Who is Stephen Walt?

$3 billion a year in direct aid, although it has become a well-off country (even if the numbers of its poor are scandalously high). As an American taxpayer, I would rather see some of that money go to poorer countries. And I tend to think that Israel would be better off--more independent, more responsible with its own money--if it paid for American weaponry out of its own treasury, rather than with American aid money. I believe Israel should slowly wean itself from American aid, but AIPAC first has to agree to this.

Now, none of these criticisms requires any courage on my part. Indeed, these opinions are all widely held and widely debated within the exceedingly unmonolithic Jewish community, and they betray no particular animus toward the Jewish state. (Mearsheimer and Walt have no grasp whatsoever of the diversity of American Jewish life. In a single sentence, they identify the Zionist Organization of America, which is run by the revanchist Morton Klein, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which is run by the progressive David Saperstein, as interchangeable cogs of the pro-Israeli machine.) Mearsheimer and Walt are for the two-state solution, which is banal but fine. Yet when did support for the two-state solution require support for a Jewish conspiracy theory? Why couldn't these formerly credible scholars have made their criticisms of AIPAC and of Israel without demonizing Jews and demonizing Israel? And do they know anything, anything at all, about lobbies in the nation's capital?

Of course AIPAC acts forcefully, even arrogantly: for lobbyists, that is one definition of professional success. Several years ago, at dinner with Steven Rosen, who was the foreign policy chief of AIPAC until he came under suspicion of passing American secrets to Israel (he has not yet been brought to trial), I mentioned the controversy involving a former president of AIPAC who was caught on tape bragging that he had "cut a deal" with the first Bush administration to provide higher levels of aid to Israel. I asked Rosen if AIPAC suffered from the affair. He reached across the table. "You see this napkin?" he said. "In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin." As I say, arrogant. But there are a hundred or more lobbyists in Washington who could pull off the napkin trick: lobbyists for the gun lobby, and for oil companies and pharmaceutical companies, and for the anti-Castro lobby and the Saudi lobby. And try getting any administration to challenge China's record on human rights. For China, the town is wired in a way that must fill AIPAC with envy. Say the word "China" in Washington, and congressmen, lobbyists, and Cabinet officials all hear the same thing: "summer home."

 

Mearsheimer and Walt write about the lobbying activities of AIPAC and other Jewish lobbying and advocacy groups as if they had never set foot in the capital. Here is their description of the way in which AIPAC and other pro- Israel groups do their work: "In addition to direct lobbying on Capitol Hill, the lobby rewards or punishes politicians largely through an ability to guide the flow of campaign contributions. Organizations in the lobby also put pressure on the executive branch through a number of mechanisms, including working through government officials who are sympathetic to their views." Imagine that!

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.

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy further asserts that the Israeli government itself had been arguing vociferously for an American invasion of Iraq since 2001. Mearsheimer and Walt point to public-opinion polls that showed that, across the globe, only the civilian populations of Israel and Kuwait supported the war. They write as if mystified by these findings. It is worth noting that both Kuwait and Israel had been attacked by Saddam Hussein--Kuwait by his army, Israel by his missile force. Perhaps this explains the poll results. And yet the fact is that the Israelis, and the pro-Israel lobby, were focused mainly on the threat from Iran, not Iraq, during the first years of this decade. AIPAC supported the administration in its pursuit of Saddam Hussein, but only after the invasion seemed to be a fait accompli. Last month, in an interview, Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, and who is an adversary of administration neoconservatives, told me that Israel had been consistently warning the administration that Iran was the main threat, not Iraq. "The Israelis tried their best to persuade us that we were focused on the wrong enemy," he said, "and that they were very leery of destroying the balance of power in the Middle East. But once they understood that we were going to war, come hell or high water, they weren't going to get on the wrong side of the president of the United States." (Wilkerson, of course, makes no appearance in this book.)

And yet even the charge that Jewish organizations took us to war in Iraq is not the low point in Mearsheimer and Walt's book. Its most sinister accomplishment is surely the accusation that Al Qaeda attacked America because America supports the Jewish state. Again, Mearsheimer and Walt are convinced that the America-Israel connection is what moves bin Laden. At Politics and Prose, Mearsheimer uttered this remarkable statement: "Osama bin Laden wanted very much to make sure that the attacks struck at Congress, which he saw--quite correctly--as the location of the critical support of the United States for Israel." Mearsheimer seemed pleased, rather than appalled, that bin Laden's analysis of Congress's priorities squared so perfectly with his own.

Yes, bin Laden has Jews on the brain. But he also obsesses about much else. Don't trust me on this; trust the (non-Jewish) experts. "You could take Israel out of the equation and Al Qaeda would still want to attack us," Lawrence Wright, the author of The Looming Tower, told me. "Israel is a tremendously powerful recruiting tool, but there are people who are drawn to Al Qaeda for many different motivations. For Zawahiri, the main goal was Egypt. For bin Laden, the main goal was to expel American troops from Saudi Arabia." Richard Clarke, the Al Qaeda expert in the Clinton and Bush administrations, said that "if you look at Al Qaeda's own writing and their public statements, Israel was not a major theme. What they say is pretty clear. They want to eliminate the presence of the 'far enemy'--us--from the Islamic world, because the far enemy props up the 'near enemy,' the moderate Arab states. If they increase the pain on us, they believe that they can topple the Arab regimes. If Israel didn't exist, they'd be doing the same thing." And Peter Bergen, the Al Qaeda expert at the New America Foundation--one of just three Washington think tanks that Mearsheimer and Walt praise for escaping the control of the Israel lobby--told me that, while the Israel-Arab conflict provides strong recruitment, "Pakistan is the epicenter of planning and training, and the Kashmir conflict is the strong engine there." Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the "Zionist-Crusader alliance," the Al Qaeda shorthand for Islam's main enemy, is a reference to the pro-Israel lobby and its Christian Zionist allies in Washington. Bergen disagrees. "I never take it to mean AIPAC. It means Jews, Christians, the People of the Book, the entire West. It's a big concept. I can't remember bin Laden ever mentioning AIPAC."

In their discussion of these matters, Mearsheimer and Walt seem not just mendacious but also shallow. They are dilettantes in the subject, tourists in the conflict. Consider an example. After cherry-picking quotations from jihadists to support the view that America's ties to Israel brought us the attacks of September 11, they raise the subject of Sayyid Qutb's anti- Americanism. Qutb was a terribly important Egyptian Islamist, and Al Qaeda's main intellectual inspiration. Mearsheimer and Walt instruct that "Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian dissident whose writings have been an important inspiration for contemporary Islamic fundamentalists, was hostile to the United States both because he saw it as a corrupt and licentious society and also because of U.S. support for Israel." But wait. Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966, almost a year before the Six Day War. It was not until after that war that America replaced France as Israel's chief protector and armssupplier. In fact, throughout the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration was often quite hostile to Israel. So Qutb's objection, then, was not to American support for Israel, but to American recognition of Israel. If this is the case, then Islamist anger at America predates our support for the usurping Zionists. And if this is so, then Al Qaeda would have attacked the United States whether or not America was Israel's patron, and whether or not the pro-Israel lobby existed. Therefore, as far-fetched as this may seem, the Jews should not be blamed for the attack on the World Trade Center.

One would think that the editors at Farrar, Straus and Giroux might have harpooned this leviathan of a contradiction before it reached print. Unless of course you believe, as I do, that Farrar, Straus and Giroux has all along been allowing Mearsheimer and Walt to undermine their own credibility by promoting their abysmal arguments about Jewish power. The publishing house, you see, is not known to be a part of the Jewish lobby, but its owner, the German company Holtzbrinck, has been emphatically friendly to Israel, in part out of guilt that its founder was a Nazi. Remember, everything is not what it seems. This book about a malevolent conspiracy may itself be the work of a benevolent conspiracy. I mean, cui bono? Who really benefits from making anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism seem so indefensible? Come to think of it, the name Mearsheimer does have a bit of a Jewish ring.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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