian relations are carefully reviewed. The neoconservative role in fashioning our views of Israel and the Middle East makes fascinating reading.
Some have charged that the book reflects poor scholarship—particularly with reference to sources and footnotes—but these, in my view, are more properly questions of partisan sniping. The treatment of the lobby as a group falls into this category, where questions have been raised by Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Perhaps the most important argument made by Mearsheimer and Walt concerns the impact of the lobby on the political discourse in the United States. The lobby’s ability to diminish the reputation of its opponents is such that it takes some courage to criticize—or even to raise questions about—the notion that Israel remains a strategic asset of the United States, and that U.S. interests are served when Israeli interests are satisfied. Mearsheimer and Walt make the case that the structure informing U.S.-Israeli relations—the financial, media, personal and ideological relationships—no longer benefit either nation. Theirs is a powerful call for change for the sake of both Washington and Tel Aviv.
Stefan Halper is a senior fellow at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he directs the Atlantic Studies Programme. He served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations. He is co-author of The Silence of the Rational Center: Why American Foreign Policy is Failing (Basic Books, 2007).
Missing the Point
Copies of the highly anticipated new book The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt arrived on bookshelves in Washington late last week despite a reported “embargo” from the publisher until its official September 4 release. In a sign of the book’s controversial nature, the New York Times reported on August 16 that organizations such as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs have canceled scheduled events with Mearsheimer and Walt. This new debate about the rights of the prominent political scientists to present their critique of Israel adds to the question of whether their work is anti-Semitic—a claim made against the professors’ original “Israel Lobby” paper published last March. Rather, the central issue on which reviewers of Mearsheimer and Walt’s book should focus is whether the evidence the professors present supports their arguments about the significant influence of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy decisions.
Despite well over one thousand endnotes and updated chapters on the lobby’s role in influencing the Bush Administration’s approach to Israel, Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Lebanon War of 2006, the book consistently misrepresents U.S. decision-making in the Middle East. Mearsheimer and Walt manufacture causal connections between the lobby’s activities and American actions that Bush Administration insiders rebuke.
Unfortunately, the book does not include any interviews with current or former government officials about the lobby’s influence on foreign policy. (The one interview cited in the endnotes refers to the departure of Flynt Leverett from the Brookings Institution. Leverett, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Bush Administration’s first term and has been an ardent critic of its policies since, is not quoted about his views on the lobby’s influence or the Bush Administration and the Middle East). Earlier this year, Mearsheimer and Walt argued that they did not need interviews since “we felt we already had sufficient information about the lobby’s operations” and additional research “would not have altered our conclusions.” In fact, what Mearsheimer and Walt would have discovered, as I did, is that their interpretation of events does not accord with how Bush officials characterize the reasons for policy decisions and their interactions with the Israel lobby.
Before addressing the flaws in Mearsheimer and Walt’s claims and the specific cases they misinterpret, it is first essential to understand their core argument: The Israel lobby acts not just as one important voice informing government officials, but consistently shapes American foreign policy decisions. Originally, they asserted, “the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.’” That sentence has disappeared from the book, but its essence remains in a series of claims about particular areas in which the lobby played a central if not determinative role. They write, the lobby “was the principal driving force behind the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.” Similarly, the Bush administration has failed to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, “because there has been little change in the balance of power between Bush and the lobby.” And on Syria, they state, “absent the lobby, there might already be a peace treaty between Israel and Syria.”
At a minimum, Mearsheimer and Walt depict the Israel lobby as guiding American policy decisions toward Israel and throughout the Middle East. Maximally, the professors portray presidents and secretaries of state as subservient to the executive director of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and neoconservative sub-cabinet officials.
Responding to each of these charges, and the five chapters in which they present their evidence, would require significant space. However, a close examination of the critical period of U.S.-Israel relations from 2001–2002—the period that motivated Mearsheimer and Walt’s work on this subject—reveals that events on the ground in the Middle East drove the administration’s policies, not the activities of the Israel lobby.
In the months following the September 11 attacks, Mearsheimer and Walt claim, “American policy makers believed that shutting down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least making an attempt to do so, would undermine support for terrorist groups like al Qaeda.” To achieve this, “President Bush began pushing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to show restraint in the Occupied Territories,” and soon Bush “said publicly for the first time that he supported a Palestinian state.” However, this version of events reverses the impact of 9/11 on the Bush Administration and ignores the role played by Saudi Arabia during this period.
In the weeks preceding September 11, the Bush Administration faced a growing crisis in its relations with Saudi Arabia because it had not placed enough emphasis on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah refused to meet Bush until the administration changed course. According to a Washington Post report, Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan delivered a message to the President from Crown Prince Abdullah, stating that since American “national interest in the Middle East is 100-percent based on Sharon . . . we will protect our national interests, regardless of where America’s interests lie in the region.” Because of this potential rift with the kingdom, President Bush wrote to the Saudi crown prince pledging to work toward alleviating Palestinian suffering. As Bruce Riedel, the senior National Security Council official for the Middle East at the time, later told me, “the driving force” of American policy toward the Middle East during this period was Saudi Arabia and “policy was set under pressure from the Saudi lobby.”
While Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the United States was busy trying to appease Arab opinion after 9/11 by pressuring Israel, administration officials explain the opposite was taking place. One senior State Department official told me, “9/11 tended to transform the administration’s view of the conflict, and frame it more in terms of a wider ideological struggle between forces of extremism and democratic modernization in the region. Arafat’s continuing flirtation with terrorism solidified the view that he was on the wrong side of the emerging divide in the region.” Finally, the president’s first official announcement in support of a Palestinian state was not pressure at all, since Ariel Sharon had already accepted the concept of Palestinian statehood. Riedel explained, “We weren’t going to get in trouble for supporting something Sharon already supported.”
The second case Mearsheimer and Walt cite as evidence for the effectiveness of the Israel lobby occurred just four months later, at the time of Israel’s reentry into West Bank cities in response to a massive suicide bombing that killed thirty Israelis celebrating Passover. Mearsheimer and Walt note that President Bush and senior officials initially urged Israel to withdraw from the West Bank but later ceased such calls and ultimately sided with Sharon, calling him a “man of peace.” The lobby, of course, was responsible for this switch.
Yet Mearsheimer and Walt fail to describe the events leading up to Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. They completely ignore the mission of General Anthony Zinni to renew security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians during this period?and the envoy’s conclusion that Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat was the impediment to progress on the peace process. Zinni made his first trip as envoy in December and returned in January the very day Israel intercepted the ship Karine-A on its way to delivering fifty tons of weaponry purchased by Arafat. (Mearsheimer and Walt write “there was no definitive evidence that directly implicated Arafat” in the weapons purchase, but captured Israeli documents establish that Fouad Shubaki, the director of finances for the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, provided the funds for the cargo and the operation.) Zinni believed that the capture of the Karine-A would end the security negotiations he was pursuing, but found the Israelis continued to be amenable to compromise. When he offered his own “bridging plan” to resolve differences between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on the parameters for an agreement, Zinni found that the Israelis accepted the plan without reservations. However, Zinni could not get a final answer from Arafat and ultimately concluded, “Arafat was the stumbling block . . . No matter what he told anyone, he would not make compromises.” Consequently, Zinni recognized that the Passover bombing had a “9/11 effect” on Israelis, even among the security professionals who had been most forthcoming during his negotiations.
By not even referencing Zinni’s mission or the level of terror that provoked Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield (63 Israelis had been killed and hundreds injured in suicide bombings since Zinni’s first trip as envoy), Mearsheimer and Walt present a particularly one-dimensional view of the president’s reaction. Indeed, had they read further into President Bush’s remarks when he called for Israel to withdraw from its incursions into the West Bank, they would have discovered the real reason why the administration soon withdrew its demands for a pull-back. The president said,
I speak as a committed friend of Israel. I speak out of a concern for its long-term security, a security that will come with a genuine peace. As Israel steps back, responsible Palestinian leaders and Israel’s Arab neighbors must step forward and show the world that they are truly on the side of peace. The choice and the burden will be theirs.
Predictably, no one stepped forward and by June the administration called for new Palestinian leadership and would no longer deal with Arafat. The new policy emerged as a result of Arafat’s own failings, his unwillingness to halt terror attacks and the frustrations of the administration in dealing with him. According to Bush officials, the Israel lobby played no role in this policy shift.
These examples highlight how the lobby is not the driving force behind U.S. policy toward the Middle East. And if it does not determine U.S. decisions toward Israel specifically, the lobby is highly unlikely to exert greater influence over policy toward other Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Iran or Iraq.
Perhaps the most pernicious claim that appears in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that the lobby “was the principal driving force” behind the decision to invade Iraq. The origin of the Iraq War will likely be debated by historians for generations to come, but it is pretty clear that Mearsheimer and Walt greatly simplify a complex story by arguing that “a small band of neoconservatives” led the march toward war, which Israeli officials helped sell to the American public.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded best to the charge that Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith from the Pentagon and other neoconservatives from the vice president’s office were the “driving force behind the Iraq war”, in Mearsheimer and Walt’s words. Rumsfeld told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “I suppose the implication of that is that the President and the Vice-President and myself and Colin Powell just fell off a turnip truck to take these jobs.” Interestingly, Rumsfeld barely appears as a principal actor in Mearsheimer and Walt’s treatment of the events shaping the Iraq War. Similarly, Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, called Mearsheimer and Walt’s description of the lobby’s role in the Iraq War “ludicrous.” Instead, Wehner explained, “The principal driving forces behind the decision to invade Iraq were (a) Saddam Hussein and his aggressive and malevolent regime; and (b) the lesson the Administration took away from the attacks on September 11, which were that you do not wait on events while dangers gather.” Once again, by failing to consult officials, Mearsheimer and Walt attribute influence to the lobby when other factors dominated the administration’s thinking and actions.
Although The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy appears to contain much clearly documented research, its authors fail to capture the realities of policy formation and present a series of letters, statements and rallies by supporters of Israel as evidence of the lobby’s manipulation of Washington. Mearsheimer and Walt would have benefited from conversations with foreign policy officials or representatives of the lobby itself to get a more precise portrayal of the events they describe. Had they done so, they would have found that their description of American foreign policy is often inaccurate or misleading, and their overall thesis is contradicted by central figures in their story.