Two scholars who created a controversy earlier this year when they wrote that the pro-"Israel" lobby exerted too much influence over U.S. foreign policy said Monday that the recent "Israel"-Hezbollah war in Lebanon was yet another example of what they view as a dangerous tendency.
John Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago political science professor, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, said the U.S. government’s unstinting support for "Israel’s" recent war in Lebanon once again placed the agenda of what they call the "Israel" lobby ahead of U.S. strategic interests.
The result, they said, was that the U.S. position in the Middle East, already strained due to the Iraq War, had worsened with consequences that wouldn’t just be bad for America, but "Israel" as well.
"One, Iran and Syria are more likely to continue arming and supporting Hezbollah," Mearsheimer said.
"Two, Iran and Syria have even more reason to keep the U.S. pinned down in Iraq so it’s not attacked by U.S. troops," he said. "Three, Iran has more reason than ever to acquire nuclear weapons so it can deter an "Israeli" or U.S. attack on its homeland."
Mearsheimer and Walt, who appeared at an event hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations, singled out the American-"Israel" Public Affairs Council as the leading example of the how the lobby has warped U.S. policy. It was the same point they made in their essay called "The "Israel" Lobby" that was published in March in the London Review of Books.
They blamed the American "Israel" Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-"Israel" lobby, for a failed attempt to slightly amend language in a pro-"Israel" House resolution to call on the warring parties to protect innocent civilians and infrastructure. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., were among a group of lawmakers who supported such a change, Mearsheimer said.
"One would think that such language would be unobjectionable if not welcome," he said. "But AIPAC, which was the main driving force behind this resolution to begin with, objected and (Rep.) John Boehner (an Ohio Republican and) the House majority leader, kept the proposed language out. The resolution still passed 410 to 8."
Mearsheimer also cited the lobby’s response to a late July letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. The congressman asked her to call for an immediate cease-fire and an international force to enforce it.
But Van Hollen also criticized "Israel" for going too far in its military response. "... It is the Lebanese people, not Hezbollah, who are increasingly the victims of the violence," Van Hollen wrote, adding that "Israel’s" actions were turning the Lebanese people against not just "Israel" but the U.S., its strong ally.
Mearsheimer said, "The lobby was furious with Van Hollen and quickly moved to tell the congressman in no uncertain terms that he should have never written the letter.
"Van Hollen met with the various representatives from the major Jewish organizations who explained to him the basic facts of life in American politics," Mearsheimer continued. "The congressman apologized, saying: `I’m sorry if my strong criticism of the Bush administration’s failures have been interpreted as criticism of "Israel’s" conduct in the current crisis. That was certainly not my intention.’"
A spokesperson for AIPAC said the organization has not commented on Mearsheimer and Walt’s criticisms.
Walt said he and Mearsheimer had expected their essay to be controversial because when others had made similar observations in the past about the pro-"Israel" lobby’s political power in U.S. policy debates, the reaction has typically been heated.
Still, Walt said, "... We were disappointed that much of the reaction consisted of attacks on our characters or on extraneous issues rather than on a serious discussion of our main argument. ... We really didn’t say anything that was all that controversial, that wasn’t common knowledge inside the Beltway ...
"So it wasn’t what we said," he continued. "It was rather that two card-carrying members of the mainstream foreign policy establishment with rather impeccable, even boring, middle-of-the-road credentials and absolutely no trace of anti-Semitic history, attitudes or behavior finally pointed out the elephant in the room."
Walt said the two men are preparing a response to the numerous criticisms they have received in the months since their original article was published.