A Montreal evening with John Mearsheimer on The Israel Lobby

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East was organising a three day tour in three Canadian cities for John Mearsheimer on the subject of the Israel Lobby. In Montreal, the event was cosponsored by the University of Concordia political science students' association.

The event took place on Saturday February 23rd, 7 p.m. at the university of Montreal.

I was there among some 250 attendees. Mearsheimer spoke about the nature of the Israel lobby in the US, how it operates, and why he, and his colleague Stephen Walt, think that the lobby is behind the US's disastrous policy in the ME. The central point of his argument is that, even though US foreign policy is full of errors, mistakes, and colonial adventures turned awry, there is absolutely no way to explain this policy of 100% alignment on Israel's position after the end of the cold war other than the influence of the lobby.

Indeed, the US has many friendly Arab regimes and all what the US could have wanted from middle eastern and Arab countries, oil, military bases, etc...it could have got it without war.

He described the threat of Arab countries on Israel laughable. He said that two countries have made peace with Israel, Egypt and Jordan. That Israel could have made peace with Syria any time and still could but is not interested. He described Saudi Arabia's embarrassment and efforts in 2002 and recently in 2007 to broker a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and still Israel is not interested. Israel wanted war, and so the US, as it seems, under the influence of the lobby.

But this alone doesn't explain to me why the US is actually waging wars in the name of Israel in the ME. I cannot think of a responsible or an irresponsible government waging wars for another.

Some critiques leveled at Walt and Mearsheimer's (W&M) conclusions about the lobby, formulated by some of Israel's most prominent critics (Finkelstein, Chomsky, Massad), allege that W&M seem to be giving too much weight to the lobby while absolving the US whose own colonialist tradition might explain its current foreign policy in the ME. In my opinion, these critiques have only part of the answer to W&M's puzzlement about their country's foreign policy. Indeed, where these critiques struck a point is not in putting the blame on the US's colonial history but in highlighting one weakness in the W&M's thesis; namely that all the blame should go to the lobby. This portrays the Us government as a manipulated government unable to make its own choices for its own interests when it comes to foreign policy.

In the whole book, and again during his talk, Mearsheimer mentions the absurdity of his country's policy after the end of the cold war. But not once he blames some inherent problems in US foreign policy. There is a reason for that. While his critiques cite previous patterns in US foreign policy, W&M's starting point is not the US colonial history but US foreign policy after a major change, the end of the cold war.

There is no doubt that the facts about the lobby are overwhelming. And there is no doubt that it influences US foreign policy. But to portray the US government as a client of the lobby is a very strong thesis that needs more than local insider politic facts. A good answer might lie in the conjugated influence of the Israel lobby, and something else. What did change after the end of the cold war ? The US lost its main ennemy and there was an atmosphere of detente. The world could have become a better place. Except that, in 2000, neither Israel neither the US, and each for different reasons, were interested by peace.
Remember, Israel's Ehud Barak walked out from Camp David fearing that too much concessions for the Palestinians was going to cost him his career, and it did. And what followed was Sharon walking provocatively on the esplanade of Al-Aqsa mosque, and angering Palestinians. This is when the second intifada started.

On the US side, Clinton ended his two term presidency empty handed from Camp David. He was succeeded fraudulently by GW Bush who made war and building hostility in the ME the hallmark of his foreign policy, aided in that by an old ally from the cold war era, Osama Bin Laden. Ten years after the end of the cold war, and in the aftermath of 9/11, emerged an extraordinary convergence between the US and Israel. While Israel has been living in a continual state of war and never really seeked peace, the attacks on the twin towers brought with them a justification for the US for a constant state of war. The rethoric for war, a long war on terrorism we were told, was already in place the morning after 9/11. And don't blame this only on Bush. The US has been, in my opinion, quietly sliding in this state of war already under the Clinton administration. After the end of the cold war, instead of looking for ways to make the world a better place, the only policy the main and only superpower, the US, was able to devise for its citizens and the world, was more tension and more wars. Reversing itself and the entire world to the previous state of war, with this time a new immaterial but global ennemy, terrorism. And it happened that the only terrorism the US was ready to fight was Muslim terrorism, or at least the kind of 'terrorism' Israel thinks it is fighting in the occupied territories.

Mearsheimer criticised the very notion of fighting terrorism. He said that terrorism is not an ideology, as reprehensible as it might be, it is still a method of war. Declaring war on terrorim is like declaring war on anti-ballistic missiles or on anti-personal mines.
So, yes, I think that W&M are half right about the lobby, and their critics are half right about the responsibility of the US. And what we have at stake here is a convergence between two states who have made war the only hallmark of their foreign policy.

Mearsheimer was extremely lucid in analysing the grim prospects for Palestine. He said that the two state solution looks impossible now with all the facts that Israel created on the ground, settlements, roads separating the Palestinian territories from each other...He outlined three alternatives, none of them satisfactory:

A greater Israel with a binational state. But this is the end of the zionist dream and the Jewish only state;
Ethnic cleansing as was advocated by Avigdor Lieberman. But Israel would be at risk from accusations for crimes against humanity;
And finally, a limited autonomy to disconnected Palestinian Bantustans controlled by Israel. An apartheid state. But this would also be the end of Israel.

Zionism is doomed and its temporary survival depends on violence and wars...

Mearsheimer will be speaking in Toronto, Sunday, Feb. 24, 7:00 p.m., OISE Auditorium (Room G162), University of Toronto. Click here to buy tickets on the Internet or call 1-888-222-6608 for tickets. More information on Mearsheimer and the Toronto event here. (Tickets for Toronto event also available at the Toronto Women's Bookstore, 73 Harbord St., Toronto, 416-922-8744)


dubhaltach said...

Hej Sophia - you might find this by Andrew Bacevich interesting:

"Although the White House may pretend otherwise, the Bush doctrine and the freedom agenda have failed their trials. That failure is definitive. Only the truly demented will imagine that simply trying harder will produce different results - that preventive war against Iran, for example, will hurry that nation down the path toward Western-oriented liberal democracy. The collapse of the Bush doctrine and the freedom agenda leaves a dangerous void.

In the place of defective principles regarding the proper role of force, we now have no principles at all. Nothing in the presidential campaign thus far suggests that any of the candidates is aware of this problem. Regardless of the election's outcome, however, it will be incumbent upon the next president to replace the Bush doctrine and its corollary."

The plan for what comes after Iraq - The Boston Globe

(Granted he's an American conservative but still worth reading I think.)

Also Maryam, Mohammed, and Fatima, have done a follow up to the "agent orange" posting.

What A Nice Way Of Saying "Genocide" (Part 2)

Sophia said...

Hi Du,

Thanks for the links. I will link to part 2.

Good opinions can come from both sides, liberal and conservatives, but they come only from truly independant minds.

Wolfie said...

Excellent analysis to which I would concur. I would however add that Christian Zionism and a large chip on the collective American shoulder in regard to colonial moralising, have also contributed to the overall policy. This is in evidence right now with their somewhat bizarre support for Kosovo; another transatlantic gift for their European friends.

Sophia said...


The EU is far from having a united and distinct voice in foreign policy and the US is coldy exploiting the divisions. I think the war on terrorism has put Europe in a far greater danger than the US.

And as a Balkan expert said, Kosovo is not an independant country, it is a EU protectorate. Kosovo was the gift the US gave to terrorists who are its allies. And this is going to bring instability inside Europe.

Since March 29th 2006