For those of you who are unfamiliar with the issue, some people claim that the “Israel Lobby” shapes US foreign policy in the Middle East. I disagree, and the reasons why I disagree are explained in the following commentary. There are two accompanying written pieces which are cited. The first, here, is an orphan fragment from an abandoned draught dealing with attributes of US imperialism. Grafted on to the end is another orphan fragment about the qualities which made Iraq a natural target for US genocide in the imperial context. And here is a second piece which deals with US neocolonialism with the most relevant part (at the start) describing the reasons behind the US tendency to align with kleptocratic and violently authoritarian client regimes. A few other interesting links can be found in the transcript below.
The audio can be downloaded or streamed at A-Infos and comes in 32Kbps or 128Kbps.
I have already received a comment that it seems as if I am accusing all users of terms like “Jewish Lobby” and “Jewish Money” of being hateful racists in this commentary. I don’t mean too, but I do stand by my use of the term “bigotry”. This form of usage (e.g. “Jewish Money”) marries a prejudicial negative connotation to a particular group of people – hence it is bigotry. But I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who employs such language is a bigot. They may quite innocently be partaking in a discourse of bigotry without actually thinking through the implications of what is being said or written. The hazard is in letting that sort of thing stand unchallenged, which is how deep-seated bigotry can often take root.
What I wanted to suggest in my commentary is not that you have to hate Jews to believe the W&M thesis, but rather that people who do hate Jews find it really, really attractive. I was genuinely shaken by how quickly my online disputants back in 2006 turned to racism. I think that Israeli policy is creating a whole new generation of anti-Jewish racists in many countries around the world, and I think that in the US the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis gives them a very sharp and dangerous focus in providing a discourse of treason against the United States. Zunes is absolutely correct to point out the parallels between this and that scapegoating of Jews that has occurred historically.
Zunes articles on the Israel lobby issue can be found here and here and here.
I know that this is going to confuse people, but here is where I stand: I support a one state-solution in Palestine; I support the BDS movement; I believe that the Israel lobby has a ridiculously disproportionate influence over US domestic politics at the congressional level and, more importantly, at the street level, but I firmly believe that the idea that the Israel lobby determines in any manner or degree US foreign policy is utterly stupid. I admire Jeff Blankfort and Noam Chomsky; Stephen Zunes and Stephen Gowans, but see ways in which every single one of them is guilty of inadvertantly (though sometimes rather wilfully) becoming apologists for and ideological supporters of US imperialism. On the other hand I see nothing admirable, nor even excusable in Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who are not only more fatuous than the aforementioned, but also, given their Professorial positions as political scientists and so-called “neo-Realists”, do not have any excuse for being such idiots.
So, how did I get to be this “neither fish nor fowl” creature? And how can I persuade you to join me in this annoying world where weighty matters are not reducible to sound bites? Firstly I can point out that there is a simple way of looking at these things. The idea that a tiny state such as Israel, a virtual dependency of the US, dictates US foreign policy is silly. It is that simple. It is the very same far-fetched excuse as those who suggest that the US was drawn into the Korean War by the machinations of Syngman Rhee, and drawn into Indochina by systemic inertia. This is blatant apologism for repeated acts of genocide whose fundamental similarities alone are enough to indicate intentionality. But I am aware they my simply stating this stuff leaves much to be desired and much to be answered, particularly “what are the drivers of US foreign policy?”, and why do I so confidently discount the role of the Israel lobby in this when it is demonstrably powerful in US politics?
Before I start however, I want to have a bit of a self-pitying whinge. I’m aware that I’m probably making no friends by taking a stance which contradicts everyone else’s stance. But instead of getting angry at me for taking much the same line as Zunes and Chomsky, remember that I am also alienating those people who agree with Chomsky on the subject of Palestine (a dying breed, admittedly). Before you write to gainsay my claims I would ask that the following matters be of consideration: One, that you ask yourself, can your stance be reconciled with the pattern of historical events (including analogous situations) such that you are not claiming some peculiar exceptionalism for US society that you would find unreasonable in other societies? Two, is there a theoretical consistency to what you are claiming, or does the attempt to translate into theoretical terms expose contradictions which once again are suggestive of an insupportable claim of exceptionalism. You might ask yourself, “what theory? What is this guy on about?” The fact is, however, that each time you link a cause with an effect, you are doing so in theoretical terms. What I am concerned about is those who have a world view wherein theories contradict themselves.
On last thing remains with regard to the fact that I chose to comment on matters where I disagree with everyone. I could do otherwise, I could choose a more agreeable path of greater agreement, but the result might be a little bit like – “so I hear that the Earth actually circles the Sun, I reckon that’s probably true, so that’s maybe something we can agree on. They tell me that the majority of dogs have four legs and, well its only anecdotal, I know, but almost every single dog I’ve seen has four legs, and I’ve seen quite a few dogs. They also say that Hitler wasn’t a very nice person. I’d more or less agree with that proposition. They didn’t give him a Nobel Peace prize, which is probably a good thing I think we can agree. I mean, they must have been tempted, if they’re like they are now. You know, that whole non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, I reckon that nowadays that’d probably have netted Hitler and Stalin a peace prize each. Hitler, instead of killing himself, could have simply pointed out that he was sincere, that he sincerely believed that Jews were a form of demographic Weapon of Mass Destruction and that Poland was in possession of millions of Weapons of Mass Destruction with the potential to reach as far as New York city, if they weren’t denied entry. He could have become a peace envoy just like Tony Blair, trying to find common ground in decolonising struggles such as in Indonesia or Indochina. Ahh, if only they were as civilised then as we are now….” Sorry, got a bit off-track there, but hopefully you get my point, which is that if I talked about what I agreed with, it would be boring and pointless and then I’d just start making stupid jokes just to relieve the tedium.
At this point I was going to introduce matters with a brief summary of what I had written in another context about the US empire, but it is too complicated and it can’t be presented in theoretical terms because existing theory, as we shall see, is woefully inadequate. So I have created a pdf from the exerpt with a grafted on bit about why there was a strategic imperative for the US empire to commit genocide in Iraq. OK, it’s massive, but at least look through it and I will summarise the pertinent bits for you here and, hopefully, you can see that my reasoning is based on solid evidence.
The US empire is based on power structures which are now often referred to, not unreasonably, as corporatist. Corporatism is as good a word as any, but it should not be linked explicitly with Fascism per se. Structurally it is akin to feudalism in that it accords so-called “regnal rights” to entities which are not theoretically sovereign. Indeed US “corporatism” is the continuity of that form of regime which has persisted through transitions from feudal, to early modern mercantilist, to liberal. In the year 1900 its highest expression was in the liberal British Empire. There was no “revolving door” at this time, government and private interests only separated when circumstances dictated that they must. The supposedly sovereign governmental structure constituted far, far less than half of the state power wielded in the imperial polity. In 1902 John Hobson noted that the British Empire was a drain on the wealth of the majority of the people of Britain and the majority of the capitalist enterprises of Britain. He wrote: “Seeing that the Imperialism of the last three decades is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations, we may ask, “How is the British nation induced to embark upon such unsound business”; The only possible answer is that the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests that usurp control of the national resources and use them for their private gain.”
But the nature of these “certain sectional interests” was far from random: shipping, coal, arms, finance, and military contracting. These were the beneficiaries of empire, but they were also the tools. These are strategic industries. They were the British military-industrial complex – the empire complex if you will. None of these interests were separable from the Crown, nor, more to the point, was the reverse the case. The English had transitioned from feudalism by transforming it into mercantile terms (awarding charters and patents and so-forth) and into liberal Locke-ian terms by allowing enclosure and outright ownership to effectively deepen privilege, rather than challenge it. It is true that they instituted direct rule in India and ended private imperialism through the East India company, but this was occuring at a time of the expansion of scope, depth and complexity of state power and much of it was in non-governmental hands (The Bank of England serves as a good example here). After this British corporate rule was part of the “informal” empire which included more-or-less the entirety of South America, and semi-formal possessions like Egypt. These places were run by private British finance interests, interpenetrated with other empire complex interests which were of course interpenetrated with Her Majesty’s Government and could rely on military incursions and other interstate actions when required.
If there were strategic sectional interests making up the empire complex, there were also strategic resources. Mainly this meant coaling stations at this level, and the British were able to use their naval supremacy to ensure their naval supremacy. Gold, however, was also a form of strategic resource, and it is important to note that the British view of gold was that strategic denial was a good as possession. If they couldn’t have it then they would make sure no one else would get it, thus bolstering the value of their own reserves. Then the British discovered the potential of oil, a strategic resource like no other. While the French were bled white on the Western Front the British used the cover of the Great War to grab oil. By 1920 they had virtually cornered the entire world supply outside of the United States, but they had ceded financial hegemony to New York and Washington thanks to war costs.
An Anglo-US petroleum condominium later formed and became the basis of a shared empire complex in which the UK is the junior partner. Domination of oil meant the ability to deny all hard power (economic or military) to those reliant on those petrochemical resources. For complicated reasons (which you can read about if you want) the US also chose to tie its financial hegemony directly to its ability to militarily dominate oil resources. Nowadays the empire complex is far more expanded than that of the British empire. It includes a large array of “sectional interests” which are all of direct strategic relevance. Many are directly related to matters of life-and-death – arms and military; water; energy; pharmaceuticals and food – others are similarly fundamental to societal funtioning such as finance and media. It is not just about an “iron triangle” these are interlocking iron triangles and profit is both central and incidental at the same time. That is how it works. The “sectional interests” are the imperial state, but they cannot dominate the imperial state for some hypothetical private ends that are separate from imperial ends.
The other thing to note is that imperial elites are not tied to the interests of the mother state, nor the people thereof, nor the people of subjugated regions. They are almost entirely independent of the welfare of nations and their peoples and almost entirely dependent on the massive unrelenting centripetal coercive power which holds empires together. That is why they kill so many people and ravage whole societies and economies. That is, in very simple terms, why empires are as inherently genocidal as settler-colonial enterprises. This is also why many empires all but destroy their home economies. The Romans did, the Spanish did, the British did and now the US does with deindustrialisation, outsourcing and so forth. (There is also the need to maintain stratification domestically, which you may also read about at some length if you wish).
In theory terms what I am proposing here is a form of Realism, in that it doesn’t have anything to do with national character or ethics or specific ideologies and so forth. The power relations determine the behaviours. Traditionally Realism is often distrusted as being inherently amoral and for being a kind of apologism because it implies that horrendous behaviour is the result of inevitable laws. There is a logical fallacy in this, however, in that Realists might recognise potential ways of diminishing the capacity to inflict mass violence and the possible advantages to be gained through mass violence. What they tend to emphasise, however, is the continuity of strategic interests that are not altered by idealism or ideology; the personality of rulers or the theology of governments. Realism is about power relations.
One result of this is that it may have a “normative” aspect, which is the term used by academics to describe their own prescriptiveness. Thus a Realist might proclaim that it was a horrible mistake by France to alienate and attack the newly formed Soviet Union when they had inevitable shared interests. It is quite a strong Realist current that includes progenitors such as Hobbes and Machiavelli, but in modern self-professed “Realists” it does tend to beg the question of why (if reality is failing to live up to allegedly “Realist” norms) the term Realism is applied to what, in the final analysis, is the promotion of an ideal of amoral power relations. The fact is that if you are going to call yourself a “Realist” then more than a tiny bit of normative content indicates a broken model. Realism, by its very nature, should be able to accommodate actuality within its analytical framework and, to be quite honest, it could only be academics that might seriously take real political actors to task for not acting “real” enough.
So proper Realism requires a model which reflects actuality. Realism evolved in a fairly empirical manner, as a counter to mythologised anthropomorphism and idealism. It was clear that changes in regime and ruler did not prevent repeated patterns of behaviour. I planned to say more on this, but I’m going to have to cut it short. Suffice it to say that Realism evolved from being centred on the nation-state to neo-realism (or structural realism) which posits constraints on nation-state behaviour through international structure, which has been built upon and challenged in various ways.
Standing apart from this are a bunch of lowercase realists – people who are basically realistic, but not aligned to a given dogma. The most obvious one of these in Noam Chomsky, who takes a clearly realist stance, but one that emphasises elite interests and elite power over the nation-state and its security. Others are similarly realistic in outlook, but unattached to a school of thought – they are agnostic realists and tend to look for confluences of imperatives and powers rather than impose a prior framework.
So here is where my stance fits in with all of that. And I apologise for any jargon and over-simplification, but this is all taking too long to explain as it is. 1) Nation-states belong in the classical Realist model to a large extent. 2) Empires do not. 3) The world and its people do not function under a paradigm of relative gains (except in some immediate circumstances), but imperial power does. 4) Nation-state elites are tied to the welfare of the nation-state and its people; imperial elites are less so, or not so, or even benefit in relative gains terms from immiseration. I’m using “nation-state” here to stand for any unitary polity which, in some degree, might even include some historical empires, but if you squint your eyes, you’ll see what I’m getting at.
You can see a good example of this in Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts wherein the British Empire destroyed communal economic resources and famine protections causing many millions to die, when neighbouring princely states, though much weaker and poorer, saw no famine despite a devastating drought.
So, I am saying in realist terms that empires are run by imperialists who cannot but serve the imperial interest, such as it is. The US empire has committed genocides in Korea, Indochina and Iraq and each time Pollyanna’ish opponents have squealed that such things are not in the “national interest”. Well, maybe not, but as the US continues its rollout of new regimes in the Middle East and bullies most of the states of the world most of the time into doing its bidding, it is very difficult to see how so much power was accrued through so many “mistakes”.
“Security” is often fetish for political analysts, and not just Realists, which I believe has more to do with a desire for vicarious drama and a sense of self-importance than with actual issues of security. There is a whole bunch of academics who I tend to think of as the “security geeks”. They style themselves as latterday players of the “Great Game” on the “Grand Chessboard”, living out peurile fantasies of power and relevance. Most of them are uppercase Realists, and they tend to be in think tanks or University departments with “Strategic” in the title. These people believe that US, UK and NATO actions are undertaken for genuine security reasons. If not security reasons they are inclined to accept humanitarian intervention or reject it, but they don’t question its sincerity. In other words, these people are hopelessly naïve and easy prey for ruthless political and military leaders. What makes them more to be loathed than pitied is their unbelievable arrogance. Iraq is the perfect example – a security threat that even these idiots couldn’t believe in. When faced with the plain and very clear fact that political leaders were lying about a security threat…. No, let me be very specific – when faced with the fact that political leaders were engaged in a very complex systematic attempt to deceive not only through lying but through misrepresentation, dissimulation, and the manufacture of fraudulent evidence – when faced with that, did they say “Oh my goodness! These people are lying to us. They are making huge efforts to try and deceive us. They must be covering something up”? No. Not a chance. They smugly pronounced that they were not deceived, unlike the political leaders who were so incredibly less intelligent than clever people like them that they believed their own lies.
Well done guys. You spotted that Iraq wasn’t really a security threat (even if some of you were a bit slow on it). That’s right, not a big security threat to the United States like all of those other really threatening poor countries such as Laos, Haiti, and Panama. Let’s not forget that tropical menace to world peace known as Grenada. What about Nicaragua and Reagan’s assertion that if the Sandinistas weren’t defeated there would be Soviet tanks rolling across the Rio Grande? Do you remember Jack Nicholson in that movie saying “You can’t handle the truth!”? The “truth” referred to, and embraced by the movie, was that only savage men like Nicholson could “provide freedom”. How? By occupying Guantánamo, that well known bastion of freedom. According to the movie, lives are saved by vicious thuggish frontiersmen who have to face down the iron disciplined and robotically fanatical Cubans – yes the Cubans, all of that rum and jazz and partying is just a front – in an eyeball to eyeball macho contest. But if Cuba is such a threat, why exactly do they continue to allow the US to occupy part of their country? Surely, if they were really all that, they could chuck Jack Nicholson and any number of wannabe Davy Crocketts out.
So, these Realists and assorted security geeks (all of whom probably love that movie and think that it raises substantive issues) get all tetchy at people like George W. Bush, because he’s so frustratingly stupid. Not smart like them. Imagine a weedy self-important accountant sneering at Tony Soprano because he had failed to claim on the hardhats in his construction business and thus had paid several hundred dollars more tax than required. The US has used international mass violence so many times since World War II that it really is impossible to quantify. It would be fairly impossible to point to any one of these and say with any sort of assurance that they made the US more secure, yet there are many instances when a fairly robust argument could be made that they made the US less secure. Hmmmm…, nearly 70 years of frequent interventions that don’t make the US more secure? Maybe, I know this is a bit of a weird thing to say, but maybe US security is not the goal. Let us not forget also, that despite 50 years of very clever people pointing out that the US empire is destroying itself with its hubris and over-reach, it is now quantifiably more strategically predominant and far more comfortable about acting outside of international law, defying the bulk of other nations, and enforcing its will on the majority, if not the entirety of the planet. Personally, I do believe that this is the high tide mark, and the beginning of the end, but I also know that others in the past have misinterpreted the active consolidation of imperial power as weakness, failure and loss, because of the naïve beliefs I have already mentioned.
There is another matter, in that, in the US it seems that some of those who would oppose imperial aggression feel that they must point out its wrongheaded counterproductive stupidity. Again, their ability to believe themselves so much more intellectually able to determine policy than those who actually do so is quite something to behold, but I feel too that there is an element of fear that accompanies this arrogance. The fear seems to be that any suggestion that there might be an ounce of rationality and purpose in US aggression would be to concede far too much in the battle for the hearts and minds of “Middle America”. It is always funny that the bourgeois fear the fascist instincts of the working class (who don’t tend to have any) while ignoring the growing tendency of their own kind to be goosestepping around the place.
This, to me, is where Walt and Mearsheimer come in. The first aspect of their appeal to anti-imperialists is that they tick this box, the box that says that the Iraq invasion was a horrible mistake from the perspective of maintaining US power in the international arena. But that is far from the end of it. There is an unreasonable and quite irrational tendency to give these guys far more credit than they deserve and the causes are actually quite broad.
Firstly there is their academic standing. On this, I would have to say that they are actually letting themselves down as much as anyone else. It is not their theoretical content that is at fault (though clearly insufficient) it is this silly, naïve understanding of US interventions, the basis of which is both the academic arrogance I have already discussed, and a chauvinist and ultimately exceptionalist reading of US interventions.
The next reason for cleaving to Walt and Mearsheimer is the nature of their most strident critics. Who doesn’t want to believe these guys when their critics include Dershowitz, Kissinger and Albright? That is only scratching the surface of repugnant people who criticise them and the nature of these criticisms tends to be exactly the same sort of specious bullying that is systematically used to silence real criticism of Israel and Zionism.
Then there is anti-Jewish bigotry. In 2006 I debated the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis on comment sections online, and it didn’t take very long before those I was debating tended to forget that they were supposed to be referencing Israeli policy and Zionism and started referencing “The Jews”, sometimes with supplementary epithets. I was shocked. These young educated people obviously hated “The Jews” and weren’t that reticent to show it. Two things were obvious from this: one was that Israeli policy was fueling hatred of Jews (this was obvious from the context of what was written); and also that the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis is immensely appealing to people who hate Jews. But there is another aspect of anti-Jewish bigotry which is more subtle and widespread. Perhaps it is ironic in a world where one may be accused of being a Nazi just for supporting Palestinian human rights, but a sort of anti-Jewish bigotry is widely accepted. One, it seems, can talk about individual or collective US Jews with the inextricable inference that they are supporters of Zionism and Israeli aggression and oppression. The discourse of the “Israel Lobby” over and over again references “Jewish backers”; “Jewish money” and “Jewish voters”. This is a form of prejudice generally known as bigotry. The weird thing is that US Jews are increasingly cool towards Israel, while Zionists (including non-Jewish Zionists) are very keen on suggesting that to be Jewish is to support Israel and to oppose Israel is to hate Jews.
The last thing that causes people to love Walt and Mearsheimer so much is the thing that disturbs me the most. What seems to be a desire to avoid facing up to the reality of US genocides, a need to cling on to the myths of childhood. I’m not just talking here about a need to see the US as the Good Guys, I’m talking more than that about the need to see the cartoon villain behind genocide. Genocide needs to be committed by sadistic brutal twisted Nazis; fanatically inhuman communist Asians; or brutal bestial savage Africans. I honestly think that this need to find some sort of exogenous force to explain US brutality makes people very irrational.
Let us be very clear: the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis is that the US national interest was harmed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that it happened because of the pernicious and powerful Israel lobby. Listen to these excerpts from the 2006 Working Paper:
Most recently, the Bush Administration’s attempt to transform the region into a community of democracies has helped produce a resilient insurgency in Iraq, a sharp rise in world oil prices, and terrorist bombings in Madrid, London, and Amman. With so much at stake for so many, all countries need to understand the forces that drive U.S. Middle East policy.
The U.S. national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering U.S. support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized U.S. security.
…[T]the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the “Israel Lobby.” Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.
So the US was trying to turn the Middle East into a “community of democracies” was it? Does that sound sensible to you guys? I don’t know whether I need to refute Walt and Mearsheimer or whether, in the cold light of day it is obvious to anyone listening or reading that they are talking utter crap. I also love the way they slipped in a racist swipe at the democracy hating Arabs and Muslims.
The problem with the Walt/Mearsheimer paper is its depiction of the United States. Israel is described in realistic and accurately cynical terms, its myths debunked fearlessly, but the US is in no way analysed in such terms. The vision is instead of a Disney version of the US, benevolent not because it tries to be, but because it is inherently so. Doing bad things is abberrant, not natural to the US. Israeli apartheid is against US “core values” and so forth.
W&M actually use the term “tail wagging the dog” to explain US Middle East policy, but what do they think real US national interest is? In some matters, there’s room for debate that their simple-minded approach just does not acknowledge. So, for example, they decry the antagonism generated amongst the Arab populace when, in fact, an inimical “Arab street” is probably of more use to US empire than a friendly one. In other matters they just simply have it back-to-front. For example, they condemn US policies which drive up oil prices, but not only have these high oil prices brought about an extraordinary run of record profits for giant oil companies (in which Bush administration members had very strong interests) but the high prices and continued control of oil resources (including options for strategic denial) has maintained US dollar hegemony and ensured the continued interdependence of China with the US.
So let me once more emphasise that “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” is not serious analysis. Call it silly, call it fatuous, call it fantasy – it is junk, just like junk science or junk economics. O.K. these guys probably weren’t paid to come up with this, but junk humanities like this are often paid for at the bookstand. This stuff belongs alongside Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations; or The Tragedy of the Commons; or Niall Fergusson; or Max Boot; or Thomas Friedman.
Obviously I have a problem with the fact that W&M do not distinguish between national interest and imperial interest – which has been THE driving force in US foreign policy even before it was formalised when NSC-68 was adopted in 1950. More than that however, the problem is that they portray the Iraq invasion of 2003 as some sort of outgrowth of an aberrant Middle East policy – the result of the tail wagging the dog. But how abberant is it? Iraq is the third genocide committed by the US since World War II in which they have systematically killed civilians in the millions. Much of the death comes about through repeated systematic bevaviours extended over periods of years such that the orthodox denials of intentionality are simply ludicrous. In Korea, in Indochina and in Iraq the systematic mass murder of civilians has been a central policy of the US, and this is beyond dispute. (Iraq is problematic in that there was no self-evident systematic intense aerial bombardment specifically aimed at civilians, but along with the established fact of systematic killing though sanctions, mortality data from the occupation period indicate systematic, if atomised, killing by occupation forces induced to commit acts of murder by deliberately created situational, procedural, and psychological conditions). These are just the three most obvious and most deadly genocides by an imperial polity that is genocidal by inclination and whose interventions are usually somewhere along a genocidal spectrum even if the term “genocide” itself is reserved only for certain cases. Of its own accord, or through proxies, the US has an many occasions encompassed the deaths of thousands, tens of thousands or sometime hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is also a central actor in a global system of structural violence which has taken tens of millions of lives and which Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed argues is a system of “structural genocide”.
So here is my synthetic bit. I propose that the dog wags the tail. Israel is a strategic asset to US empire and that is why the “Israel lobby” is allowed so much influence domestically. More than that, the “Israel lobby” is a strategic asset to the empire complex within the US itself, as a means of disciplining legislators and countering democratic forces. Suitably, since democratic forces are so seldom a major driver of legislators’ actions, there is a far more important accompanying movement to silence dissent at the community level, in the media, within universities, and so forth.
How then is Israel a strategic asset? There is more to this than just the MENA region, but that is as good a place to start as any. When the British first decided to give support to Zionism in Palestine, there was dissent and differences of opinion, but one of the most important strains – really a deciding one even as far back as 1916 – was the belief that a Jewish state surrounded by Arabs would be an inevitable dependency and a strategic asset against those Arabs. Remember that this came when the British had decided that they wanted to control all of the world’s oil. According to W&M Israel was of limited strategic utility during the Cold War, but now only fuels Middle East instability and Islamic extremism. But the US empire relies on Middle East instability and, for similar reasons, has quite a love affair with Islamic extremism. After all, it is getting a little difficult to sustain this line of Al Qaeda as the quintessential existential enemy when the US is so often aligned with or even providing material support for them and affiliate groups. They’ve inherited this love of fundamantalist Islam from the Brits, who used it to head off secular modernism and Islamic modernism in Egypt, first in the late nineteenth century, then in the twenties and thirties where their support was crucial in the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the same as Israel’s role in the formation of Hamas. Sure, these Islamists don’t make great clients, but they make much better enemies than secular nationalists and socialists. The US even helped steer the Iranian revolution into the hands of the theocrats, creating a fantastic enemy and one that totally hated the Soviet Union to boot. Quite a strategic coup really, and the US still reaps the benefits today.
Once again let me say that the US needs instability. It can’t intervene without instability and it can’t threaten to intervene. The US doesn’t spend loads of money “projecting power” into the region with air, naval and ground troop presences to prevent the Red Army from taking over, it does it to make sure that oil profits are spent on US military hardware or used to buy US treasury bonds or kept in Western financial institutions as US dollar reserves. Iraq, for example, is aiming to have 110 billion in US dollar reserves in 2013. Imagine that, a country torn by strife, riven by poverty and unemployment and they just put all of that money into the US treasury. Wow! I guess they learnt a lesson somewhere along the line.
US military presence is also to ensure that oil is only sold for US dollars so that an other surplus producers also maintain dollar reserves. Having Israel there, a very well-armed military dependency constantly claiming to be existentially threatened by its neighbours, is a massive strategic boon to the US. It is a classic divide-and-rule strategy in a form not dissimilar to the manner in which the US chose Christian minorities as clients in Korea and Indochina and privileged landowners as clients in Latin America. Choosing a privileged minority to form a “comprador” class is a very old imperial tactic dating back at least as far as the Han and Roman empires. I’d be very surprised not to find evidence going as far back as the Assyrians who had the first empire as we would understand it. The British practised it as a matter of course, and while their alignment with the Sunni Arab world is an exception which I am not informed enough to explain, it is both noteworthy and fateful firstly that this choice would later allow the imposition of Sunni client monarchies in areas where Shi’i happened to inhabit the oilfields; and secondly that long before any thought of Zionism in Palestine the British acted to separate Jewish populations from the other peoples of the Middle East, notably in Baghdad.
This isn’t a secret either – this is enunciated doctrine. The Nixon Doctrine, which was a doctrine of informal imperialism, was translated by Melvin Laird in its applicability to the Middle East as support for “cops on the beat” explicitly there to discipline Arab populations. But Israel’s utility is also outside of the region. Israel is the tool which the US uses for dirty tricks in many parts of the world, parts in which Israel has no discernible interest at all. These include a history of providing support for apartheid South Africa and arms and support to authoritarian Latin American regimes when the US (and other Western nations) could not allow itself to provide direct support.
Now, I would like to remind people here that what I am discussing is the Israel Lobby’s influence on US foreign policy. The influence of bullying Zionists on the political discourse within the US is not something I would seek to deny or minimise. But let me now put the decision to invade Iraq into context. Let’s start with neoconservatives. Yes, neoconservatives are vehement supporters of Israel. Yes, disproportionate numbers are Jewish. But if you actually look at the history of the neoconservative movement, it is not just about Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol. The whole public intellectual side of neoconservatism has always been married to an institutional side, which predates it, dedicated to extending US influence into global domination. Most prominently it uses organisations like the Committee for the Present Danger or the Project for a New American Century to create the illusion of threats or idealistic goals as a means of justifying brutal imperialism. Using false pretexts, such as the defence of Israel, is bread and butter for these people. Now let us look at Richard Perle. This is a guy who is a born-and-bred Usaian, who has dedicated his political career to spreading US global dominance. So what is more striking – that whilst serving in the Bush administration he is actually formally giving policy advice to Israel or that he has dual citizenship and therefore might possibly be of dubious loyalty.
But the neocons and the Israel lobby were not alone in supporting the invasion of Iraq. In fact, despite the ostentatious enthusiasm of the neocons, it is worth considering the other interests that stood to gain from the Iraq invasion and had obvious influence. Take the oil industry. The Bush administration was so tied to the oil industry it isn’t funny. In 2005 Exxon Mobil became the largest corporation by revenues on the planet and posted world record breaking annual profits 5 times. Then there is the military-industrial complex. The arms industry not only has capacious lobbying power, it has penetrated every single congressional district as an employer. It is not hard to see what effect that has on congressional voting behaviours. But that isn’t all, because really there is an empire complex bigger than the direct military-industrial aspect. During the war in Indochina, the US government inducted certain non-armaments industries into a war economy based not on the exploitation of conquest, but solely on funneling taxpayer monies to these corporations under the guise of prosecuting war. Prominent among these were Halliburton (which owned Brown and Root); Dow chemical; Monsanto; and Bechtel. Need I belabour the interconnection here with the US government in general, or the Bush administration in particular?
And then, there is the government itself. In the lovely little fantasy land that W&M infest, the US national interest is best guarded by robust, but fundamentally honourable means. Off course, sometimes you’ve got to break eggs to make an omelet, but on the whole, despite their hard-nosed pretensions, W&M are suckers for the US pretence of fundamental righteousness. Many within the bureaucratic state apparatus share that belief, but the actual tenor of US strategic behaviour is different, and it is not hard to perceive that difference. US imperial policy has quite aptly been compared to pre-WWII Japanese imperial policy. There is a putatively defensive purpose, but translated into unlimited aggression by a belief that only unchalleged dominance provides security. Global “Full Spectrum Dominance” is an official policy aim. Obama’s rhetorical shift towards multilateralism does nothing to change that underlying fact. Believing that the US can attempt to achieve “Full Spectrum Dominance” without committing genocidal mass murder is like believing that the Third Reich could achieve its desired Lebensraum without genocidal mass murder. So it is the people who are willing to take the steps which the vast majority would reject as morally unacceptable who dictate policy despite the qualms of their colleagues, and they do so by dissimulation (as with the neocon pretence of a fanatical desire to spread democracy).
So how does the Israel lobby stack up against these forces? It doesn’t. It is puny in comparison. What makes the W&M hypothesis even sillier is that they themselves claim that Israel doesn’t benefit from the the policies dictated by the Israel lobby. I’m not kidding. For Jeff Blankfort (and I should say here that despite disagreeing vehemently on this issue, I have as much respect for Blankfort as I have disdain for Walt and Mearsheimer), for Blankfort the fact that Israel does not benefit from US foreign policy supposedly dictated by the Israel Lobby justifies the label “the Jewish Lobby”. Why is that acceptable? Because the backers and lobbyists are Jewish, so forget Jewish people because only the rich scumbags actually count? If that’s the “Jewish Lobby” imagine what the “Caucasian Lobby” must be like!
So here is my synthetic contribution: the Israel Lobby is as powerful as it is because it is a dependant subsidiary of the Empire Lobby, which is the enforcement arm of the Empire Complex, the part used to ensure that any vestigial remnants of democratic governance are fully suppressed. It is not entirely an original idea. Norman Finkelstein incidentally but unavoidably showed the historical evolution of the Israel Lobby as subservient to US imperialism. He documents this in his book The Holocaust Industry which can be downloaded for free, so I suggest actually reading it rather than dismissing Finkelstein because of his wrongheadedness over the BDS movement and the idea of a one-state solution in Palestine.
This brings me to my final point, more an addendum than a conclusion. I am taking a stance which puts me in some unfortunate company. It is not that I have anything against Norman Finkelstein as a whole, he has done some fantastic work. But his BDS stance is silly. Likewise Chomsky, who is still astute on most issues at 84, sounds like he is completely senile and out of touch every time I have heard him discuss Palestine in the last few years (not least because he devotes more attention to what activists should be doing than what Israel and the US should be doing). I think that maybe they fear that a bottom-up movement will cause a sudden collapse of the Zionist apartheid state which will cause chaos and suffering. I too fear that that might be the case, but I know that the continued push for a so-called “two-state solution” through the “peace process” is nothing but camouflage for slow cruel genocide. It is a risk, but we must bet that the better aspects of human nature will win through if we empower the people, because the institutions that are currently empowered are inhuman by nature.
Then there is my closest ally on the subject of the Israel Lobby, Stephen Zunes. OK, so I’ll begin with what I think is wrong with Zunes. I’m not sure when I read his book Tinderbox but, naturally, I didn’t have a problem with him pointing to Zionism as the driving force behind US policy in the ME as being a red herring. But he had his own red herrings. He kept on about how much of a policy mistake it was to alienate the Arab Street and how they inadvertantly or through short-sighted amoral expedience keep accidently promoting Islamist terrorists. OK, I have already mentioned this stuff, but let me be quite clear – from what I think is a more rigorous theoretical position the US empire benefits from a hostile Arab mass (preferably alienated from an elite who are dependent on US support to maintain their dominance – another common imperial practice perfected by the US which you can read about at the blog if you so desire) and the US empire gains a great deal from the existence of credible Islamist terrorist organisations whose efficacy is greatly exaggerated to justify attacks on peoples in Muslim dominated countries. You can argue that my theory reads too much into US intentions and that (and this is often reported by insiders) things are much less co-ordinated and much more myopic in the actual halls of power. I would counter this by saying that my theory actually coincides with real observed events – you cannot explain decades upon decades of consistent systematic repetition as being a series of errors.
(A quick aside here to say that theoretical approaches positing some systemic cause for a systematic but unintentional and counterproductive sequence of actions and policies are completely untenable. Without directed and knowledgeable human intent, such systems would be destroyed or derailed very quickly by changing circumstances. In my honours thesis, which you can read at the On Genocide blog, I demonstrate this with regard to such theories when applied to the US genocides in Indochina. Like a Law of Large Numbers, you can be certain that within any large polity with complex power structures, someone with influence intends that an action taken have the foreseeable outcome which follows. Thus, systemic theories should explain how structures reliably empower certain agents over others, not seek to say that structures themselves cause events. That sounds obvious when I say it, but believe me it is a point that escapes political scientists regularly, and I think that this is driven by the psychological imperative to avoid at all costs the realisation that our own peers commit the inexcusable acts that we like to ascribe only to those whom we dehumanise and demonise).
So that was my problem with Zunes’s Tinderbox. It had the same sort of built in apologism as Walt and Mearsheimer (albeit to a lesser extent) because instead of acknowledging full US culpability for its most heinous and bloody acts it is constantly portraying them as errors. This isn’t a minor point, either. The idea of blundering (whether the motive is idealism, venality, or amoral realism) is THE central prop of US public diplomacy. Look at any insider exposé that criticises US policy but which does not result in the author being hounded, prosecuted, persecuted, exiled and/or bumped off. You will not find a single one of these that does not frame everything as a series of mistakes, and in most cases (to ensure the point is taken) these books are even given titles that tells the reader that without even having to open the book.
Stephen Gowans has also levelled criticisms at Zunes with which I concur. Zunes promotes US imperial interests by critiqueing Third World enemies of Western Imperialism and supporting so-called “democracy-promotion” efforts which are aimed at destabilisation and regime change. Previously, when discussing Amensty International, I dealt with the tendency of some supposed critics of US foreign policy who so bend over backwards to demonstrate an even-handed ability to critique enemies of the US that they actually become vicious interventionists promoting war crimes. The regimes targetted are not necessarily the most pleasant, but in 1939 Poland had an oppressive authoritarian government and supporting German effort to destabilise it would not have been morally justifiable. No Third World regime is so bad that the Balkanised, destabilised, neoliberal, neocolonial fake democracy that the West seeks to impose would not be far, far worse. Look at Iraq. Saddam Hussein was one of the most horrible murderous dictators of the era, yet his crimes against Iraqis pale in comparison to those committed by the US and UK. This applies to Syria and Libya, where Western inflicted suffering has only just begun. This applies to Sudan, now split into two countries with two sets of civil wars. As Gowans points out, Zunes is involved in organisations which are controlled and funded by proven scumbag imperialists.
Where Gowans goes wrong is in overegging the case. In a 2008 article he made wildly exaggerated claims which portrayed Zunes as being “tightly connected to Western governments and ruling class activist foundations” and as a systematic promoter of Western imperialism. I would invite listeners and readers to check out Zunes’s work and see whether they think that this is feasible. Listen to the recent interview on KPFA’s Flashpoints and ask yourself – is this really an imperialist?
No. Sorry. The idea is stupid. And because of the wrongheadedness of Gowans’s over-reach, Zunes wrote a very robust rebuttal of Gowans’s 2008 article, and didn’t even have to deal with the crux issue of aiding US imperialism by supporting the destabilisation of US enemies. Now Gowans, and others of a similar inclination are convinced that Zunes is “the enemy” though his stupidity or worse, and that they can respond to his contentions with ad hominem dismissals. That’s just crap. Get a grip people, and a sense of perspective. Zunes is clearly a cogent and effective critic of US imperialism, whatever mistakes he might make. Likewise, anyone who has a profile dominated by persuasive anti-imperial influence cannot be treated as being a crypto-imperialist. We all make mistakes, and most people are actually at least a little compromised by institutional affiliation, but Gowans’s attitude towards Zunes is a bit like those who claim that Noam Chomsky is actually in the pay of the Pentagon (a rumour Chomsky inadvertantly started many years ago by highlighting the irony that he worked from a building built and furnished with Defense Department money).
So that is why I don’t accept ad hominem attacks on Zunes (because they mischaracterise him) but I should remind you that ad hominem arguments are widely considered invalid in any respect. If someone is right, they are right. Stephen Zunes writings on the Israel lobby are analytically sound and have an empirical backing (in that he actually tests W&M’s contentions by looking at campaign contributions, congressional voting records, and electoral circumstances). If anyone knows of any actual contending analysis – not gainsaying Zunes on ad hominem or baseless theoretical grounds – let me know and I will read it.
There I will have to leave it.