Bret Stephens, a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, recently wrote an article urging tougher sanctions against Iran.
Stephen Walt sees this as further vindication of his “Israel Lobby” thesis:
Rest assured that if sanctions don’t work, Stephens will be calling for military action. Stephens is the former editor of the Jerusalem Post, a well-connected neo-conservative, and one of the many pundits who helped cheerlead us into the disastrous war in Iraq. Is he really someone whose advice we ought to be paying attention to now? It would be one thing if he were offering a new set of prescriptions, but learning from past mistakes doesn’t seem to be part of the neocon playbook.
But for now, his piece is really just one more data point we should put in our files and remember. As [John Mearsheimer and I] wrote a few years ago: “The [Israel] lobby is also likely to make sure that the United States continues to threaten Iran with military strikes unless it abandons its nuclear enrichment program. Given that this threat has not worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future, some of Israel’s American backers, especially the neoconservatives, will continue to call for the United States to carry out the threat. … There is also some possibility … that [Bush’s successor] will do so, particularly if Iran gets closer to developing weapons and if hardliners there continue to predominate. If the United States does launch an attack, it will be doing so in part on Israel’s behalf, and the lobby would bear significant responsibility for having pushed this dangerous policy.”
Caveat: Because no lobby “controls” U.S. foreign policy (a point we’ve made repeatedly and that critics routinely ignore), military action of the sort that Stephens & Co. are pushing isn’t inevitable. But if it does happen, you’ll know who played a key role in bringing it about.
Translation: If the United States were to attack Iran, you know who Walt & Mearsheimer will be blaming.
Of course, precisely how these neocons—by writing editorials and columns—will push the Obama administration into war with Iran is not explicitly addressed. Then again, that’s not surprising, because Walt & Mearsheimer never quite explained how the Israel Lobby was responsible for the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
As Jeffrey Steinberg wrote in his review of Walt & Mearsheimer’s book:
One of the most serious charges that Mearsheimer and Walt level at AIPAC and its neoconservative fellow travelers is that they were indispensable in pushing America to invade Iraq. There is no doubt that neoconservatives agitated for the war, and that many neoconservatives are Jews; and there is no doubt that there were Jews, in and out of the Bush administration, who argued for the invasion of Iraq, including Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle. Is that really all we need to know about the origins of the war? There were also some Christians at the scene, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley, and Richard Myers. Some of those Christians were even in positions to order the invasion!
The assertion that the Iraq war would not have happened except for the lobbying of Jews is an echo of an ancient idea spread by anti-Jewish ideologues: that Jews, operating in the shadows, manipulate gentile leaders to unknowingly advance Jewish interests. In order to believe this in the case of Iraq, the argument would have to be made that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were not merely idiots, but also uninterested in ruling. A couple of years ago I asked Rumsfeld to comment on accusations that the Jewish lobby maneuvered the administration into war. “I suppose the implication of that is the president and the vice president and myself and Colin Powell just fell off a turnip truck to take these jobs,” he said. But Mearsheimer and Walt mention Cheney and Rumsfeld only for fleeting instants in their discussion of the origins of the war. They seem to think that William Kristol is the commander in chief.
Similarly, the Daily Princetonian reported on a debate between political scientist Robert Keohane and Walt & Mearsheimer:
A major point of contention during the discussion was the role of neoconservative policymakers in the Bush administration and their links with pro-Israel lobbyists. Mearsheimer and Walt said that neocons played a significant role in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, a move the two argued was also seen at the time as being in Israel’s best interest.
“There’s no question that the neoconservatives were the main driving forces behind the war, supported by key organizations in the lobby like AIPAC,” Mearsheimer said.
Keohane disputed the link between AIPAC and the decision to go to war in Iraq. He cited nine other reasons for the invasion, including concerns over weapons of mass destruction and a desire to promote democracy.
The mention of AIPAC’s role in the lead up to the Iraq war set off a spirited exchange.
“It’s hard to find other organizations or institutions that were pushing the war,” Mearsheimer said. “If it wasn’t the neoconservatives, and it wasn’t the leaders of the lobby, and it wasn’t Israel, then who was it?”
“Two people: One is the president, and the other is the vice president,” Keohane said to applause.
And Ron Kampeas at Capital J, has observed how Walt’s language tends to vary from blog post to blog post:
As he has done recently, Walt tries here to weasel away from the central role the book assigned the lobby — in this latest post, the Iraq war was “dreamed up by the neocons” and “backed by key groups in the Israel lobby,” while the 2007 book accused the Israel lobby of joining “forces with the neoconservatives to help sell the war to the Bush administration and the American people.”
So that ratchets the lobby’s role back a notch or two — from the active “selling” of the war to the passive “backing” of it, from the neoconservatives’ equal in responsibility for the war to a more subservient role. You’d think given these realizations (and I’m not endorsing this moderated view — Dick Cheney is not a neocon) Walt would be preparing an updated edition of the book, explaining to folks that he might have been more nuanced, that he overstated the case.
Walt never clearly explained how the “Israel Lobby” supposedly pushed the United States to invade Iraq; and his depiction of the Israel Lobby’s role seems to change at least once a week. So, how precisely are the neocons and their fellow travelers expected to push the Obama administration into war with Iran?
True to form, Walt seeks to vaguely describe the Obama administration’s decision-making process about an event that has not yet even happened. And he is threatening that, if there is a conflict, the “Lobby” will be held accountable.
Preemptively blaming Zionists for war. Once again, Walt takes a page from a very old—and very disturbing—playbook.