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Posts For: June 20, 2012

Do Iranians Read “Foreign Affairs”?

In the article in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs that Ira Stoll and Jonathan Neumann discussed, Professor Kenneth Waltz asserts that “if” Iran desires nuclear weapons, the purpose is likely “enhancing its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities.” He is apparently uncertain whether Iran has such a desire but relatively sure about Iran’s intentions if it does. He thinks we have (to use the headings in his article) “Unfounded Fears” and can “Rest Assured” an Iranian bomb will be purely defensive.

Ira called the article “the latest proof that some ideas are so far out there that only Columbia professors believe them.” Only Columbia professors — and perhaps a former University of Chicago lecturer in constitutional law. In 2007, two months into his presidential candidacy, Barack Obama told David Brooks an Iranian bomb would be deterrable: “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.” Several months later, Israel bombed a nuclear plant in Syria for which North Korea had provided plans and personnel, in an area not previously considered part of the North Korean defense perimeter.

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In the article in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs that Ira Stoll and Jonathan Neumann discussed, Professor Kenneth Waltz asserts that “if” Iran desires nuclear weapons, the purpose is likely “enhancing its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities.” He is apparently uncertain whether Iran has such a desire but relatively sure about Iran’s intentions if it does. He thinks we have (to use the headings in his article) “Unfounded Fears” and can “Rest Assured” an Iranian bomb will be purely defensive.

Ira called the article “the latest proof that some ideas are so far out there that only Columbia professors believe them.” Only Columbia professors — and perhaps a former University of Chicago lecturer in constitutional law. In 2007, two months into his presidential candidacy, Barack Obama told David Brooks an Iranian bomb would be deterrable: “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.” Several months later, Israel bombed a nuclear plant in Syria for which North Korea had provided plans and personnel, in an area not previously considered part of the North Korean defense perimeter.

Earlier this year, President Obama told AIPAC “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” It sounds resolute, but days before the speech White House aides told the New York Times Secretary Clinton erred when she assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the policy was to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The administration reiterated to the Washington Post that its red line is not capability but production of a nuclear weapon – what John Bolton has derisively called “just in time” deterrence.

In that connection, we should note what Prof. Waltz considers the three possible outcomes of the current crisis: (1) diplomacy and sanctions convincing Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon – an outcome he thinks unlikely; (2) Iran stopping after developing a breakout capability, allowing it to produce a nuclear weapon in the future on short notice – an outcome he thinks the U.S. and its European allies might accept but that Iran may deem an insufficient deterrent; and (3) Iran continuing its current course and getting a weapon – an outcome repeatedly declared “unacceptable” but which, he notes, has a history:

“Such language is typical of major powers, which have historically gotten riled up whenever another country has begun to develop a nuclear weapon of its own. Yet so far, every time another country has managed to shoulder its way into the nuclear club, the other members have always changed tack and decided to live with it.”

The current negotiations with Iran have the hallmarks of a process too big to fail, no one daring to call it a final failure lest action be required. Iran has seen what the U.S. didn’t do regarding North Korea (under both the Bush and Obama administrations), and may believe President Obama will eventually reinstate his 2007 view, after his “policy” is overtaken by a fait accompli. An election-year AIPAC speech may suffice for American Jews, but Iran is more likely to pay attention to articles such as Professor Waltz’s in Foreign Affairs and bank on post-election flexibility if Obama is re-elected.

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Taking the Views of the Voters into Account

During my appearance earlier this week on a national talk radio talk show, a caller – in the context of how formidable Mitt Romney is as a candidate – argued that the test will be whether Romney criticizes Barack Obama for his pre-presidential associations and voting record. In the last few weeks, I’ve also heard from a friend who thought the president’s critics should focus attention on Obama’s association with the radical New Party (for more, see Stanley Kurtz’s fine piece here). And still others have argued with me that Obama’s failure to produce his transcripts from college ought to be a focal point of the election.

My answer in each case is this: Among the challenges in politics is to remind oneself that issues we think are of major importance aren’t always what much of the public thinks are issues of major importance. In other words, you could believe that Obama’s association with the New Party is relevant in terms of his past and current policies – but much of the public might simply disagree. A campaign has to pursue strategies that are effective — and no campaign manager worth his salt will spend valuable time fighting to convince the public they should care about an issue they don’t much care about.

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During my appearance earlier this week on a national talk radio talk show, a caller – in the context of how formidable Mitt Romney is as a candidate – argued that the test will be whether Romney criticizes Barack Obama for his pre-presidential associations and voting record. In the last few weeks, I’ve also heard from a friend who thought the president’s critics should focus attention on Obama’s association with the radical New Party (for more, see Stanley Kurtz’s fine piece here). And still others have argued with me that Obama’s failure to produce his transcripts from college ought to be a focal point of the election.

My answer in each case is this: Among the challenges in politics is to remind oneself that issues we think are of major importance aren’t always what much of the public thinks are issues of major importance. In other words, you could believe that Obama’s association with the New Party is relevant in terms of his past and current policies – but much of the public might simply disagree. A campaign has to pursue strategies that are effective — and no campaign manager worth his salt will spend valuable time fighting to convince the public they should care about an issue they don’t much care about.

There’s an argument to be made that there’s much in Obama’s past that is not only legitimate to discuss but foreshadowed his presidency. Still, that doesn’t make it a wise tactic to use in an election in which (a) the public is already quite familiar with the incumbent (the result being that revelations about his distant past won’t move the needle in terms of their views toward him) and (b) the incumbent has amassed an indefensible record on the economy, which is far and away the issue most on the minds of the voters. Independents in particular would probably be turned off by all this, judging it to be a petty distraction from the issues that are most on their minds.

To reiterate: this doesn’t make Obama’s past off-limits or irrelevant. And those who spend their life commenting on politics have every right to delve into these matters. It simply means that if Republicans running for office hope to win, they’ll align their campaign with the issues the voters consider predominant.

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Obama’s Surprise Decision and the Media

There have been some great examples of mainstream reporting on Fast and Furious, but for the most part the MSM has brushed it off as a puffed-up controversy kept alive by Republicans who enjoy antagonizing Eric Holder. Now that President Obama has started acting as if the White House has something to hide, it seems very possible that the long-held conservative suspicions are right — this isn’t a manufactured political issue, but one that could go into much deeper, shadier territory than initially thought.

If Obama was truly concerned about the investigation becoming a political distraction — as the White House maintains — then why would he insert himself into the controversy and throw fuel on the fire?

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There have been some great examples of mainstream reporting on Fast and Furious, but for the most part the MSM has brushed it off as a puffed-up controversy kept alive by Republicans who enjoy antagonizing Eric Holder. Now that President Obama has started acting as if the White House has something to hide, it seems very possible that the long-held conservative suspicions are right — this isn’t a manufactured political issue, but one that could go into much deeper, shadier territory than initially thought.

If Obama was truly concerned about the investigation becoming a political distraction — as the White House maintains — then why would he insert himself into the controversy and throw fuel on the fire?

House Speaker John Boehner is apparently wondering the same thing:

“Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding ‘Fast and Furious’ were confined to the Department of Justice,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.

“The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed. The Administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?” Buck said.

Administration officials dispute the implication, pointing to several cases under Republican administrations where executive privilege was invoked on behalf of agencies.

If Obama’s White House is trying to shield its participation in Fast and Furious or a subsequent cover up, that runs counter to a Watergate-era Supreme Court ruling, which holds that executive privilege can’t be used to obscure wrongdoing. Todd Gaziano writes at the Heritage Foundation:

First, the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon (1974) held that executive privilege cannot be invoked at all if the purpose is to shield wrongdoing. The courts held that Nixon’s purported invocation of executive privilege was illegitimate, in part, for that reason. There is reason to suspect that this might be the case in the Fast and Furious cover-up and stonewalling effort. Congress needs to get to the bottom of that question to prevent an illegal invocation of executive privilege and further abuses of power. That will require an index of the withheld documents and an explanation of why each of them is covered by executive privilege—and more.

Will the media accept the White House’s defense that it’s simply trying to stop a political witch hunt? Or will Obama’s surprise decision to invoke executive privilege be the catalyst that finally springs this story into the mainstream?

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What is the Obama Administration Hiding, and Why Are They Hiding It?

Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

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Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

In a memo today from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, we’re informed, “The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation.”

Grassley went on to make this statement:

This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.

So let’s consider where we are. Congress has been misled several times by the Attorney General. We don’t yet know if Holder committed perjury or was simply incompetent in making the claims he did. But we do know that President Obama, who was once a harsh critic of executive privilege when it came to his predecessor, has suddenly discovered a real fondness for it. Obama, in fact, is now invoking executive privilege in order to prevent Congress for getting the documents it needs in order to investigate a program that was, by any measure, a scandalous failure that led to the deaths of innocent Americans and Mexicans.

Which raises these questions: As Alana noted earlier, what is the Obama administration hiding? And why are they hiding it?

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SCOTUS Clerks Say Mandate Will Be Nixed

Via WaPo’s Sarah Kliff, this is a big shift from what we saw in the last poll of Supreme Court clerks:

A new poll of 56 former Supreme Court clerks finds that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned. That’s a 22-point jump from the last time the same group of clerks was surveyed, right before oral arguments. Back then, 35 percent thought the court would toss out the required purchase of health insurance.

Most of the clerks found the Supreme Court’s questioning to be more skeptical than they had expected. As one clerk put it to Purple Strategies’ Doug Schoen, who conducted the research, “I feel like a dope, because I was one of those who predicted that the Court would uphold the statute by a lopsided majority…it now appears pretty likely that this prediction was way off.”

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Via WaPo’s Sarah Kliff, this is a big shift from what we saw in the last poll of Supreme Court clerks:

A new poll of 56 former Supreme Court clerks finds that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned. That’s a 22-point jump from the last time the same group of clerks was surveyed, right before oral arguments. Back then, 35 percent thought the court would toss out the required purchase of health insurance.

Most of the clerks found the Supreme Court’s questioning to be more skeptical than they had expected. As one clerk put it to Purple Strategies’ Doug Schoen, who conducted the research, “I feel like a dope, because I was one of those who predicted that the Court would uphold the statute by a lopsided majority…it now appears pretty likely that this prediction was way off.”

The change among law clerks reflects change in conventional wisdom that the mandate now seems more likely to be struck down. Even if the Supreme Court just strikes the mandate and leaves the rest intact, Republicans have vowed to dismantle the entire law. This isn’t a fight the administration is going to give up easily, and they’ve already started a PR push about the job-creating benefits of the health care law. Health and Human Services issued this press release today:

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced awards of new grants made possible by the health care law to expand community health centers. The grants awarded to 219 health centers will help expand access to care for more than 1.25 million additional patients and create approximately 5,640 jobs by establishing new health center service delivery sites. …

Health centers are also an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many underserved and low-income communities. In 2011, health centers employed more than 138,000 staff including: 9,900 physicians, 6,900 nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and certified nurse midwives, 11,800 nurses, 10,300 dental staff, 4,400 behavioral health staff; and more than 12,500 case managers, health education, outreach and transportation staff.

In other words, if you want to repeal and replace ObamaCare, then you’re against job creation and health care in low-income communities.

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Romney’s Hispanic Outreach Ad

Specifically, Romney’s new ad focuses on the disproportionate impact the economic downturn has had on the Hispanic community. Eleven percent are unemployed, compared with around eight percent for the public at large (h/t Dan Halper):

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Specifically, Romney’s new ad focuses on the disproportionate impact the economic downturn has had on the Hispanic community. Eleven percent are unemployed, compared with around eight percent for the public at large (h/t Dan Halper):

The Romney camp clearly hopes it can win over Hispanic voters with its economic message, and for good reason. Hispanic voters consistently cite jobs and the economy as their top election concerns, despite the political emphasis on immigration. But that doesn’t mean the Romney campaign can solely rely on economic issues to woo Hispanic voters and avoid coming up with a clear and consistent message on immigration.

Read Ruben Navarette on Romney’s stilted immigration outreach today. Navarette, as usual, makes good points. It’s a contradiction for the Romney camp to blast Obama about his new deportation guidelines, and then act as if immigration is not a key issue for Hispanics when faced with questions about Romney’s own proposed policies.

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Executive Power Grab on F&F Documents

Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

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Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

The Department of Justice and the Obama administration is going to try to defend this as a necessary response to a baldly political witch hunt by House Republicans. But will the public buy that at this point? Not only are there numerous signs of behind-the-scenes shadiness that we already know about — the timing inconsistencies, Holder’s misstatements — there’s also the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the top of the story. Is the Obama administration actually going to argue that the family of Agent Brian Terry doesn’t deserve to know the full circumstances surrounding his death?

Obama’s assertion of executive privilege turned this from a political back-and-forth between the DOJ and a congressional committee into a full-blown scandal ensnaring the president. What exactly is hiding in those papers that pushed Obama to take this risk?

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Can Pawlenty Broaden His Appeal?

Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico have stories today on the rising stock of Tim Pawlenty as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, and whether that increases his odds of being asked to join the GOP ticket. Though the Romney campaign claimed at first it was casting a very wide net for the VP slot, that doesn’t appear to (still) be the case. If, as recent reports indicate, Marco Rubio is out of the running, Pawlenty’s buzz seems to have survived a process that has narrowed the field quite a bit; that alone is reason to think he’s being considered seriously.

And the Journal and Politico stories note the obvious Pawlenty appeal: modest roots; easygoing and personable; executive experience; blue-collar bona fides; and his friendship with Romney. Pawlenty has always been a charmer–in person. But one of the main reasons his candidacy’s value didn’t translate from the paper to the stage was his seeming inability to project his charisma to a national audience. In Mike Allen and Evan Thomas’s e-book about the GOP presidential primaries, the authors write that Pawlenty didn’t seem to be enjoying the national circus at all:

One of Pawlenty’s top advisers questioned whether the candidate’s heart was really in the race. Pawlenty always seemed to want to get back to the hotel to see if there was a good hockey game he could watch in the sports bar with this body man, this adviser said. On the day before the Ames, Iowa, straw poll on August 13, 2011, which the Pawlenty team had targeted as make-or-break, with thousands of hands still to shake, Pawlenty wanted to quit early, said this adviser. His spokesman, Alex Conant, did not dispute this, though he offered a more benign explanation. “Unlike every candidate I’ve ever worked for, he wanted to make sure that there was ample downtime and that the days were not so long that by the end of them he was not making sense anymore,” said Conant.

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Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico have stories today on the rising stock of Tim Pawlenty as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, and whether that increases his odds of being asked to join the GOP ticket. Though the Romney campaign claimed at first it was casting a very wide net for the VP slot, that doesn’t appear to (still) be the case. If, as recent reports indicate, Marco Rubio is out of the running, Pawlenty’s buzz seems to have survived a process that has narrowed the field quite a bit; that alone is reason to think he’s being considered seriously.

And the Journal and Politico stories note the obvious Pawlenty appeal: modest roots; easygoing and personable; executive experience; blue-collar bona fides; and his friendship with Romney. Pawlenty has always been a charmer–in person. But one of the main reasons his candidacy’s value didn’t translate from the paper to the stage was his seeming inability to project his charisma to a national audience. In Mike Allen and Evan Thomas’s e-book about the GOP presidential primaries, the authors write that Pawlenty didn’t seem to be enjoying the national circus at all:

One of Pawlenty’s top advisers questioned whether the candidate’s heart was really in the race. Pawlenty always seemed to want to get back to the hotel to see if there was a good hockey game he could watch in the sports bar with this body man, this adviser said. On the day before the Ames, Iowa, straw poll on August 13, 2011, which the Pawlenty team had targeted as make-or-break, with thousands of hands still to shake, Pawlenty wanted to quit early, said this adviser. His spokesman, Alex Conant, did not dispute this, though he offered a more benign explanation. “Unlike every candidate I’ve ever worked for, he wanted to make sure that there was ample downtime and that the days were not so long that by the end of them he was not making sense anymore,” said Conant.

When I wrote about this in November, I suggested Pawlenty may have been a bit too “normal” for a presidential campaign. Politico’s story paints Pawlenty as having much more fun as a Romney surrogate than as a candidate, which is a good sign he is more relaxed. But if he is chosen for the vice presidential nomination, he’ll have to go back to campaigning rigorously on his own–as well as Romney’s–behalf, if only because of the increased level of scrutiny to which Republican vice presidential picks are subjected.

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The Reality of Structural Realism

To add to Ira Stoll’s post criticizing Kenneth Waltz’s op-ed reassuring us that Iranian nukes are not worrisome, it’s important to put Waltz’s remarks in context. Specifically, they must be understood within the neorealist school of international relations which he – a highly respected academic – effectively founded.

Neorealism, or Structural Realism, considers the actions of states to be conditioned by the structure of the international system, which is fundamentally anarchic. The struggle against anarchy determines the policy of states, which all ultimately seek security. That means that when one state rises in power, others will seek to balance that power. Hence Waltz’s view that the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons is motivated by concern about Israel’s alleged nuclear capability, and that, upon achieving parity, there will be balance and stability. Read More

To add to Ira Stoll’s post criticizing Kenneth Waltz’s op-ed reassuring us that Iranian nukes are not worrisome, it’s important to put Waltz’s remarks in context. Specifically, they must be understood within the neorealist school of international relations which he – a highly respected academic – effectively founded.

Neorealism, or Structural Realism, considers the actions of states to be conditioned by the structure of the international system, which is fundamentally anarchic. The struggle against anarchy determines the policy of states, which all ultimately seek security. That means that when one state rises in power, others will seek to balance that power. Hence Waltz’s view that the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons is motivated by concern about Israel’s alleged nuclear capability, and that, upon achieving parity, there will be balance and stability.

The problem with structural realism – its limited analytic value notwithstanding – (as with all structural theories) is that it largely evacuates notions of ideas and agency from world affairs: facts such as Israel’s democratic politics as compared with Iranian theocracy, or the caprices of dictators, or domestic politics, and so forth, do not drastically change a state’s aspirations and behavior. Yet these facts are so critical to any reasonable observer – and, in the case of the Middle East, that includes all the Arab regimes, who have never shown the sort of alarm toward Israel’s supposed nuclear capability that they have toward Iran’s. This reality fatally undermines Waltz’s thesis.

Incidentally, the case of Israel has also undermined the approach of another structural realist, John Mearsheimer. Though his perspective differs slightly from Waltz’s, his obsession with the power of the ‘‘Israel lobby’’ in the United States is inconsistent with his theory that domestic politics are largely irrelevant to the actions of states.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Israel, anomalous in so many ways, has ruptured the theories of both of these leading IR theorists. In Mearsheimer’s case, he has in effect abandoned his entire life’s work by indulging his prejudice; in Waltz’s case, he has illustrated the poverty of his theory by presenting such an outlandish analysis and offering policy prescriptions so disconnected from reality.

This is important to remember when encountering academics who are unsympathetic or hostile to Israel: sometimes the scholar’s view is simply the product of a broader theoretical perspective. That of course doesn’t make the theory correct – after all, these scholars do work in ivory towers – but it does mitigate the nefariousness of their intentions. That said, sometimes they really are just haters.

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