Who buys influence in the US?
In 2006, Harvard Professor Steven Walt, and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer published a long article in the London Review of Books on the “Israel Lobby,” a preview of a much longer book by the same name the two professors coauthored two years later. The highlycontroversial book alleged that U.S. Middle East policy had gone off the rails because of the power of the domestic Israel lobby, which had inordinate influence on American foreign policy, particularly in Congress. The bogeyman for Walt and Mearsheimer was of course the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The authors went further than that, though, effectively blaming the Iraq War in 2003 on a collection of pro-Israel Jewish neocons who were all but accused of working for Israel by beating the drums for that war. Of course Israelis officials were highly skeptical about the Iraq invasion, but why let facts interfere with conclusions?
The idea that somehow President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, had no policy of their own on Iraq, and hence were easy prey to become the tools of a few Jewish writers — Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle among them, was absurd on its face. But the argument was manna from heaven for every anti-Semite who has always believed in Jewish conspiracy theories, and now could hang onto one tossed out by two well-known professors from very distinguished universities.
The Walt-Mearsheimer article and book were filled with factual errors, and nonsensical arguments that led others to advance even more absurd accusations — such as the charge that the long dead political philosopher Leo Strauss was really responsible for the Iraq War, since some of his students were neocons and supported the war (along, of course, with 85 percent of the American population and a heavy majority in Congress at the time).
Regardless of its merits, the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis was believed by its proponents and supporters to have been a courageous attempt to tell the truth about something supposedly everyone else was fearful of discussing. What brave men! With Israel in complete control of the U.S. Congress, it was clear that members of the Senate and the House understood that to oppose Israel meant certain death at the next election as a result of a shift in campaign funds, or maybe Hamas-style public execution for violating a curfew.
Over the last eight years, the Walt-Mearsheimer argument has become conventional wisdom, since conventional wisdom means the wisdom of the Left on foreign policy, and bashing Israel has become a litmus test for full-fledged membership in what Professor Judith Butler calls “the global Left.”
In a long article in The New Yorker, Connie Bruck rehashes all the old Walt-Mearsheimer arguments about AIPAC power, while acknowledging that the group’s influence may be declining, due to unease among younger and more liberal Jews about Israeli policies which are supposedly fraying the ties between AIPAC and members of the Democratic Party. The reality is that AIPAC decided to pull its punches the last few years and not challenge President Barack Obama for fear of angering a man who seemed to be easily enraged by the actions of Israel, most recently for defending itself against Hamas terror attacks. The president’s anger against the Islamic State group for chopping off the heads of American journalists seemed to be somewhat more moderated (except for some displeasure with the brief interference they caused with his golfing holiday).
What has happened with AIPAC is a lowering of the bar of what it means to be considered pro-Israel in Congress. If a foreign aid bill is the measure of Israel’s power, it is easy to be pro-Israel, and everyone can be judged a friend, even Obama.