The Lobby, the U.S. and the Israeli War on Hezbollah

The U.S. blanket support for the Israeli war on Hezbollah can be laid at the feet of the Israel Lobby, concluded Professor Stephen Walt and Prof. John Mearsheimer in an analysis they presented at the National Press Club in Washington on August 28. Their presentation, which was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was a widening of their critique of the lobby and focused on the role it played in the recent Israel-Hezbollah war. It showed once again how the lobby works against both Israel’s and the United States’ national interests.

Their original thesis, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” was presented in shortened form in the London Review of Books in March and prompted a lively controversy in both the mainstream press and academic journals. Rarely has the subject of the power of the Israel lobby been approached by professors from such eminent universities. Mearsheimer is a professor of international politics and security issues at the University of Chicago and Walt is an international affairs scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Walt reviewed that thesis for the audience yesterday in his segment of the presentation, leaving Mearsheimer to discuss the role of the Lobby in the recent Israel-Hezbollah war. The destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure, the bombing of areas not associated with Hezbollah, and especially the killing of almost 1,200 civilians, many of them women and children û which constitutes an international war crime according to Amnesty International and other organizations û had no effect whatsoever on either the U.S. executive branch or Congress. On the contrary, working in lock-step with the Israel Lobby (especially AIPAC), Congress rushed through resolutions on both sides praising Israel for its war against Lebanon, disregarding the wanton death and destruction it was causing to civilian populations and ignoring world opinion. The U.S. was the only country to support Israel in this war.

Mearsheimer reviewed the pressure brought on Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) for offering softer language on the resolution, and on Chris van Hollen (D-MD) for daring to call for an immediate ceasefire in a letter to Condoleezza Rice. Van Hollen was in fact told what consequences he faced if he didn’t withdraw his statement, and it came shortly thereafter in the form of an abject apology to the Jewish community. Nor, having received it, did local Jewish leaders seem satisfied, one saying that he needed to “continue to reach out to the Jewish community to reassure the Jewish community he was going to be there for Israel” û a clear threat to his political future should he deviate again from the lobby’s script.

Mearsheimer said that the evidence shows that the Israelis had briefed the American administration before launching the war on Hezbollah, and therefore the US was in a position to give it a “red light instead of a green light when it proposed its plan to attack Lebanon.” It provided support for the war despite worldwide condemnation of the attack, and only when it appeared that the Israeli army was unable to crush Hezbollah did the Bush administration and the Israeli government accepted the need for negotiations. The US diplomacy at the UN earned President Bush a compliment when the Israeli prime minister thanked Bush on August 11 for “safeguarding Israel’s interests in the Security Council.”

Mearsheimer and Walt suggested that the United States has three major strategic concerns in the Middle East: terrorism (“mainly about neutralizing al-Qaeda”), dealing with rogue states (“Syria and Iran”), and the war in Iraq (“which the United States is in danger of losing.”) He pointed out that support for Israel’s war on Lebanon complicated Washington’s ability to deal with all three concerns. The US position is so closely aligned with Israel these days that, as Mearsheimer quoted Aaron Miller, “there is no daylight whatsoever between the government of Israel and the government of the United States.”

Did the US push Israel to attack Lebanon, as might a state order a client state to do? Mearsheimer thought not, but since the United States had been briefed about the attack, it should have said no for its own national interests and for those of Israel. He concluded, “Until the lobby begins to favor a different approach or until its influence is weakened, U.S. policy in the region will continue to be hamstrung to everyone’s detriment.”

Note: CNI filmed the press conference, and it will be available on the CNI website. In the meantime, it is available from C-Span.

The Council for the National Interest is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization founded seventeen years ago by former Congressmen Paul Findley (R-IL) and Pete McCloskey (R-CA) to advocate a new direction for U.S. Middle East policy. CNI seeks to encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values, protects our national interests, and contributes to a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to restore a political environment in America in which voters and their elected officials are free from the undue influence and pressure of a foreign country, namely Israel.

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