Judis vs Walt

John Judis slams Stephen Walt's post over Blair's conversations with Bush in Crawford:

The real problem is that Walt does not seem to have taken the trouble to have read the transcript of Blair’s testimony. If he had, he would have realized that Blair was not talking about how invading Iraq might benefit Israel, but about the conflict then occurring between Israel and the Palestinians. The second intifada had reached a new height with the Passover and Haifa suicide bombings and the beginning of the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Blair was concerned that the Bush administration was not actively pursuing the peace process. Blair wanted the administration to put the Arab-Israeli issue on a par with the threat of Iraq.

This is, I think, is a very fair rebuttal. My own support for the removal of Saddam had absolutely nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with my belief that he could and would transfer WMDs to terrorists and that forging an Arab democracy in the Middle East was critical to a longer term strategy for defeating Islamism. I was wrong and misled on the former and dangerously naive on the latter. But if the Israel Lobby consists of people who rather emphatically support the defense of Israel against its enemies, then I was a part of it too, and still am. So were Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush, or my late friend Mike Kelly - all non-Jews who nonetheless passionately favored war against Iraq for many of the same reasons. I do not believe that the Iraq war was about Israel in anything but a peripheral sense.

But it remains absolutely undeniable that the intellectual case for that war was made most strenuously by neoconservatives, Jewish and non-Jewish, and that Israel was one factor, if one of the least prominent ones, in their case.

And if you read Walt's full post, you will see how the entire intellectual and journalistic apparatus of neoconservatism in all its journalistic ramparts - from the Washington Post op-ed page and the Wall Street Journal to the Weekly Standard, the National Review and the New Republic (and the Daily Dish) - were in the vanguard of such war-supporters. I think the emotional impact of Saddam's disgusting use of gas against the Kurds and his deployment of Scud missiles against Israel in the first Gulf War had a completely understandable reaction among many neoconservatives. So the idea that neoconservatives and the Isreal lobby did not have a "key role" in pushing the US into war is ridiculous. On this point, Walt's post should be read carefully. Here's John's case:

Did the Israel lobby have a sine qua non influence on public opinion in favor of the war? If so, one would expect that its influence would at least show up among Jewish Americans, who would be most likely to listen to their arguments. In a 2003 survey, the American Jewish Committee found that 54 percent of Jewish Americans disapproved of going to war with Iraq and only 43 percent approved. At the time, a majority of Americans approved of going to war. So, far from being a leader in pro-war sentiment, American Jews were lagging behind. That suggests that the pro-Israel lobby failed even to influence in any significant way Jewish opinion.

Notice that Judis turns "a key role" in Walt's argument into a "sine qua non". They are different things. One phrase suggests an important and central factor; the other that without it, the Iraq war would never have happened. My view is that the war would not have happened without neoconservatism's immediate and to me persuasive case about WMDs and Jihadism but that this was not primarily about Israel. So to conflate neoconservatism with the Israel lobby in this instance - although, of course, many were in the same camp on both questions - is far too crude, and it's one reason why I think Walt and Mearsheimer ruined some important points in their case.

But Judis also misses the point that the Israel lobby's strategy is not and never has been the persuasion of American Jews, the vast majority of whom do not share neoconservatism's Republican party loyalty, are far more socially liberal than neoconservatives, and often frustrate their neocon leaders. The strategy of the Israel lobby is the appeal to Independents, and especially traditional Republicans who might be more skeptical of foreign intervention, while being traumatized after 9/11, - and especially Christianist voters whose support for Israel and its expansion is related to End-Times theology. (See Palin, whose lapel flag-pin at the Tea Party speech was of the US and Israel.)

The invasion of Iraq was also clearly related to the long-standing neoconservative argument that the central problem in the Middle East was not Israel's occupation and illegal settlement of the West Bank, but the malign influence of the Arab and Muslim dictatorships, the "terror masters". One argument - although not the most prominent - for removing Saddam was to prove this case, that the way to peace in the Middle East lay through Baghdad, not Jerusalem. Again there is nothing nefarious about this argument. I made it myself. But it does seem to me that it looks far far shakier today than it did in 2003.