Posted by: Tony Carson | 11 September, 2007

The Israel Lobby, Cohen’s pathetic rebuke

As a Jew and a columnist for the Washington Post, Richard Cohen must have felt duty-bound to take on the John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt and their book “The Israel Lobby”.

His column is here: Rationalizing Israel Out of Existence. But a warning, it is delightfully inept and predictably obtuse because in a critical piece, emotions can never be allowed to trump fact — the best they can do is to confuse.

The authors, in a previous executive summary of a report upon which the book is an extension, had already made the point that the Israeli Lobby has hijacked US foreign policy. Even in the executive summary the proof was sufficiently compelling to prove the point — and to compel every conservative Jew with a computer to protest.

But Cohen gave it a go anyway. However, the facts he had to debunk proved so difficult, he had no choice but to recruite them:

The argument can be made … that America’s policy of supporting almost anything the Israeli government does — from permitting West Bank settlements to launching disastrous wars such as last summer’s in Lebanon — is no good for Israel, either. Certainly, the so-called Israel lobby, mostly funded and controlled by conservative elements in the American Jewish community, has done Israel no favor by not criticizing West Bank settlements or the harsh treatment of Palestinians. Friends don’t allow friends to build settlements.

Curious, ah? The “an argument can be made …” is the very argument the book is making. As for the “friends don’t allow friends to build settlements,” these one do, in fact the US is helping to pay for the settlement.

By the time you finish the book, you almost have to wonder why anyone in his right mind could find any reason to admire or like Israel. It is always doing the most dastardly things and then looking to Uncle Sam either for money or muscle. It is, no doubt about it, a brat among nations.

True, the author’s very point.

Mearsheimer and Walt are prominent foreign policy realists. Realists bring out the scales for every problem, weighing every element. They are forbiddingly rational — all mind, no heart. To their credit, they were right about opposing the invasion of Iraq, arguing that Saddam Hussein was no threat to America’s national security and that his purported link to al-Qaeda was concocted. And in their fashion they are right, too, about Israel; it is a strategic liability.

So, the authors have admirable bona-fides and are right.

But so, in a way, is Britain. Who needs that soggy isle, scepter’d or not? In a fight, it would be of little consequence. In 2006, Britain spent about $60 billion on its military. The United States spent $529 billion. You could argue, therefore, that Britain is a strategic burden — and some made precisely that argument in the run-up to World War II.

Boy, this is an odd stretch. Britain gave the US its only credibility in Iraq then used much of its $60 billion to support the war effort which, it can easily be argued, was in large measure designed to control the Middle East for the benefit of Israel among others. Calling Britain a strategic burden is preposterous at best.

Who and what are we as a nation if we measure everything by self-interest? Who and what are we as a nation if we abandon our friends, blowing empty kisses to them as we cut them loose? Who and what are we as a nation if we don’t calculate the incalculable: Values? Principles? For me, the answer is plain. This would be an emotionally arid place. I don’t know the national anthem for oil.

If there is any single unifying theme in the non-American world it is this: the selected values and principles of US foreign policy must punish as they support. (see an earlier post Why do they hate us? No one likes a bully.) As for the weird “I don’t know the national anthem for oil,” well, OK, no one else does, either.

So what can be the conclusion to the argument he has failed to make — facts, after all, are facts?

In the end, Mearsheimer and Walt disappoint. They had an observation worth making and a position worth debating. But their argument is so dry, so one-sided — an Israel lobby that leads America around by the nose — they suggest that not only do they not know Israel, they don’t know America, either.

Mearsheimer and Walt, “prominent foreign policy realists,” don’t know America. Could there be a more pathetic rebuke?

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