No doubt about it, D.C. is a tough room to play.
Walt and Mearsheimer took their roadshow to Washington yesterday, speaking at a CAIR-sponsored event at the National Press Club. When I first read about this ten days ago, I wrote: “Up until now, Walt and Mearsheimer have sought to carefully cultivate an image as neutral arbiters, seeking to promote a ‘realist’ foreign policy that will be in the best interests of both the U.S. and Israel. But, with this event, I think it’s safe to say that their credibility is now hovering near absolute zero.”
Well, the reviews are in, and it looks like the “Israel Lobby” authors didn’t go down too well with the Beltway crowd. (As others have noted previously, Walt and Mearsheimer have precious little knowledge of how decision-making actually works in government, so I reckon that they were destined for a public drubbing.) Dana Milbank wrote this scathing critique for the Washington Post.
I’ll offer a few choice quotes in a moment, but first a brief comment about Milbank: He’s an equal-opportunity snarky critic. For instance, he wrote this column last year about AIPAC flaunting its clout in D.C. (which was picked up and cited by numerous Israel-bashing websites). And–savor the irony–three of Milbank’s articles are cited by Walt and Mearsheimer in their “carefully researched” paper to support their thesis. (But, now that Milbank has criticized Walt and Mearsheimer, he’s suddenly been named a card-carrying member of the “Lobby” by the likes of the Agonist.)
Anyway, some money quotes from Milbank:
Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn’t exactly scholarly. Walt singled out two Jews who worked at the Pentagon for their pro-Israel views. “People like Paul Wolfowitz or Doug Feith . . . advocate policies they think are good for Israel and the United States alike,” he said. “We don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but we also don’t think there’s anything wrong for others to point out that these individuals do have attachments that shape how they think about the Middle East.”
“Attachments” sounds much better than “dual loyalties.” But why single out Wolfowitz and Feith and not their non-Jewish boss, Donald Rumsfeld? “I could have mentioned non-Jewish people like John Bolton,” Walt allowed when the question was put to him.
Picking up on the “attachments” lingo, Mearsheimer did mention Bolton but cited two Jews, Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser, as “the two most influential advisers on Middle East affairs in the White House. Both, he said, are ” fervent supporters of Israel.” Never mind that others in the White House, such as national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Vice President Cheney and President Bush, have been just as fervent despite the lack of “attachments.”
Walt seemed defensive about the charges of anti-Semitism. He cautioned that the Israel lobby “is not a cabal,” that it is “not synonymous with American Jews” and that “there is nothing improper or illegitimate about its activities.”
As evidence that the American public does not agree with the Israel lobby, the political scientist[Mearsheimer] cited a USA Today-Gallup poll showing that 38 percent of Americans disapproved of Israel’s military campaign. He neglected to mention that 50 percent approved, and that Americans blamed Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Lebanon far more than Israel for the conflict.
When the two professors finished, they were besieged by autograph- and photo-seekers and Arab television correspondents. Walt could be heard telling one that if an American criticizes Israel, “it might have some economic consequences for your business.”
Before leaving for an interview with al-Jazeera, Mearsheimer accepted a button proclaiming “Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby.” “I like it,” he said, beaming.
Quite a show. David Weigel, who is guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, called their performance “embarassing” and offered this summary judgment:
Feel free to kick me off the Serious Person Roll Call, but I had initially thought there was merit in the discussion Mearsheimer and Walt were trying to kickstart. They faced a serious hurdle in that discussion of Israel, like immigration, is dominanted by fringe voices, and they were going to be lumped in with that fringe immediately whether or not they liked it. If, as Milbank finds, they do like it, that’s too bad.
Counterpunch never ceases to amaze me. Here’s the latest: On the same day that the global media is reporting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the Holocaust was “made up” to embarass Germany, we have this essay, written by Virginia Tilley, who teaches political science (and Middle East studies) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.
A final word is due about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “Holocaust denial”. Holocaust denial is a very sensitive issue in the West, where it notoriously serves anti-Semitism. Elsewhere in the world, however, fogginess about the Holocaust traces more to a sheer lack of information. One might think there is plenty of information about the Holocaust worldwide, but this is a mistake. (Lest we be snooty, Americans show the same startling insularity from general knowledge when, for example, they live to late adulthood still not grasping that US forces killed at least two million Vietnamese and believing that anyone who says so is anti-American. Most French people have not yet accepted that their army slaughtered a million Arabs in Algeria.)
It is dismal that Mr. Ahmadinejad seems to belong to this ill-educated sector, but he has never been known for his higher education.
Wow, I had no idea that opposing Holocaust denial was so snooty of us. But hey, apparently Ahmadinejad is just one of the unwashed, uneducated masses (with a Ph.D and a massive nuclear program), so maybe we should cut him some slack.
I’ve quoted this letter before, but it’s worth repeating for all those Virginia Tilleys out there. Haroun Yashayaei, the head of Iran’s Jewish community, wrote this complaint to Ahmadinejad back in February:
“How is it possible to ignore all of the undeniable evidence existing for the exile and massacre of the Jews in Europe during World War Two? Challenging one of the most obvious and saddening events of 20th-century humanity has created astonishment among the people of the world and spread fear and anxiety among the small Jewish community of Iran.”
Our favorite Talibanette is back, and this time she’s penned an essay claiming that Israel attacked Hezbollah because Nasrallah made fun of Olmert’s penis.
No really, she actually said that. Yvonne wrote this latest dispatch from Qatar (where she just proclaimed that the “disastrous war on Afghanistan could have been avoided if the rest of the world had socially engaged with the Taleban without hidden motives.”) After ridiculing the Israelis for fighting “like a load of big girls’ blouses,” she offers this unique insight into Middle Eastern geopolitics:
My new best friend from Beruit informed me about some vital tittle tattle which pours new light on the reason behind Ehud Olmert’s invasion and war. It is simply too delicious to ignore and does have a sad ring of truth about it that I must share it with you immediatley, dear readers.
The whole invasion happened in the first place, according to my man on the peninsula, after a rather humiliating broadcast made by the hero of the hour Hassan Nasrallah. The offending broadcast was made some weeks before the war and is said to have really upset the leader of Israel Ehud Olmert. Now despite the erroneous claptrap of some US journalists who insist Nasrallah is virulently anti-Jewish (his fight is with Zionists and not all Z people are Jews) his swipe at Olmert had nothing to do with politics.Apparently he took part in a broadcast on al-Manar – the tv station of resistance – in which he literally made fun of ‘little’ Olmert. In a vulgar gesture involving his thumb and forefinger, the man regarded as the most dangerous Muslim in the world today, called Olmert a “little man”.
Maybe this uncouth act was something he picked up in his days in the slums of Sharshabouk in Beruit proving that you can take the man out of the slums but perhaps not Sharshabouk out of the man! I know, I know. It is difficult to believe but in a moment of madness (Israeli leaders are always in denial over the truth) Olmert decided he was going to take out the Hizb’Allah leader for making such humiliating fun of him. So there you go. Size does matter! OK, so it is difficult to believe an uncouth gesture propelled Nasrallah to the ranks of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, but he has deservedly earned the accolade of becoming an overnight sensation and one of the world’s most charismatic revolutionary leaders.
On the Arabian Peninsula I can tell you now that the Muslims here are walking around with an extra spring in their step and a livelier gait. Their shoulders are back and their heads are being held aloft … it is an all too rare sight over here but I know it is down to Nasrallah and the boys from the Hizb’Allah. Do you know, I can almost smell revolution in the air.
Well, once a tabloid newspaper writer, always a tabloid newspaper writer. I wonder whether she also believes in the existence of those penis-melting zionist robot combs?
Stephen Walt, co-author of the “Israel Lobby,” has just been interviewed by Poland’s right-wing Catholic weekly Niedziela. The interview is titled: “The Way The Israel Lobby Steers The Policy Of The Biggest World Power” (oooh…scary)
The interview features Walt’s standard talking points. At one point he notes: “Anti-Semitism is a repugnant phenomenon and no serious man wants to be accused of anti-Semitism. The problem is that the Israel lobby, accusing its critics and the critics of the Israeli policy of ‘Anti-Semitism’, tries to discourage people to speak about these issues. “
The irony here is that Walt is speaking with Niedziela–the same magazine that just published a strident defense of Poland’s Radio Maryja, which has informed listeners that: the Jewish people fled from Poland with all the Jewish gold; Jews have a negative effect on the birth rate of the Polish people; Jews rule the country and their government should be removed with violence; Jews in the World Trade Center knew of the 9/11 attack ahead of time; and that Auschwitz was a “work camp,” not an extermination camp.
The editor of Niedziela, however, defended Radio Maryja against its critics in this article:
Radio Maryja is still being attacked. The objections concern various fields of its activities and they are raised against its leaders, especially its director Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk….The Western mass media informed that Radio Maryja was accused of anti-Semitism. I often listen to the programmes of Radio Maryja and I have not noticed that Fr Rydzyk or any other religious spoke against Jewish people. So it seems that many accusations are absurd, i.e. they are simply false….The listeners of Radio Maryja are several million believers. They all deserve respect….What are we to give people if we destroy Radio Maryja?….We cannot let to be trampled by the enemies of the Church, the enemies that serve Satan.
Stephen Walt speaks truth when he says anti-semitism is a “repugnant phenomenon”– so maybe he should take a closer look at the people he sits down to talk with.
ModernityBlog has “meme-tagged” me, so here goes:
1. Name one book that changed your life: The Plague, by Albert Camus
2. One book you’ve read more than once: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Building Small Boats, by Greg Rossel
4. One book that made you laugh: Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
5. One book that made you cry: Title 26, United States Tax Code
6. One book you wish you’d written: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
7. One book you wish had never been written: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (Runner-up: Out on a Limb, by Shirley Maclaine)
8. One book you’re currently reading: Bully for Brontosaurus, by Stephen Jay Gould
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
10. Tag 5 people: Nah, sorry, can’t bring myself to do this. (Unless this is like a chain letter…will terrible luck befall me if I don’t?)
Apparently, some folks on the far-Left are not too happy that their more mainstream fellow travelers were MIA at the protests against the recent Middle East conflict.
Over at ZNet, Lee Sustar interviews anti-war activist Rania Masri and observes: “Among U.S. antiwar organizations, there was a weak reaction to the Israeli war on Lebanon, as a result of support for Israel as well as Islamophobia. How do you respond to the argument in the U.S. antiwar movement that we can’t take on Zionism because it would isolate us from potential allies?”
Writing in CounterPunch, Todd Chretien says:
These protests showed the Arab world, and specifically our brothers and sisters in Lebanon and Gaza that there is opposition to the U.S. government’s policies. That’s a good start. But you have to ask the question: Why after a month of war did so few people come out to protest? Where were the “anti-war” Democratic leaders? Where were the anti-war groups such as United for Peace and Justice or MoveOn.org?
You do not have to agree with all of Hezbollah’s ideas to support their resistance to Israel. Condemning “both sides” in the Middle East is just like condemning “both sides” in the American Civil War. During the Civil War, with all its complications, one side fought for slavery and the other fought for emancipation. Today in the Middle East, one side fights to rob and pillage, the other seeks self-determination and dignity….The anti-war movement needs to shake off its Islamophobia and make sustained efforts to reach out to Arab and Muslim community in the United States to bring them into the heart of the anti-war movement.
And the Workers World Party declares:
Some in the anti-war movement, even some who call themselves Marxists, have separated themselves from Hezbollah and Hamas, have even attacked them when they are under fire, on the grounds of ideology, because they are religious. This is a complete violation of principled anti-imperialism and Marxism. Ideological differences should not stand in the way of uniting against imperialism in the living mass struggle.
And, at Indymedia, Alessandro Tinonga notes:
There is a clear point of division amongst the anti-war movement: how to address the issue of national liberation. This division manifests itself in many ways ranging from a political statements from major anti-war organizations like United for Peace and Justice, or the hesitancy of some elements of the Santa Cruz anti-war movement to have a united demonstration last Friday against the war.
For a week and a half a small coalition of ANSWER Youth and Student, the International Socialist Organization, and elements from Students Against War worked to build a vigil calling for an immediate ceasefire. The vigil took place last Friday which involved 30 people. There was an obvious divide that was manifested by the two groups of protestors on either side of Pacific Avenue. To be clear, I have no problem with activists deciding that they want to be on one side of the street as opposed to another, but there is disagreement. When asked to join those of us who carried signs that read “End Israeli apartheid”, and the like, there were murmurs amongst the crowd about our ‘extremism’.
Well, as to why there weren’t more anti-war protesters, I think these writers have more or less answered their own questions. For starters, the U.S. wasn’t directly involved in this conflict–there were no U.S. troops on the ground in Israel or Lebanon. I think it’s rather telling that even the Maoist “World Can’t Wait” issued a statement on the conflict that seemed less concerned about events in Lebanon than it did about the prospect of the Bush administration using the conflict as a pretext for waging war against Iran.
And, related to that, I think it’s safe to say that there are lots of people on the more mainstream Left who didn’t feel comfortable protesting a conflict if they were also required to put aside their “ideological quibbles” with a theocratic fascist group like Hezbollah, and pump their fists in the air decaring their support for the “resistance” and the dismantlement of the “Zionist entity.”
Still, I suppose it’s easier to blame Zionists and Islamophobia for the poor turnout at some of these rallies. And the far Left wonders why they can’t build a mass movement?
I’m sure most readers of this blog are familiar with the “root-causers” — those folks on the Left who obsess over how our behavior is primarily to blame for driving terrorists to commit mass murder.
A new report posted by Media Matters reminds us that the root-cause affliction also pervades elements of the Christian Right:
In the August 16 edition of his daily BreakPoint radio commentary, PrisonFellowship Ministries founder and convicted Watergate felon Charles W. Colson suggested that America and “the West” were inflaming radical Islam through “our decadence.” Colson described a visit to the United States by the man believed to be Osama bin Laden’s intellectual inspiration, Egyptian polemicist Sayyid Qutb, a man “who knew what he was talking about,” according to Colson.
Colson went on to acknowledge Qutb’s influence on bin Laden’s radicalization, noting that Qutb’s brother “escaped Egypt, went to Saudi Arabia, and became a professor at the university. One of his star pupils was none other than Osama bin Laden.”
Colson’s recent editorial was a slight variation on a theme he introduced in an August 2004 Christianity Today article he co-authored with BreakPoint senior writer Anned Morse. [They] claimed that the failure of Congress to pass the Federal Marriage Amendement (FMA), a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, was “like handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who use America’s decadence to recruit more snipers and hijackers and suicide bombers.”
The website of the Respect Coalition is urging people to read this editorial by Oliver Roy in the Financial Times. According to Respect, the article reveals “how Israel’s failure to destroy Lebanon and Hizbollah has reshaped the politics of the region.”
I can see why the article, at least superficially, appeals to Respect. (Israel humiliated! Hezbollah is a regional power! Resistance is futile!) But, did the Respect Politburo read it all the way through? In his editorial, Roy concludes:
If the west wishes to counter the synergy between Arab nationalism, Sunni militancy and the Shia crescent, which will link battlefields from Afghanistan to Lebanon, it must draw Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hizbollah further into the mainstream. This means encouraging a proper settlement in Lebanon involving all Lebanese actors without interference from Syria or Iran; supporting democratisation of Syria and negotiating with Hamas.
No interference from Syria. Support for democratization. Uh, oh…Didn’t the Respect Coalition check their Dear Leader’s talking points? George Galloway doesn’t think Damascus is interfering in Syria. Just last year he mourned Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, declaring that: “Syria’s presence in Lebanon was legal. It was legal by international law, by the Arab League agreement and approval and by the Taif agreement and by the treaty concluded with Lebanon. But, the beneficiary from the absence of Syria is the US and Israel. ” And, in February he praised Damascus for resisting Western pressure to break “her strategic alliance with Hezbollah.”
And, what’s all this talk about supporting democratization in Syria? After all, Galloway did say that “Syria is lucky to have Bashar al-Assad as her President.”
Maybe I should e-mail the Respect Coalition and ask for a clarification…
Over at the website of Americans for Peace Now, Yossi Alpher offers this assessment of why the war in Lebanon has been subjected to more scrutiny than we’ve seen in previous eras:
Similar things went wrong in earlier wars. Nor did Israel emerge any more victorious in all of its previous wars, e.g., the war of attrition with Egypt at the Suez Canal in 1969-71 and Israel’s previous, 18 year war in Lebanon which ended in 2000.
The negative aspects of this war stand out disproportionately due to four factors. First, the Israeli media is far more critical and free-wheeling than in previous decades, and military censorship is virtually non-existent in the internet age. I can remember, for example, back in 1970 when the original movie “Mash” was withheld from theaters in Israel for about a year lest the gory (and comic) operating room scenes under combat conditions undermine morale at the front with Egypt and among the families of those wounded almost daily by Egyptian bombardments. (At the time, I saw the film at a private showing for Mossad officials–an example of a kind of bolshevism that has also, thankfully, gone out of existence.) That kind of censorship or “guidance” of the media is totally out of the question today. Gone are the days when a lone reserve officer, Motti Ashkenazi, had to stage a hunger strike outside the Prime Minister’s Office after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 in order to draw attention to the government’s and the IDF’s failings in that war.
Secondly, the Israeli civilian rear has not suffered this much damage and this many casualties in a war since 1948. This has led to widespread awareness of inadequacies in protective structures and in social services for the socio-economically deprived who remained behind under bombardment in the north. Yet the damage from Hezbollah’s rocket barrage was entirely anticipated–I actually thought it would be worse. And the deprived socio-economic strata in northern towns and cities like Maalot and Kiryat Shemona were there before the war, their situation exacerbated more by the Sharon-Netanyahu era budget cutbacks than by war.
Third, Israel did not win a sweeping victory in this war. That fact provides a dramatic backdrop for the complaints about lack of adequate equipment for reservists and sufficient water and food at the front. Similar complaints were heard in previous wars–even wars that did not take Israel by surprise as this one did–but tended to be downplayed by the media insofar as the country was celebrating a victory.
Finally, one powerful explanation for the IDF’s over-reliance on air power and the hesitancy that characterized the ground operation was the civilian and military leadership’s extreme reluctance to get tangled up once again in the occupation of Arab territory. This reflects the trauma of occupying southern Lebanon prior to 2000 and Gaza prior to 2005, and the general mood in Israel, which appears to have survived this war, that mitigates against new occupations–even if the cause of unilaterally ending the existing West Bank occupation has suffered a setback. In this sense the confusion, contradictory commands and lack of consistent political leadership we witnessed in this war reflected at least in part a healthy Israeli instinct to stay out of trouble in Lebanon.