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    Middle East
     Sep 8, 2007
No, it's the dog that wags the tail
The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy
by John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt

Reviewed by Mark LeVine

Ever since the London Review of Books published the controversial findings of University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen Walt's research into the power of the Jewish - or Israel - lobby in the United States, the

two men have been demonized as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.

Now that the full product of their research has been published as The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, it has generated even more controversy because of its detailed, well-footnoted argument that unquestioning US support for Israel goes against core US strategic interests and continues because of the undue influence and power of the so-called "Israel lobby".

The book is being severely criticized because it seems to confirm long-held anti-Semitic beliefs about undue Jewish political power. But in reality, the authors' premise and conclusions are all wrong or, more precisely, backward.

Mearsheimer and Walt seem to know little about the Middle East, Israel's role in US foreign policy, and what are core US goals and strategic interests in the region. They argue that this is a case of the "tail wagging the dog" - a small client state and its allies in the US leading the US government to engage in policies that are manifestly against its interests because of undue political power.

But this is nonsense. In fact, it is the other way around. The United States has been using Israel to fulfill its policy objectives for decades, from its role as a regional "pillar" (along with Saudi Arabia and Iran) in US containment strategies against the Soviet Union in the 1970s up until last summer, when the administration of President George W Bush encouraged a disastrous proxy war with Hezbollah as a way of testing the weapons and tactics of Iran, Hezbollah's main sponsor, in the event of a US attack.

Mearsheimer's and Walt's book is also naive. It assumes that US political and economic leaders, especially those close to the Bush administration, want to build peace and democracy in the Middle East, and that therefore supporting Israel's occupation of Palestine hurts this cause. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. As I showed in great detail in my last book, Why They Don't Hate Us, and my new book on the Oslo peace process, An Impossible Peace: Oslo and the Burdens of History, the US has never supported democracy and peace in the region.

Instead, its strategic goals center on the perpetuation of continuous but manageable levels of conflict, punctuated every decade or so by major wars, as the way to ensure relatively high oil prices, control over key petroleum reserves or at least denying China uncontrolled access to them, a disproportionate level of arms spending across the region (by far the highest in the world, with the majority of funds spent on US weapons systems), and the continued survival of the authoritarian regimes that ensure the perpetuation of a system that has generated more than a trillion dollars in profits to US oil and arms companies just since September 11, 2001.

This pattern was made evident most recently by the announcement of a US$20 billion arms sale to the Saudis, which was naturally compensated for by a $30 billion sale to Israel (much of it paid to US arms companies by the US government in one of the largest corporate-welfare schemes in history, under the guise of "aid to Israel") and at least $20 billion more to Egypt (much of that also in the form of aid paid directly to defense manufacturers) and other allies. That's $70 billion for US weapons manufacturers in the next decade or so, just to keep the "balance of power" in the region.

Viewed this way, the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by all accounts one of the main fulcrums of the larger problems of the region, would be a strategic disaster for the United States. It would lead to lower oil prices, less spending on arms, and a loss of whatever slim levels of legitimacy is possessed by Arab dictators and monarchs, and open up the chance that the people of the region would decide to spend their money on other things than overpriced US weapons, consumer debt, and high-end real estate.

The authors have it wrong: it's not Americans who are suffering from undue influence of the Jewish lobby; it's Israelis and Palestinians along with Iraqis and the citizens of most every country of the region, and now the families of US servicemen and women deployed in the conflict zones of the "arc of instability" in the Middle East and Central Asia, who are suffering so that some of the most powerful and wealthy corporations in world history can continue to reap hundreds of billions of dollars in profits without anyone questioning why this system continues and whose interests it actually benefits.

One thing is for sure: aside from the "Jewish lobby" (for whom the book is a godsend of a fundraising tool), the two groups most happy about the publication of book are the oil and arms lobbies, unquestionably the most powerful, and invisible, lobbies in the United States.

The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 27, 2007). ISBN-10: 0374177724. Price US$26, 496 pages.

Mark LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies, University of California-Irvine, and author of Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil (Oneworld, 2005).

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