Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel lobby

The Legend of George Kennan

Has there ever been a celebrated American official whose contribution to a successful policy has been more overrated than George Kennan? I can’t think of one. Kennan is, and it seems he will forever be, credited with crafting Harry Truman’s “containment” policy toward the Soviet Union. What actually happened–which Kennan tried to explain–was that Kennan provided the outline of an approach to foreign policy that Truman and various other advisors refashioned into a successful policy that Kennan deplored and never truly understood.

Whether it’s condescension toward Truman, a plain-speaking Midwesterner with no college degree, or fascination with the intellectualization of elite opinion whose supposed erudition frees it from the responsibility to be sound or successful, Kennan has been given this legacy against his will. I think it’s a combination of the two, but the latter–the intellectualization to the point of fetishization–is hard to ignore these days, ubiquitous as it is in the age of Obama. This is a president whose policies are disastrous but who was president of the Harvard Law Review and uses the phrase “permission structure” (“The phrase puzzled reporters,” explained a puzzled reporter) when dismissing the democratic process, so the assumption has always been that there’s a method to the madness.

Perhaps there is a method. But presidents make foreign policy, as Kennan learned the hard way. So while there might be a “doctrine” behind the policy, there isn’t likely to be a muse, even when there appears to be one. And that’s probably what Kennan would say to the suggestion, made in an otherwise shrewd assessment of Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East, that “the Kennan of Obama’s Middle East policy is Stephen Walt.” The column is from Lee Smith, the consistently incisive authority on the Middle East. Smith notes that Walt, whose “Israel lobby” blathering is sold as “realism,” has special concern about the way special relationships (like the U.S. has with Israel) can impede traditional balance-of-power strategy:

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Has there ever been a celebrated American official whose contribution to a successful policy has been more overrated than George Kennan? I can’t think of one. Kennan is, and it seems he will forever be, credited with crafting Harry Truman’s “containment” policy toward the Soviet Union. What actually happened–which Kennan tried to explain–was that Kennan provided the outline of an approach to foreign policy that Truman and various other advisors refashioned into a successful policy that Kennan deplored and never truly understood.

Whether it’s condescension toward Truman, a plain-speaking Midwesterner with no college degree, or fascination with the intellectualization of elite opinion whose supposed erudition frees it from the responsibility to be sound or successful, Kennan has been given this legacy against his will. I think it’s a combination of the two, but the latter–the intellectualization to the point of fetishization–is hard to ignore these days, ubiquitous as it is in the age of Obama. This is a president whose policies are disastrous but who was president of the Harvard Law Review and uses the phrase “permission structure” (“The phrase puzzled reporters,” explained a puzzled reporter) when dismissing the democratic process, so the assumption has always been that there’s a method to the madness.

Perhaps there is a method. But presidents make foreign policy, as Kennan learned the hard way. So while there might be a “doctrine” behind the policy, there isn’t likely to be a muse, even when there appears to be one. And that’s probably what Kennan would say to the suggestion, made in an otherwise shrewd assessment of Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East, that “the Kennan of Obama’s Middle East policy is Stephen Walt.” The column is from Lee Smith, the consistently incisive authority on the Middle East. Smith notes that Walt, whose “Israel lobby” blathering is sold as “realism,” has special concern about the way special relationships (like the U.S. has with Israel) can impede traditional balance-of-power strategy:

It is the focus on the impediment posed by these “special relationships” to realist balance-of-power policymaking that distinguishes Walt from virtually every other American in the realist school. Sure, former policymakers like Jim Baker have lamented the influence of Jewish Americans on American policymaking—but compared to Walt, Baker was a squish. It was Walt whose 2006 London Review of Books article “The Israel Lobby,” co-authored with University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, later expanded into a controversial book with the same title, first targeted the problem directly: The pro-Israel community needs to be cut down to size.

Unlike Kennan, a career diplomat, or Baker, a former secretary of state, Walt doesn’t have a formal role in government, or even any privileged access to this White House. But his ideas have nevertheless emerged at the core of a major shift in U.S. Middle East policy, which may come as a surprise to those who dismissed him as a fringe academic. The idea certainly isn’t pleasant for this columnist, who’s documented Walt’s dog-whistling blog posts meant to draw anti-Semites and anti-anti-Semites to his FP.com column, but it’s hard to dismiss his influence now. So, I tip my hat to the new George Kennan, for whether you love him or hate him, Stephen Walt has won the X sweepstakes.

Smith’s column is spot-on when describing the way the president relishes an opportunity to mute the pro-Israel voices in Washington and, when necessary, throw the occasional brushback pitch up and in. But the more encouraging aspect to the column is the memory of the Kennan-Truman collaboration it evokes–not the one of legend, but the real story.

Why did Kennan come to so dislike a policy with which he was credited? When Truman announced what became known as the Truman Doctrine, an appeal to Congress for funding to aid Greece and Turkey, the president said: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

As Truman biographer Robert J. Donovan notes, “This was the epitome of containment, although not the beginning of it.” But in fact Kennan objected to the sentence on the grounds that it was universalist, not the unprincipled realism he so preferred. It was also ideological, at odds with Kennan’s perspective as well. Kennan was not the only advisor spooked by the commitment Truman was seeking to make on behalf of the United States, so why did that line, and that commitment, stay in the speech?

Because Truman understood that his audience–the people and especially their congressional representatives–were more comfortable with a policy that reflected their values. Americans didn’t care about the fate of the postwar Greek government nearly as much as they cared about democracy and liberty–ideas and ideals worth fighting for. Kennan’s realism rarely made room for ideology, and never made room for values. It was no coincidence that he also wasn’t particularly fond of popular democracy. He thought he knew better than the masses. He was wrong.

The same is true with Walt, Obama, and other such cynical realists. Walt’s conspiracist mindset may also animate the White House’s destructive approach to the Middle East, but it fails time and again to move Congress and the public away from our allies like Israel not because of some all-powerful congressional lobby, but because the people and their representatives believe that yes, actually, Western values and democratic politics are important. Contra Walt, Israel is most certainly a strategic ally. But why stop there? Israel and America share a moral bond too. Kennan would likely disapprove of such sentimentality. And he’d be every bit as wrong now as he was then.

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Obama, Iran, and the Jews Reconsidered

President Obama hasn’t made it easy on his Jewish supporters. Conservative critics—and if polls are right, the majority of Israelis—have always doubted his intentions toward the Jewish state and suspected him of either tilting toward the Palestinians or, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller memorably put it, someone who was “not in love with the idea of Israel.” But for the majority of American Jews who remain loyal Democrats and liberals, Obama was, at worst, a satisfactory ally of Israel, and, at best, the misunderstood victim of smears. At times, the president’s penchant for picking fights with the Netanyahu government over settlements, borders, and even a consensus Jewish issue like Jerusalem caused some liberal true believers like lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz to worry about his intentions. But even when the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem was at its worst during the past five years, the president’s supporters could point to the issue of paramount importance to Israel’s security and claim with some justification that he was as solid an ally as could be asked.

That issue was, of course, the Iranian nuclear threat, and from the earliest days of his first presidential campaign, Obama had made it clear that he would never allow them to gain a nuclear weapon. Though he had also mentioned his desire for a rapprochement with Iran in that first campaign, the president’s rhetoric on Iran was consistent and strong. Critics could point to failed efforts at engagement, his slowness to back tough sanctions, and his reliance on a shaky diplomatic process as undermining that rhetoric. Yet administration backers like columnist Jeffrey Goldberg continued to make the case that on this point there could be no doubting the president’s resolve.

But in the wake of this past weekend’s nuclear agreement with Iran and the evidence that the president has not only ignored Israel’s concerns about the deal (as well as those of Saudi Arabia) but appears to want a détente with Tehran that will upend America’s entire stance on the Middle East, it’s fair to say that the president has put his backers into a new and even more difficult test. Liberals may be lining up to take Obama and Secretary of State Kerry at their word that they have not given up their determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and even accept the claim that the deal makes Israel safer. But given the administration’s acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and its apparent belief that it is unrealistic to think that Tehran can be forced to give up its nuclear program, belief in its bona fides on this issue can no longer be considered anything more than a leap of faith. At this point, American friends of Israel as well as those who understand the grave threat that Iran poses to U.S. interests and security need to face the fact that this president has abandoned them.

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President Obama hasn’t made it easy on his Jewish supporters. Conservative critics—and if polls are right, the majority of Israelis—have always doubted his intentions toward the Jewish state and suspected him of either tilting toward the Palestinians or, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller memorably put it, someone who was “not in love with the idea of Israel.” But for the majority of American Jews who remain loyal Democrats and liberals, Obama was, at worst, a satisfactory ally of Israel, and, at best, the misunderstood victim of smears. At times, the president’s penchant for picking fights with the Netanyahu government over settlements, borders, and even a consensus Jewish issue like Jerusalem caused some liberal true believers like lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz to worry about his intentions. But even when the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem was at its worst during the past five years, the president’s supporters could point to the issue of paramount importance to Israel’s security and claim with some justification that he was as solid an ally as could be asked.

That issue was, of course, the Iranian nuclear threat, and from the earliest days of his first presidential campaign, Obama had made it clear that he would never allow them to gain a nuclear weapon. Though he had also mentioned his desire for a rapprochement with Iran in that first campaign, the president’s rhetoric on Iran was consistent and strong. Critics could point to failed efforts at engagement, his slowness to back tough sanctions, and his reliance on a shaky diplomatic process as undermining that rhetoric. Yet administration backers like columnist Jeffrey Goldberg continued to make the case that on this point there could be no doubting the president’s resolve.

But in the wake of this past weekend’s nuclear agreement with Iran and the evidence that the president has not only ignored Israel’s concerns about the deal (as well as those of Saudi Arabia) but appears to want a détente with Tehran that will upend America’s entire stance on the Middle East, it’s fair to say that the president has put his backers into a new and even more difficult test. Liberals may be lining up to take Obama and Secretary of State Kerry at their word that they have not given up their determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and even accept the claim that the deal makes Israel safer. But given the administration’s acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and its apparent belief that it is unrealistic to think that Tehran can be forced to give up its nuclear program, belief in its bona fides on this issue can no longer be considered anything more than a leap of faith. At this point, American friends of Israel as well as those who understand the grave threat that Iran poses to U.S. interests and security need to face the fact that this president has abandoned them.

The disappointment must be especially acute for Goldberg, who has continued to insist that Obama should be trusted on Iran, even insisting that he would, if push came to shove, order air strikes or do whatever it took to make good on his pledge. Thus, to read the latest Bloomberg column from this respected journalist is to see what happens when leaders cut their supporters off at the knees. Though the president has made Goldberg’s previous defenses of his Iran policy look silly, he is still hoping that the bottom line here won’t be complete betrayal and therefore tries weakly to rationalize or minimize what has just happened.

Goldberg’s position now is that demands for Iran to give up its nuclear program are unrealistic. That’s a new position for him, as he has never doubted that Iran’s goal was a weapon, a point that he doesn’t abandon even in his latest column when he rightly reminds us that, “Iran’s leaders are lying” about being only interested in a peaceful program. But also new is his belief that the crushing sanctions on Iran that he has been advocating for years would never bring about Iran’s capitulation. Thus he finds himself lamely accepting the administration’s excuse that a weak deal that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and does nothing to roll back the tremendous progress it has achieved on Obama’s watch is “the least-worst option.”

He justifies this surrender of principle by assuring himself, if not us, that Iran won’t take advantage of the opening Obama has given them. An even greater leap is his suggestion that after investing so much effort in this diplomatic campaign, the administration “might just have to walk away” from its new relationship with Iran once it realizes than Hassan Rouhani and the supposed moderates aren’t in charge in Tehran. This is absurd because, as reports about the secret diplomatic track that led to this agreement tell us, Obama’s efforts to make nice with Iran preceded Rouhani’s victory in the regime’s faux presidential election.

Equally absurd is his fainthearted attempt to reassure himself that “everything that has happened over these past months may not amount to anything at all.” Having gambled this much on appeasement of Iran, the administration isn’t backing off. No matter what tricks the Iranians pull in the next six months of talks, they know they’ve got the U.S. hooked and won’t let go. The future of the sanctions regime that neither Obama nor the Europeans ever really wanted is much more in question than Iran’s nuclear program. Only a fool would trust Iran’s word on this issue or believe that once they start to unravel, sanctions could be re-imposed.

All this puts American Jewish supporters of Israel like Goldberg in a tough position.

Liberal critics of Israel, like the J Street lobby that was set up to support Obama’s efforts to pressure the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians, will instinctively back the president in any argument with Netanyahu. And it is true that most Americans are not terribly interested in involving the U.S. in yet another foreign conflict and may accept Obama and Kerry’s false argument that the alternative to a weak deal was war.

But mainstream American Jewish groups, and even most of their moderate and liberal supporters, understand what happened this past weekend was more than just another spat in a basically solid relationship. Try as they might, Obama and Kerry will be hard-pressed to persuade most supporters of Israel that they have the country’s best interests at heart as they embark on a road whose only main goal is to normalize relations with Iran.

Though American supporters of the Jewish state loved his rhetoric during his visit to Israel last spring, the president’s goal here has been to isolate America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. As Goldberg aptly pointed out, one of Obama’s prime objectives has been to ensure that Israel cannot act on its own or even in concert with some of its unlikely Arab allies of convenience against Iran. Indeed, that appears to be the only American objective that has actually been achieved with this agreement.

That is why Israel’s supporters cannot hesitate about backing congressional efforts to increase sanctions on Iran despite administration resistance. Jewish leaders were lied to earlier this month when senior officials tried to convince them to back off on lobbying for sanctions (an effort that met with at least partial success at first). They also lied to Netanyahu for months while Obama’s envoys were talking to Iran behind Israel’s back.

Obama has worried Jewish supporters before, but never has he so ruthlessly undermined their faith. The choice for the pro-Israel community is clear. It can, like Goldberg has done, redefine its objectives, and concede defeat on stopping Iran and/or pretend nothing has happened. Or it can find its collective voice and speak out against a terrible betrayal that gives the lie to every Obama statement about stopping Iran. If it chooses the latter, these groups will face the usual “Israel Lobby” calumnies from anti-Semites and Israel-haters who will claim they are undermining U.S. interests. But they cannot take counsel of their fears or be silenced. If they do, they will look back on this moment when it was still possible to mobilize congressional action against this betrayal with regret.

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Hagel and the “Israel Lobby”

If there is any message to come out of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, perhaps it is a refutation of the commonly heard charge, made most infamously by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and echoed by Hagel himself, that the dread “Jewish lobby” insidiously controls American foreign policy. How strong can this lobby be if it failed to block the appointment as defense secretary of someone who was widely seen (rightly or wrongly) as inimical to Israeli interests?

As Lee Smith notes in a typically thoughtful column, AIPAC–the most powerful pro-Israel group in Washington–actually sat out the whole fight ostensibly because it wants to affect policy, not personnel decisions. But it’s also possible that it sat out the fight because it knew that it would lose; indeed after Chuck Schumer gave his blessing to Hagel, there was no realistic chance of stopping his nomination absent a unified Republican filibuster–which was never likely to last for more than a few days. And certainly other pro-Israel groups, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, did go all-out to try to stop Hagel.

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If there is any message to come out of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, perhaps it is a refutation of the commonly heard charge, made most infamously by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and echoed by Hagel himself, that the dread “Jewish lobby” insidiously controls American foreign policy. How strong can this lobby be if it failed to block the appointment as defense secretary of someone who was widely seen (rightly or wrongly) as inimical to Israeli interests?

As Lee Smith notes in a typically thoughtful column, AIPAC–the most powerful pro-Israel group in Washington–actually sat out the whole fight ostensibly because it wants to affect policy, not personnel decisions. But it’s also possible that it sat out the fight because it knew that it would lose; indeed after Chuck Schumer gave his blessing to Hagel, there was no realistic chance of stopping his nomination absent a unified Republican filibuster–which was never likely to last for more than a few days. And certainly other pro-Israel groups, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, did go all-out to try to stop Hagel.

Pro-Israel groups have failed not only on this front, but on others. They have hardly been able to dictate American policy even on their (and Israel’s) top issue: the Iranian nuclear program. True, Congress has passed and President Obama has reluctantly signed tough sanctions. But just last week the U.S. and other Western states were negotiating with the Iranians in Kazakhstan and even offering concessions to coax them into a deal.

This is a far cry from what Israel–and for that matter America’s Gulf Arab allies–would like to see, which is American air strikes to cripple the Iranian nuclear program. Indeed, given the pace at which Iran continues to advance its nuclear designs, it seems likely that only such military action can stop it from acquiring the bomb. But the odds of such strikes under an Obama administration were close to nil even before Hagel took over Defense; they are even lower today. Of course the Iranian mullahs know this, and it will only feed their intransigence.

There are, to be sure, valid arguments for not bombing the Iranian nuclear program. But suffice it to say that if the “Zionist Lobby” actually ran American foreign policy–as so many seem to imagine–it is puzzling why such strikes have not yet been undertaken. Or why in 2007 the Bush administration refused to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, as advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney, leaving that task to the Israeli Air Force. By contrast the U.S. did go to war in the last decade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and to a lesser extent (via drone strikes) in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. While Israel was not opposed to any of those interventions, it was not particularly in favor of any of them either. It would take an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist of great imagination to come up with any plausible Israeli role in any of these military actions.

There are, of course, numerous other instances of U.S. policymakers acting in ways opposed by pro-Israel advocates–from the days when the George H.W. Bush administration was pressuring Israel over settlements (remember Jim Baker telling Israel’s government: “Everybody over there should know that the telephone number [of the White House] is 1-202-456-1414. When you’re serious about peace, call us”), to the Obama administration doing the same.

The notion that the Jews–or, as they are more politely described, “pro-Israel lobbyists” or “Zionists”–are in control of U.S. foreign policy has always been a fantasy, of course, and a particularly malign one. Like most such conspiracy theories it is impossible to refute, so no doubt the Mearsheimers and Walts of the world will find some convoluted explanation of why “The Lobby” is actually getting what it wants even when it is plainly not achieving its goals, such as stopping Hagel’s confirmation. Whatever they come up with, it should be good.

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Church of England Doesn’t Like Pushy Jews

While Americans have successfully fought back against the attempts of Israel-haters to get mainline Christian churches here to support boycotts of the Jewish state, their English cousins are not as successful. As Miriam Shaviv reports in the Times of Israel, the Church of England not only refused to back off its endorsement of a biased program that sought to indoctrinate Christians visiting the Middle East to support the Palestinians against Israel, many of its members took offense at the efforts of English Jews to get them to change their minds.

This controversy showed the level of animosity for Israel that is entrenched in the culture of the state-supported Anglican hierarchy. But it also may betray the barely disguised anti-Semitism that runs through European and English discourse about Israel and Jews. This story may sum up in a nutshell the starkly different predicaments of American and English Jews. As one bishop pointed out, the problem wasn’t just that the Anglican bishops, clerics and laity are predisposed to think ill of Israel. It was also that they were offended by the lobbying efforts of Jews to get them to look at the issue differently. Apparently, the spectacle of Jews standing up for themselves rather than keeping quiet or, as is the case with a vocal but not insubstantial minority of British Jews, joining the chorus of Israel-bashers, was too much for them to stand.

As Shaviv writes, the Bishop of Manchester pointed out that the defeat was at least partially the fault of the Jews:

“A few people said that all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way,” said the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, who is chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest Jewish-Christian interfaith group. “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community. The CCJ actually warned against this, as we know how the Synod works and it’s not a good way to get things done.”

Though McCulloch denies that anti-Semitism was in play, he admitted the debate about the issue and his attempts to forge a compromise included references to the influence of a “powerful lobby,” which is an allusion to Jewish efforts to persuade the Church not to take sides against Israel.

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While Americans have successfully fought back against the attempts of Israel-haters to get mainline Christian churches here to support boycotts of the Jewish state, their English cousins are not as successful. As Miriam Shaviv reports in the Times of Israel, the Church of England not only refused to back off its endorsement of a biased program that sought to indoctrinate Christians visiting the Middle East to support the Palestinians against Israel, many of its members took offense at the efforts of English Jews to get them to change their minds.

This controversy showed the level of animosity for Israel that is entrenched in the culture of the state-supported Anglican hierarchy. But it also may betray the barely disguised anti-Semitism that runs through European and English discourse about Israel and Jews. This story may sum up in a nutshell the starkly different predicaments of American and English Jews. As one bishop pointed out, the problem wasn’t just that the Anglican bishops, clerics and laity are predisposed to think ill of Israel. It was also that they were offended by the lobbying efforts of Jews to get them to look at the issue differently. Apparently, the spectacle of Jews standing up for themselves rather than keeping quiet or, as is the case with a vocal but not insubstantial minority of British Jews, joining the chorus of Israel-bashers, was too much for them to stand.

As Shaviv writes, the Bishop of Manchester pointed out that the defeat was at least partially the fault of the Jews:

“A few people said that all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way,” said the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, who is chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest Jewish-Christian interfaith group. “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community. The CCJ actually warned against this, as we know how the Synod works and it’s not a good way to get things done.”

Though McCulloch denies that anti-Semitism was in play, he admitted the debate about the issue and his attempts to forge a compromise included references to the influence of a “powerful lobby,” which is an allusion to Jewish efforts to persuade the Church not to take sides against Israel.

What’s curious about this excuse for the victory for Israel’s foes is everyone admitted that the pro-Palestinian forces were lobbying just as hard as the Jews, only no one seemed to mind that or to think there was something sinister about their efforts.

So while Israel-haters in the United States allude to the supposedly all-powerful “Israel lobby” immortalized by the conspiracy theories floated by authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, their counterparts in Britain are a lot stronger. While Jews were rightly disappointed by the narrow margin by which a BDS motion was rejected by the Presbyterian Church USA last week, McCulloch thought the fact that some English clerics actually voted against the anti-Israel measure there was encouraging.

But the real difference is that while most Americans see nothing wrong with Jews assertively standing up for Israel (a stance in which they are joined by the vast majority of their countrymen), many English seem to think there’s something wrong with them doing so.

While we don’t doubt English Jews and their representatives will continue to speak up whenever possible about anti-Israel bias, the political culture in which they are forced to operate works against their efforts. In the United States, the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups are not only more successful but widely admired by all but those marginal groups steeped in hatred of Israel and the Jews. The episode is one more proof that American exceptionalism is no myth.

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Friedman’s Slur Swap Changes Nothing

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

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Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

The interesting thing about Friedman’s rant and his subsequent clarification is not so much his dim view of the Republicans, Netanyahu or even his litany of Israeli sins that, at least in his view, justify American abandonment of Israel. Rather, it is the easy way in which a person who claims to be an ardent supporter of Israel slipped into the traditional themes of Jew-hatred.

Friedman rightly says that dissent against particular Israeli policies does not make him an enemy of the Jewish state. But what we are talking about here is not political give and take but engaging in rhetoric that seeks to smear the state, undermine its right of self-defense and brand those who do back it as acting against America’s best interests. Such rhetoric is anti-Semitic in nature and purpose.

Friedman may think the use of the offending phrase distracted readers from his argument, but he’s wrong about that. At the core of his piece — which contained the astounding suggestion that a left-wing campus such as the University of Wisconsin at Madison is more representative of American opinion than those elected by the people to Congress — is a belief that Israel must be put in its place and that those Americans who speak up for it are supporting a bad cause. He claims his “deep concerns” about Israel’s future and its democracy are well-intended. However, his resentment of Israel’s democratically elected leaders as well as his frustration with the support they are given by both Republicans and Democrats here is enough to blur the distinctions between such a friend of the Jewish state and its enemies. The applause that he has gotten from leftist foes of Zionism speaks volumes about how his writing has now crossed the line from friendly criticism of Israel to delegitimization.

What really ticks Friedman off is Israel’s decision to ignore his advice. That is something the Times columnist cannot abide. While he may not wish to see it destroyed, he clearly believes it should be punished for its temerity.

It remains to be seen whether his attempt to explain himself will allow Friedman to worm his way back into the good graces of liberal Jewish groups that have been paying him generous honorariums for speaking engagements for the last two decades. I wouldn’t bet against it. If groups do continue to honor Friedman in the future, it will be proof that even dabbling in anti-Semitism isn’t enough to wean some Jews from their worship of the Times and its liberal icons.

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Smearing 68% of America

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

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Is Stephen Walt Actually a Realist?

The silly tagline of Stephen Walt’s blog is: “A realist in an ideological age,” the idea being that realists enjoy a more rational and serene understanding of global affairs than the benighted fanatics who do not adopt realism’s scientific outlook on the world.

Before becoming a full-time member of the Anti-Israel Lobby, Walt was an academic specialist in realist IR theory. Two of the central tenets of realism are: 1) domestic politics make little contribution to a state’s formulation of its foreign policy interests — states are “black boxes,” as the saying goes; and, related, 2) states are rational calculators of their national interests (yes, these two ideas are very much in tension, but ignore that for now).

The reason I bring this up is the fervency with which people like Walt — self-proclaimed realists, that is — make arguments at odds with the principles of their creed. One of Walt’s regular assertions is that Israel is incapable of calculating its own interests, or as Walt would put it, that the interests it pursues are self-destructive or harmful to its real interests, as understood by the noted Zionist, Stephen Walt. He writes this constantly, like yesterday, when he claimed: “A two state solution is also the best guarantee of Israel’s long-term future. … Netanyahu, AIPAC and the rest of the “status quo” lobby don’t get that. … these people are false friends of Israel.” A real realist would say that all of this is highly unlikely, or if he did believe that the Israeli government does not understand its own interests, he would be sufficiently curious about this significant aberration to do more than mention it flippantly.

And then there is the role of domestic politics, which Walt believes controls both American and Israeli foreign policy. In America, it is the pernicious influence of the Israel Lobby that perverts the expression of America’s interests in the Middle East, and in Israel, it is the pernicious influence of the settlers and the “greater Israel” ideologues who prevent Israel from withdrawing from various territories and hastening an era of peace and harmony in the Levant. Realist doctrine, of course, allows little space for the idea that domestic constituencies have significant sway over the expression of the national interest. But that is precisely what Walt argues over and over again on his blog. Maybe the tagline should read: “An ideologue in an ideological age.”

The silly tagline of Stephen Walt’s blog is: “A realist in an ideological age,” the idea being that realists enjoy a more rational and serene understanding of global affairs than the benighted fanatics who do not adopt realism’s scientific outlook on the world.

Before becoming a full-time member of the Anti-Israel Lobby, Walt was an academic specialist in realist IR theory. Two of the central tenets of realism are: 1) domestic politics make little contribution to a state’s formulation of its foreign policy interests — states are “black boxes,” as the saying goes; and, related, 2) states are rational calculators of their national interests (yes, these two ideas are very much in tension, but ignore that for now).

The reason I bring this up is the fervency with which people like Walt — self-proclaimed realists, that is — make arguments at odds with the principles of their creed. One of Walt’s regular assertions is that Israel is incapable of calculating its own interests, or as Walt would put it, that the interests it pursues are self-destructive or harmful to its real interests, as understood by the noted Zionist, Stephen Walt. He writes this constantly, like yesterday, when he claimed: “A two state solution is also the best guarantee of Israel’s long-term future. … Netanyahu, AIPAC and the rest of the “status quo” lobby don’t get that. … these people are false friends of Israel.” A real realist would say that all of this is highly unlikely, or if he did believe that the Israeli government does not understand its own interests, he would be sufficiently curious about this significant aberration to do more than mention it flippantly.

And then there is the role of domestic politics, which Walt believes controls both American and Israeli foreign policy. In America, it is the pernicious influence of the Israel Lobby that perverts the expression of America’s interests in the Middle East, and in Israel, it is the pernicious influence of the settlers and the “greater Israel” ideologues who prevent Israel from withdrawing from various territories and hastening an era of peace and harmony in the Levant. Realist doctrine, of course, allows little space for the idea that domestic constituencies have significant sway over the expression of the national interest. But that is precisely what Walt argues over and over again on his blog. Maybe the tagline should read: “An ideologue in an ideological age.”

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A “Liberal” Israel Lobby?

In this month’s Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg offers a “new” strategy for moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward: the establishment of a “liberal Israel lobby.” This lobby would counter the influence of AIPAC, which, Gorenberg argues, is “more hawkish on Middle East politics than most American Jews.” Moreover, rather than focusing on Israel’s “short-term security needs,” this dovish group would lobby the U.S. to press Israel on ending settlement construction, as “The only workable baseline for a peace agreement is a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank, with some minor exchanges of territory.”

There are two major problems with this argument. The first lies in the assumption that American Jews are overwhelmingly dovish on Israel, and therefore poorly represented by AIPAC. Gorenberg’s empirics actually suggest otherwise. For example, seeking to prove American-Jewish dovishness, Gorenberg cites a recent AJC survey that found a 46-43-plurality support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet support for Palestinian statehood is not a particularly dovish position in the U.S. Indeed, it represents a rare instance of Republican-Democratic consensus-and the close divide among American Jews therefore suggests, if anything, a hawkish streak. In this vein, the same survey showed that 58 percent of American Jews opposed compromising on the status of Jerusalem-a step that Israeli-Palestinian peace likely requires no less than the evacuation of most settlements. Gorenberg therefore completely misses the relevance of American Jews’ 57-percent opposition to military action of Iran: rather than suggesting a dovish outlook on Israel, it most likely reflects weariness with the Iraq war, which American Jews now oppose 67-27.

The second major problem lies in the target of Gorenberg’s advocacy. Make no mistake-I’m sympathetic with Gorenberg’s critique of Israel’s settlement policy, and agree that the Bush administration should exert more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fulfill his prior commitment to halt construction. But Gorenberg’s suggestion that an American “liberal Israel lobby” is the best means to affect this change strikes me as odd. After all, any lobbying effort against the Israeli settlement policy should appeal, first and foremost, to the Israeli government and Israel’s voting public-not the U.S., which bears no responsibility for the settlements and has long opposed their construction.

Frankly, by pinning responsibility for Israeli policy on the U.S., Gorenberg echoes Arab voices, who similarly insist that the U.S. must press Israel as a means of changing Israeli policy. Yet there is a key difference. Arabs–who can hardly promote change in their own authoritarian countries–virtually require a deus ex machina if they wish to see immediate changes in Israeli policy. But Gorenberg is an Israeli citizen, with all the voting rights and civil liberties that come with it. He therefore possesses direct levers for influencing Israeli policy, and hardly needs American Jews–a group he misunderstands anyway–to adopt his cause.

In this month’s Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg offers a “new” strategy for moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward: the establishment of a “liberal Israel lobby.” This lobby would counter the influence of AIPAC, which, Gorenberg argues, is “more hawkish on Middle East politics than most American Jews.” Moreover, rather than focusing on Israel’s “short-term security needs,” this dovish group would lobby the U.S. to press Israel on ending settlement construction, as “The only workable baseline for a peace agreement is a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank, with some minor exchanges of territory.”

There are two major problems with this argument. The first lies in the assumption that American Jews are overwhelmingly dovish on Israel, and therefore poorly represented by AIPAC. Gorenberg’s empirics actually suggest otherwise. For example, seeking to prove American-Jewish dovishness, Gorenberg cites a recent AJC survey that found a 46-43-plurality support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet support for Palestinian statehood is not a particularly dovish position in the U.S. Indeed, it represents a rare instance of Republican-Democratic consensus-and the close divide among American Jews therefore suggests, if anything, a hawkish streak. In this vein, the same survey showed that 58 percent of American Jews opposed compromising on the status of Jerusalem-a step that Israeli-Palestinian peace likely requires no less than the evacuation of most settlements. Gorenberg therefore completely misses the relevance of American Jews’ 57-percent opposition to military action of Iran: rather than suggesting a dovish outlook on Israel, it most likely reflects weariness with the Iraq war, which American Jews now oppose 67-27.

The second major problem lies in the target of Gorenberg’s advocacy. Make no mistake-I’m sympathetic with Gorenberg’s critique of Israel’s settlement policy, and agree that the Bush administration should exert more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fulfill his prior commitment to halt construction. But Gorenberg’s suggestion that an American “liberal Israel lobby” is the best means to affect this change strikes me as odd. After all, any lobbying effort against the Israeli settlement policy should appeal, first and foremost, to the Israeli government and Israel’s voting public-not the U.S., which bears no responsibility for the settlements and has long opposed their construction.

Frankly, by pinning responsibility for Israeli policy on the U.S., Gorenberg echoes Arab voices, who similarly insist that the U.S. must press Israel as a means of changing Israeli policy. Yet there is a key difference. Arabs–who can hardly promote change in their own authoritarian countries–virtually require a deus ex machina if they wish to see immediate changes in Israeli policy. But Gorenberg is an Israeli citizen, with all the voting rights and civil liberties that come with it. He therefore possesses direct levers for influencing Israeli policy, and hardly needs American Jews–a group he misunderstands anyway–to adopt his cause.

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The NIE and Neorealism

Norman Podhoretz has already pointed out that the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran “represents a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran’s nuclear program,” which were asserted with equal certitude. But the NIE has another, much more serious, problem.

The NIE asserts that “some combination of threats of intensified scrutiny and pressure”—no problem there—”along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might . . . prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” My first reaction to this was to wonder why, if the U.S. has succeeded in stopping Iran’s program without any bribes, we now need to include them to prevent Tehran from starting it up again, but no matter: the NIE generously admits that it is “difficult” to specify what such a “combination” of threats and opportunities might be. The more fundamental question is whether it is in the interest of the United States—and the world—to purchase (if obtainable) a continued halt at such a price. Since Tehran’s declared goals include eradicating Israel from the face of the earth and spreading the Iranian Revolution across the entire Middle East, the answer must be that it is not.

Deciding that, of course, is not the job of the intelligence community. But the NIE’s description of its rationale for reaching its conclusion about Iran’s malleability is revealing: Tehran, it argues, halted the program in 2003 in response to unspecified “international pressure”—apparently the same kind that bore so heavily on Qaddafi—which indicates that the regime’s decisions are guided by “a cost-benefit approach.”

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Norman Podhoretz has already pointed out that the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran “represents a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran’s nuclear program,” which were asserted with equal certitude. But the NIE has another, much more serious, problem.

The NIE asserts that “some combination of threats of intensified scrutiny and pressure”—no problem there—”along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might . . . prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” My first reaction to this was to wonder why, if the U.S. has succeeded in stopping Iran’s program without any bribes, we now need to include them to prevent Tehran from starting it up again, but no matter: the NIE generously admits that it is “difficult” to specify what such a “combination” of threats and opportunities might be. The more fundamental question is whether it is in the interest of the United States—and the world—to purchase (if obtainable) a continued halt at such a price. Since Tehran’s declared goals include eradicating Israel from the face of the earth and spreading the Iranian Revolution across the entire Middle East, the answer must be that it is not.

Deciding that, of course, is not the job of the intelligence community. But the NIE’s description of its rationale for reaching its conclusion about Iran’s malleability is revealing: Tehran, it argues, halted the program in 2003 in response to unspecified “international pressure”—apparently the same kind that bore so heavily on Qaddafi—which indicates that the regime’s decisions are guided by “a cost-benefit approach.”

I winced when I read that phrase. Does anyone make decisions on that basis? States certainly do not. The phrase belongs to neorealism, to the unitary rational actor approach to the study of decision-making. The broad realist tradition—and a respectable one it is—extends back to Thucydides. Its modern and more limited variant, neorealism, exemplified today by Kenneth Waltz, Stephen Walt, and John Mearsheimer, refuses to try to understand policy-making in all its complexity. Instead, it treats states as billiard balls, ignores their leaders, politics, beliefs, and cultures, and considers only their size, their place on the table, and the position of the other billiard balls.

Neorealism has the advantage of parsimony: because it is based on simple but powerful assumptions, including the belief that nations act rationally, it generates testable predictions. But the simplifying assumptions that make it useful for scholars make it useless as a guide to how and why states actually make decisions. The only practical contribution the discipline of international relations has made in the last forty years is democratic peace theory, commonly summarized as “democracies do not fight each other.” Even if that is only mostly true, it is inexplicable to neorealists, who cannot understand why two democracies—the United States and Israel, for instance—might be allies even though the larger power has nothing much to gain from it materially.

The failure of neorealism stems directly from its assumptions. For states are not unitary. States have bureaucracies with their own agendas, factions and internal politics, and the most radical of them—like Iran—have a party machine that runs parallel to, and acts as a minder for, the official government. And states are not rational, at least not in a “cost-benefit” kind of way. Nor are they simply irrational. Rather, they have a hierarchy of preferences and seek to order them with some consistency. This kind of bounded rationality says nothing about what these preferences are, or whether they are moral, amoral, or immoral. Hitler, for instance, had two preferences: killing Jews and winning the war. And, in a bounded way, he was rational: he wanted to kill Jews more than he wanted to win, so he ran trains to Auschwitz, not the front.

The neorealist approach does have its uses. If you do not know anything about what is going on inside a country—for example, because it is a totalitarian dictatorship—a useful first cut is to ask what you would do if you were in charge. But to elevate neorealism, as the NIE has done, into a basis for offering high confidence assessments about such a state is an error. Walt and Mearsheimer’s embarrassingly amateur fantasies about the Israel Lobby demonstrate this all too clearly. For them, it is axiomatic that the United States has much more to gain from allying with the Arab oil dictators than with resource-poor Israel: the fact that the U.S. has failed to act in this way, has refused to carry out the proper “cost-benefit analysis,” can only be explained by a Jewish conspiracy. That is what passes for sophisticated thinking if you are a neorealist.

No, I do not believe that the U.S. intelligence community has stumbled into the Walt and Mearsheimer fever swamp. But the NIE’s resort to neorealist analysis is characteristic of ignorance: there is no reason to use this approach if you know what is going on. And that is the real problem. The U.S.—amazingly—publishes its National Intelligence Estimates. We make our policy in view of the entire world, and thereby impose serious constraints on our own government. We will not be able to be comfortable with Iran until we know as much about them as they know about us, and until they are as constrained by public debate as we are. And when we get that kind of Iran, we will not need high-profile but analytically shallow NIE’s.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #2: Osama bin Laden’s Favorite Pundit

Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

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Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

Along with a number of others, Scheuer has endorsed the findings of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the extraordinary influence wielded in the United States by the “Israel Lobby.” But Scheuer, explicating his views on a show called Antiwar Radio, goes much further than even they do. He believes that the machinations of the Israel Lobby are supplemented by the efforts of Israeli intelligence, which is “very active in the United States.” In fact, Israeli spies are “popping up all over” and they “do whatever they want inside of America and no one carries them to task for it.” Indeed, because both the Democratic and Republican parties are “owned by AIPAC,” the U.S. government “consistently tries to suppress any kind of publication” of information pertaining to the Israeli espionage.

This is already lunatic-asylum territory, but there is more. According to Scheuer, there is an ongoing “Israeli covert-action program” under way to silence defenders* of the Mearsheimer-Walt book. The results, says Scheuer, have been “stupendous.” In public, the Israelis didn’t have to raise a word—that’s the way covert action works, he helpfully explains—but the result of their behind-the-scenes manipulation is clear: in the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt, “Americans are savaging other Americans in defense of a foreign country.”

I have previously written about Scheuer’s bizarre ideas and behavior in the pages of COMMENTARY. In the latest Weekly Standard, I examine how the CIA’s own Inspector General has evaluated Scheuer’s work as a counterterrorism operative. It turns out that as the CIA officer charged with the principal responsibility for countering Osama bin Laden, Scheuer was a walking calamity.

Osama bin Laden has a collection of excellent reasons, it would seem, for praising this American spy turned pundit.

*Corrected.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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The Jewish Al Sharpton?

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

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