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Monday, May 15, 2006

Mearsheimer and Walt in retreat

Martin Kramer has an article on his blog this morning counting the number of ways in which "Israel Lobby" authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have retreated from their initial claims:
On the two points over which I challenged Mearsheimer in person three weeks ago in Princeton (while he and Walt were preparing their response), the retreats appear to be total.

The first has to do with the alleged role of Israel in pushing for the Iraq war. The original paper devoted an entire section to the authors' claim that Israel used the Lobby to conduct a campaign in favor of war. Mearsheimer and Walt: "Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical." At the Princeton conference, I provided a body of counter-evidence, which pointed to Israel's dissent from the U.S. preoccupation with Iraq, and its fear that much-stronger Iran would benefit from the Iraq distraction. Evidence for this dissent even surfaced in leading U.S. papers in the year before the war, in articles that Mearsheimer and Walt failed to cite.

Here, then, is the reformulated Mearsheimer/Walt position: "[T]he lobby, by itself, could not convince either the Clinton or the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence that the neo-conservatives and other groups within the lobby played a central role in making the case for war." Let's count the retreats. First, Israel is no longer cited as pushing for war. Second, the lobby (with a lower-case "L" this time) is disaggregated into "groups," and in any case takes second place to the neo-conservatives. Third, the role played by the "groups within the lobby" is now merely "central," not "critical." By my reading, the authors have backed down from at least half of their original claim about the origins of the Iraq war.

In the Princeton meet, I also argued that U.S. support for Israel had done nothing to damage that most central of all U.S. interests in the Middle East: access to Arab oil. My argument in short: it hasn't affected the price or the delivery of a single barrel since the U.S. stepped up its support for Israel after 1973. It's a point that Walt and Mearsheimer now concede in their latest statement: "Oil is clearly an important concern for US policymakers, but with the exception of episodes like the 1973 Opec oil embargo, the US commitment to Israel has yet to threaten access to oil."
Read the whole thing.


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