The Story of Mearsheimer and Walt
Campaign: If Americans Knew (Alison Weir)
C-SPAN Videolink malfunctioning.
Videolink (Council on American-Islamic Relations News Conference on Israeli Influence, 28 August 2006)
"The Israel Lobby" is a controversial working paper written by John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It claims that US Middle East policy is not in America's national interest and is driven primarily by the "Israel Lobby", a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.
“Anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle Eastern policy - an influence AIPAC celebrates - stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-semitism, even though the Israeli media [themselves] refer to America's "Jewish Lobby."” Mr. Walt, Professor Walt, why did you write that?
Stephen Walt: Well we wanted to highlight the fact that one of the tactics that the Israel Lobby uses to try and prevent criticism is to smear critics by claiming that they must be anti-semitic if they are questioning the American relationship with Israel. More generally we wrote the report because we felt that the Israel lobby had an unhealthy influence on American foreign policy in a number of areas. Not that what it was doing was illegitimate. The activities of the lobby are just like every other special interest group, but we felt that it was having an influence that was affecting American interests more broadly in the world and it was time for someone to essentially break the taboo against talking about it and start having a more open and candid and, we hope, dispassionate discussion of this issue.
John Mearsheimer, what happened after this report was published in March?
John Mearsheimer: Well I think because of the Internet the piece ricocheted all around the world almost immediately. A number of people told me that within two or three days of publication of the piece that they had been sent it by email by fifty or sometimes almost a hundred different people. So there's no question that the piece was reverberating across the globe. The initial response by and large was very critical and many people argued at the time that we were anti-semitic or that the piece was anti-semitic. But what's happened over time is that the responses have been much more favorable and the charges of anti-semitism have diminished in good part and I think what you see happening is that we're beginning to reach a point where you can have a more meaningful discussion of this issue than was the case before the article was published.
Stephen Walt, is it fair to assume - I have not seen you on any television up till now. Is that true?
Stephen Walt: That's correct.
Stephen Walt: John and I both felt that when the piece appeared that we wanted the focus to be on the substance of what we wrote not upon us as individuals, not upon us as personalities. There's an inevitable tendency with controversial subjects if the authors start going public, meeting lots of new media appearances, then all the attention gets focused on them. They become the story not the substance of the piece, and we wanted people to actually read it. So we felt that by remaining a bit in the background we would get people to actually read the arguments that we had made. We also felt that a lot of television venues weren't really the ideal place to discuss something like this. It's a complicated subject. It needs careful thought, careful discussion. In fact it's why writing articles is probably the best way to deal with it in a dispassionate way. Now that the piece has been out for several months, now that there's been a symposium organized where it has been discussed in a mainstream journal, we felt it was time to actually become part of the larger conversation. People have had time now to assimilate the arguments that we've made.
This piece - this eighty-two page piece that these two gentlemen have written is called the Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. And I want to read another quote from the March 23rd 2006 release of this. This is from your report. It says, “The bottom line is that AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that U.S. policy towards Israel is not debated there even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel.” John Mearsheimer, explain more on that.
John Mearsheimer: Well if you look at the piece that Michael Massing just wrote in the New York Review of Books that deals in large part with our article, he goes into great lengths in discussing how AIPAC worked. And he went up to Capitol Hill and he interviewed a number of staffers and senators and congressman and one staffer told him that AIPAC basically controls about 250 to 350 of the votes in the House of Representatives. In other words, AIPAC can count on axiomatic support for well over half of the House of Representatives. The situation is not much different in the U.S. Senate. So here you have a situation where you have an interest group, a lobby, that is extremely powerful, that can push American foreign policy in ways that support the interests of Israel. And the basic argument that we were making in our piece is that this is not in the American national interest. It's not good for the United States and for those people out there wondering why the United States is in so much trouble in the Middle East this we believe is one of the principle reasons.
Stephen Walt, I'm going to put another quote on the screen and them I'm going to get your reaction to it. “Although neo-conservatives and other Lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not.... Clearly, it would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on "Jewish influence." Rather, it was due in large part to the Lobby's influence, especially that of the neo-conservatives within it.” What's the difference between the Lobby and the American Jewish community?
Stephen Walt: Well the American Jewish community is quite heterogeneous in a number of subjects. They don't agree on foreign policy issues. There's nothing centralized or organized about the lobby, but the lobby is a set of special interest groups and organizations, some of which are not even principally Jewish in origin, that press for particular foreign policy moves for Israel. And we think its very important for people to understand that groups like AIPAC do not represent the mainstream of American opinion or necessarily even the mainstream of American Jewish opinion. It's clear from public opinion polls taken before the Iraq war that the support for the Iraq war was actually lower with the American Jewish community than it was in the country as a whole. Which is why we wanted to make it abundantly clear that we don't see this as a Jewish influence. We don't actually use the phrase "Jewish Lobby" in our piece except when we're quoting others. We want to make it very clear that these are organized special interest groups that often have positions that are far more extreme than the individuals or groups they claim to represent.
John Mearsheimer, when did you decide you wanted to do this report?
John Mearsheimer: We both began to focus quite intensely on the Middle East after 9/11 as most scholars of American foreign policy did. And what became apparent to both of us rather independently was that Israel was the centerpiece of our policy in the region, and that the lobby played a key role - not the only role - but it played a key role in shaping that policy. And we felt that it often shaped the policy in ways that weren't in the American national interest and that somebody should say something about that. At the same time it became clear to us that it became very difficult to get anything in print in the mainstream media in the United States about Israeli policy and about the U.S. Israeli relationship. So we decided nevertheless to write a piece. We had no success getting it published in the United States but fortunately the London Review of Books was smart enough and generous enough to publish our piece. And then as I said before with the help of the Internet it just reverberated around the globe.
Stephen Walt, how much coverage did you get on your piece in the United States when it was published first back in March?
Stephen Walt: There was fairly rapid coverage once the piece began to come out. A number of newspapers began to pick up on it, various commentators, and then journals of opinion. The last time I checked the number of downloads of the electronic version from the Kennedy School's web site was somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 to maybe 300,000. I haven't checked in a couple of months. But it took a week or two before things began to reverberate around. As John said earlier some of the initial responses were really quite vitriolic and not very substantive in nature. I think since then we've had more thoughtful commentators both pro and con, and we're having precisely the kind of serious discussion that John and I had hoped to initiate.
Stephen Walt is a Bachelors of Arts graduate from Stanford University in International Relations. Has a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from U.C. Berkeley. What's your home town?
Stephen Walt: Los Altos California way back when. Right now I live in Massachusetts.
John Mearsheimer is a graduate of West Point 1970 and then served five years as an officer in the United States Air Force. Has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Cornell University. Our first call for our two guests is from Charleston Rhode Island. You're on the air.
Woman calling from Charleston: Yes. I read that article in the New York Times and I remember calling when the Iraq war started and I said that President Bush went into Iraq because Arial Sharon visited that White House at least six times just before he started to bomb in Iraq. And I said the reason he went into Iraq was because the Jews - because of Israel. Nobody said one word after I finished saying that. And then I said every time somebody called in to mention Israel or the Israeli lobby you pull the plug on them. Everyone pulls the plug. I want to know why you cannot discuss this in this country. It is the only thing that cannot be discussed.
John Mearsheimer: Well I don't know what your policy is on this issue, so I'm not going to comment on that.
Let me just interrupt to say if our policy was not to discuss it then we wouldn't have been asking you two gentlemen to come on here for the last three months. So we can just go past that one.
John Mearsheimer: But I would say that the caller is correct that it has been in the past almost impossible to discuss this subject in the mainstream media. But with regard to the more important issue of the lobby and the Iraq war it's very important to emphasize that the lobby alone could not cause the war and did not cause the war in Iraq. The lobby in fact was pushing hard for war against Iraq from early 1998 up until 2001, when the twin towers were taken down. But despite that pushing by the lobby they could not get a war. It took 9-11 and it took the commitment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney together with the lobby to make the war happen. So our basic argument is that the lobby was critical for making the war happen. It was essential. We believe that without the lobby you would not have had a war. But the lobby alone did not cause the war. Let me finally add just to be perfectly clear. We are not arguing for one second that it a war that was pushed on the United States by American Jews. Again as you made clear before, as we said in the piece, American Jews were ten percent less likely to favor the war than the average American. So this was not a war foisted on the United States by American Jews. It was a war that was caused in good part by the Israel lobby and also by the proclivities of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
John Mearsheimer is in Chicago this morning. Our other guest Stephen Walt is the Boston area at Cambridge. We go to Chicago Illinois for our next call. Go ahead.
Man calling from Chicago: Good morning gentlemen. I want to thank you for taking the brave step of reporting on something I have feared for several years - the power of the Israel lobby. And I congratulate you on your work. I downloaded it on the Internet by the way and I found it very informative. Two questions. One - actually for you at the University of Chicago with the Strausians there - did you have any difficulty researching this project? Where there any road blocks raised during your efforts?
Let me start with Stephen Walt on that and we'll come back to John Mearsheimer. What about the same thing for you at Harvard?
Stephen Walt: Absolutely not. Harvard has actually been very supportive throughout the entire event and certainly when we were doing the research there was no opposition whatsoever.
John Mearsheimer: I had no problems at the University of Chicago. With regard to the question about the Strausians, there were a number of Strausians who were opposed to this war. There were of course some Strausians who favored the war. But I think much too much is made of the connection between Leo Straus, a great political philosopher who taught here at the University of Chicago, and the war in Iraq. And in fact I would argue that had Straus been alive he would have opposed the war. You want to remember that the war in Iraq was part of a larger design to reshape the Middle East and to create a sea of democracies in that area of the world. It was really a radical strategy. It called for social engineering on a massive scale. I believe that Leo Straus, who grew up in Germany and formed his intellectual base in that country and in Europe in the 1920's and the 1930's, would have been skeptical in the extreme about such a bold idea. So I don't think he would have been enthusiastic and would bet he would have opposed the war had he been alive in 2002 - 2003.
In the discussion in Foreign Policy magazine which is out now Aaron Friedberg, who used to work in the White House 2003 to 2005 as the Deputy Assistant to the Vice President of the United States for National Security Matters, starts off his column here says, "John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are engaging in a stunning display of intellectual arrogance. From their Olympian perch the authors, apparently alone, see what is truly in America's national interest. While others cower in silence they brave accusations of anti-semitism to speak truth to power. If the American people persist in seeing Israel in a positive light it is because they have been manipulated and misinformed." Dennison Iowa, you're on the air. Go ahead.
Woman calling from Dennison Iowa: Hi. My family has a little experience with the AIPAC lobby in as much as my niece Rachel Corrie was killed in the Gaza strip. A nonviolent protestor of the demolition of homes amongst other things. In fact the New York Times just yesterday reported that her play, we call it her play because it's her words, "My Name is Rachel Corrie", after having had the curtain pulled down in New York a few months ago, is going to show, is going to play off Broadway. But we have been doing lobbying with Congress for the past three years asking for an independent investigation into Rachel's death. In fact members of the family just recently met with Mr. Barry Sabin in the Department of Justice requesting the same. We have also met with many members of Congress and talked about the Leahy amendment, which should kick in when there is a human rights abuse and there should be no foreign military aid going toward that country. We have been told that Israel has been very problematical. And basically we have hit a stone wall in terms of any sort of true Congressional look - any sort of true American look - into what happened to this American citizen in the Gaza strip.
Thank you very much for the call. Stephen Walt do you want to react to that?
Stephen Walt: Yes well first Rachel Corrie's death was obviously a tragedy and I think this illustrates a number of the points that we've been trying to make here. First of all it suggests the power that AIPAC has in Congress. That it's very difficult to get any criticism of Israel at all from an American congressman. And it's also important to recognize that the lobby is not all powerful. It doesn't get its way on every issue. But a central purpose of its activities is to ensure that American support for Israel is essentially unconditional. That it continues at very high levels of economic aid and diplomatic support regardless of what Israel's conduct is. So that even when something like this incident - the death of Rachel Corrie - there's no sanction. There's no open criticism in the United States. It has no real consequences for the broader relationship. This is the kind of thing that undermines America's image around the world. Certainly complicates our relationships with allies in every part of the world and it's one of the reasons why we feel a more open debate about the role of the lobby and its impact on American foreign policy is badly over due.
Aurora Illinois next caller. Go ahead.
Man calling from Aurora Illinois: Yes, my nephew was murdered by some of those people that Rachel Corrie was trying to protect. Israel was doing its job in destroying tunnels and Rachel Corrie was supporting the terrorists that happened to be murdering these people. Now my point to the so called "authors" [air quotes implied from derision in caller's inflection]. I read your papers too and it was so full of inaccuracies it was stunning.
Could you give us an example?
Man calling from Aurora Illinois: Well no I can't off hand myself but I would like to know why they won't debate Martin Kramer or why you don't have Alan Dershowitz on or some of these people knowledgeable like him. Like Andrea Levin. There's a whole host of people who have rebutted every argument that these two so called authors have written but I don't see you having them on to rebut any of those arguments.
Thanks caller. Let's go -- do you want to react to that Mr. Mearsheimer?
John Mearsheimer: No I have nothing to say. Except I will point out that Rachel Corrie was not supporting the terrorists. Rachel Corrie was supporting the Palestinians. And it is important to emphasize that the Israelis have occupied the Gaza strip where she was murdered and the West Bank since 1967. And whenever any country, whether it's Israel or the United States in Iraq, occupies a foreign country or foreign population you invariably end up employing brutal tactics. And those brutal tactics end up in the deaths of people not only like Rachel Corrie but many Palestinians as well. This is why American support of Israeli policy in the occupied territories is so disastrous for the American national interest. Every night on television throughout the Arab and Islamic world people see pictures of the Israelis brutalizing the Palestinian population. And this is not only not good for the United States it's not good for Israel. And it's certainly not good for the Palestinian people.
We go to Louisville Kentucky. You're on the air.
Woman calling from Kentucky: Good morning. I have a question about every time you have any criticism about Israel or their policies you kind of get labeled anti-semitic. I wonder if the Christian right have a lot of influence in the Israel lobby.
Thank you. Stephen Walt?
Stephen Walt: Yeah. As we said in the piece the Israel lobby is not synonymous with American Jews. It includes a number of other groups as well and so called fundamentalist Christians, sometimes referred to as Christian Zionists, are also a key element of this - that for largely religious and possibly also political reasons have been very vocal supporters of Israel. People like Tom Delay in Congress. One of the reasons I think he has been such a strong and vocal supporter of Israel when he was in office was essentially his set of religious convictions as well. So the coalition the lose coalition that we characterize as the lobby includes those groups as well and they have had a significant influence too.
By the way. Back to another quote from the report for those of you haven't been able to read it. QUOTE: The Lobby's influence causes trouble on several fronts. It increases the terrorist danger that all states face - including America's European allies. It has made it impossible to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a situation that gives extremists a powerful recruiting tool, increases the pool of potential terrorists and sympathizers and contributes to Islamic radicalism in Europe and Asia. Our next call is Ann Arbor Michigan. Good Morning.
Man calling from Michigan: Good morning gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be on with you. Just a couple quick comments. Do either of the gentlemen think that the neoconservatives use the religious sentiments of people here. Particularly doomsdayers who think that something has to happen with Israel and once those people are protected or attacked that Jesus will be back. And secondly if 9-11 was necessary. I never would have thought that this would be possible but I have seen things that would lead me to believe that its possible - not that our government cooperated - that we were complicit in some form.
John Mearsheimer: Well let me take the first question. First of all the neoconservatives are by and large quite secular and their interest in Israel and fostering a close relationship between the United States and Israel has nothing to do with religious reasons. And facilitating the second coming - that's just not in their game plan at all. But there's no question that those kind of religious ideas deeply influence the Christian evangelicals or the Christian Zionists who are allied with the Israel lobby. No doubt about that.
Our next call we go to Baton Rouge Louisiana.
Woman calling from Baton Rouge: Good morning. I guess I have a comment first and then a question. I find that both countries have a severe plight with being hated by one or the other. Israel having the better of the plights because we are backing them. Palestine I'm sure wondering why the United States can never back them. I'm a Catholic and I have no interest in either except I'd like both of them to get along. And I'm just wondering, please tell me why we should play favorites all the time. I'm beginning to feel the Palestinian people - that I think it's making us look bad.
Thanks. Stephen Walt.
Stephen Walt: This is one of the central points in our article. We believe that if the Israel lobby where less influential the United States would have done more and more effectively to end the tragic conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a national security priority for the United States now given the role that that plays in contributing to Islamic radicalism and anti-Americanism. It would also be the right thing to do both for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Indeed we argue in our paper the lobby's excessive influence has in fact been quite harmful to Israel. For example, the United States has never been able to do anything or been willing to do anything to halt Israel's settlements policy which is something that now many Israelis regard as a tragic mistake. Something that should never have begun. Something that they're now trying to extricate themselves from but it's exceedingly difficult to do that. But this is one of those cases in which the lobby has probably acted in ways that were not in America's interest but also not in Israel's long term interest as well. And it's only when it becomes somewhat less influential in the United States that we're likely to get a policy that will finally bring that conflict to a close.
In the Foreign Policy magazine Zbigniew Brzezinski also has something to say about this report that you two gentlemen wrote. "The case made by Mearsheimer and Walt did not warrant the hysterical charges of anti-semitism leveled at them by several academics in self-demeaning attacks published in leading U.S. newspapers. Sadly some even stooped to McCarthyite accusations of guilt by association, triumphantly reciting the endorsement of Mearsheimer and Walt's views by vile and fanatical racists as somehow constituting proof of the authors' anti-semitism. In contrast several of the Israeli reactions to the Mearsheimer and Walt article were quite measured and free of such mudslinging."
John Mearsheimer who was the most vitriolic about your report?
John Mearsheimer: I don't think there was any single individual or any single magazine or newspaper who was the most vitriolic. There were a handful of newspapers and magazines that were especially critical of us in a rather vicious way. The New Republic for example I think ran four different articles that attacked us. The Wall Street Journal of course which is knee-jerk in its support for Israel policy and is axiomatically going to be critical of an article along the lines of ours went after us on at least two or three different occasions. And then there were a handful of individuals writing in places like the New York Sun and even the Washington Post who went after us in a rather vicious way. As Steve said before this is regrettable because neither he nor I are anti-semitic and there's nothing at all that's anti-semitic about our piece. What we were trying to do here was to generate a debate about the substance of the issue. And its very important to talk about these matters not simply because its important for American national security, which it certainly is, but also, as Steve point out, it's important for Israel's security as well. This situation that we now have is not only not good for the United States, it's not good for Israel and it's certainly not good for the Palestinians.
Stephen Walt. John Mearsheimer mentioned that The New Republic came after you. That's partially owned by Martin Peretz. He teaches at Harvard. Do you know him and have you had any personal conversations about this?
Stephen Walt: I've never met Mr. Peretz at all. He actually teaches in another part of the university so we've never had any reasons to associate. I'd have no objection to talking with him or with anyone else.
Mustang Oklahoma, you're on the air.
Man calling from Mustang Oklahoma: Hello. I love you. Gentlemen. Now look at the map of Google Earth. You had it up there. You have Israel, a tiny country, surrounded by all these other countries. Now wouldn't you say? I think you have to put yourself in the Israeli shoes to empathize with them. Now one of you said you see all these pictures of the brutal way the Israelis respond. Now you also see how you have Jewish people eating outside at cafes and they're blown up. So it goes both ways. So what are you saying? You're saying also remember that Israel knocked out the nuclear reactor of Saddam. Now what are you saying? Are you saying that ah. There's two sides. You're not saying that we should just let them control obviously out to the sea and the Mediterranean. They're a tiny country and they're surrounded by countries that don't have a positive view of them.
Thanks caller. John Mearsheimer what do you say to that?
John Mearsheimer: Well we believe that the existence of wonderful thing. We're not arguing in the paper for one moment that the United States should be anti-Israel. The argument is that the United States has a right to be critical of Israeli policy, and furthermore that the present U.S. Israeli relationship is not in the American national interest. Now with regard to Israel itself, Israel is a very secure country. Israel has fought numerous wars since its creation. It fought a war in 1948. It fought a war in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982. It's won every one of those wars. Easily. Because it is Goliath and its opponents are David, and that is a good thing. We are happy that there is a Jewish state, and it is a good thing that that Jewish state is secure.So Israel's security is not the issue here. The issue is the Palestinians. And the fact is that not only do the Jews have a right to have a state in Israel but the Palestinians have a right to have a viable state of their own. And until the Palestinians get a viable state of their own this conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is never going to be shut down. So what the United States has to do is it has to be much more even handed. It has to lean on the Israelis and the Palestinians to create a two state solution that could put an end to all this violence. SO our argument is not to bias American foreign policy against Israel so that we work to the detriment of Israeli security. That's not our argument at all. Our argument is that the United States should be committed to the long term security of Israel. But it should not be committed to Israeli policy in the occupied territories and Israel's unwillingness to give the Palestinians a state.
Stephen Walt, on page 31 you start to name some names with the lobby and the Iraq war section. I'm just looking at the page and I see names jump out like Bernard Lewis, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Michael Malouf, a Lebanese American who has close ties with Perle, and Ahmed Chalabi. What about the naming of names? What's the point?
Stephen Walt: The point was to provide as accurate a historical reconstruction of how the United States got into the war. The point is not to sort of pin the blame on particular individuals or single them out. But these were key individuals who helped shape U.S. policy getting us into Iraq and it was important simply for the historical record that we establish what they were doing and, to the extent that we could, establish why they were doing it. So showing the links between a number of these groups, their connections to the Likud party in some of these cases. Their connection to Chalabi and why he was doing what he was doing to try and get us into Iraq were all part of demonstrating that these groups, along with others, had played a key role, again not the only role, as John said earlier, but a key role in shaping the debate and shaping the decision making to go to war there.
Next call Sarasota Florida for Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Go ahead please.
Man from Sarasota: Yes. I respect you gentlemen but I can't understand how knowledgeable gentlemen like you can be so inconsistent and naive. You claim that AIPAC in effect forced the United States to go to war in Iraq. That is so far fetched. Do you think that if someone like George Bush and Rumsfeld need Israel to tell them what to do? If there were no Israel the United States would still be in Iraq. It has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. Why is the United States relying on Israel to go to war? And when you say Israel is secure how can Israel be secure when they've had to fight all of these wars and are consistently everyday being attacked by suicide bombers? The United States is claiming that it is going against terrorism and should and that's fine. But when Israel which is actually surrounded by enemies and has got a hundred million Arabs that are determined to push them into the sea why shouldn't they have their own right to do what they do and they're in the so-called foreign territories but purely for protection. They didn't invade these things. They were invaded by the Arabs. And why don't you acknowledge Israel's right to protect itself?
Thanks. Stephen Walt let's start with you.
Stephen Walt: There's a lot in that question. First of all as we've said several times, we didn't think that this was a war caused solely by the Israel lobby. They were critical, necessary, but not sufficient condition for going into Iraq. Secondly, I think the caller sort of expressed the standard view of Israeli security that the lobby would like to have us believe but its simply not true. For example the quite respected Israeli Defense Institute the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies and its publications now puts out that Israel is in fact the strongest military power in the region and the balance of power strongly favors it. It's the only country in the region that has a nuclear arsenal which again provides an additional margin of security. The central problem Israel faces now is caused not by the fact that the Arabs want to toss them into the sea. That's an old cliche. It's caused by the occupation, which unfortunately generated terrorism as the Palestinian response. I would also remind the caller that Egypt has made peace with Israel. Jordan has made peace with Israel. Syria has come very close to making peace in the '90s and we almost had one and then the Israelis walked away from it. Saudi Arabia has offered to make peace with Israel. If it were not for the occupation Israel could in fact have quite a secure existence among its neighbors in part because of its military strength and in part because the rest of the world is in fact prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state which of course John and I support whole heartedly.
John Mearsheimer we'll come right back to you after we get Neptune New Jersey on the line. Go ahead please.
Man calling from Neptune: Hi gentlemen. I'd like to make a proposal to you and a question if I may have the ability to give some backup information after you make a comment on it. Here's what it comes down to. Why is Israel where it is? For thirty years I've always thought about this. It costs us billions of dollars and it was an arbitrary decision to put Israel where it is. Why don't we move it. And I'm serious about this. I mean there's already more Jews in New York City than there are in Israel. Take the whole country. Give everybody a million bucks or two hundred thousand or whatever it works out to and move it somewhere. It should not be there.
Thanks caller. John Mearsheimer.
John Mearsheimer: Well I don't buy that argument for one second. Israel is not going to move. It's not going to go away. And it should not move or it should not go away. As I said before the fact that there is a Jewish state is a wonderful thing. Given the history of anti-semitism in Europe and other places around the world the fact that there is a homeland for Jews is a good thing. The one thing I would like to move are the settlements in the occupied territories. If we could take those Israeli settlements out of the West Bank and move them back behind the so-called green line into Israel proper it would go a long way towards ameliorating the problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis and creating a more stable situation in the Middle East and making Israel more secure I believe.
Both of our guests have spent considerable time at the Brookings Institution. John Mearsheimer, how long have you been at Chicago?
John Mearsheimer: I've been at Chicago since 1982, which means almost twenty-four years.
And Stephen Walt, I could ask the same question of Professor Mearsheimer, have you been to Israel before and if you did why did you go there?
Stephen Walt: I went there while I was doing research on my first book, which dealt with the Middle East as well. I spent a week there and had a wonderful time.
And professor Mearsheimer?
John Mearsheimer: I've been to Israel a number of times and, like Steve, the first time I went was to do research on my dissertation. I was initially very interested in the subject of conventional war, and because the Israelis have fought many conventional wars I went to Israel and talked to military commanders and security experts there about the '56 war, the '67 war and the '73 war. So for better or worse I know a great deal about the nitty gritty military situation in Israel over time.
Valdosta Georgia, you're next. Go ahead please.
Woman calling from Valdosta: Good morning. I was wondering about the loose coalition. I was aware of the lobby but you noted the Israelis of course, the neoconservatives, the evangelicals and I was wondering what other groups might be involved in that loose coalition. And my other kind of dumb question is the power that they have over Congress I know maybe is partly religious like you mentioned but is it really just money? Is there some reason? I mean would people really put religion over their patriotism?
Thanks. Stephen Walt?
Stephen Walt: First of all with regard to the first question there are a whole number of organizations and we emphasize in our paper that this is not a centralized movement. This isn't a conspiracy. This is a set of different groups that don't even agree on every issue, although they tend to be fairly consistent in supporting rather unconditional American support for Israel. So I would include in it obviously AIPAC, but groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and other organizations like that. There are also groups as we have mentioned several times, groups that are principally Christian in nature that are all part of this set of organizations that again tend to push.Now as for the sources of influence they operate the way most special interest groups do. They channel campaign contributions to candidates that they favor. They channel against candidates they think won't be sufficiently supportive. They spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill providing background memoranda, talking points, lobbying individual congressmen personally and as we know from studying other interest groups this often works because many congressman and many people in the United States don't have a strong view one way or the other but some Americans have very passionate views about this. So if you're an individual congressman, even if you don't care much one way or another it's simply the smart political choice to favor Israel when someone comes and asks you to vote for a resolution or to vote for more foreign aid. It's potentially dangerous not to do so. If you get the reputation for being not sufficiently supportive you're likely to face a tougher challenge in the next election. Money may flow to your opponents. You may get lots of criticism from other people. That's why former Senator Ernest Hollings said when he was leaving the Senate that you can't have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.I think that captures rather nicely the power of this particular set of interest groups. No different from other interest groups except it tends to be a lot more influential than most of them.
John Mearsheimer have you totaled up the amount of money that the lobby collects every year among its members and then gives away?
John Mearsheimer: No I haven't. I think Michael Massing's piece in the New York Review of Books which I talked about before does an excellent job of laying out the workings of the lobby and I would suggest that listeners take a look at that piece to get more details. But I myself have not totaled up those numbers.
Let's go next to Queens New York. You're on the air.
Man calling from Queens: Yes. I wish I could be right on there with you so I could debate against you face to face because I could demolish every single one of your arguments against Israel. But I'll say this. First of all Israel was better off without the USA. I lived in Israel for ten years and I can tell you that in '67 Israel had defeated the Egyptians, they had the Sinai under their control. They had the oil resources of the Sinai flowing in. One billion dollars of oil that Israel now has to scrounge around and get help for. Second of all regarding Israel's nuclear capabilities remember it was Jews who gave the atomic bomb to America in this country. In Chicago where you're sitting it was [unintelligible] who invented the nuclear reactor along with his buddy Enrico Ferme. There would have been no Manhattan project without the Jews who were helping out and Israel already had the knowledge base in the '40s and '50s to build a nuclear. They only needed the capital and they needed the French help in technology so they collaborated together to get it. They didn't get it from the United States. That's number one. And number two regarding AIPAC. AIPAC really defends the U.S. defense industry. It is the U.S. defense industry that would lose five billion dollars to the Arab countries surrounding as well as the two billion dollars that we more or less subsidize. Remember we give as much aid to Egypt as we give to Israel. My point is if the United States turns out to be a weak reed and abandons Israel it will be no loss to Israel. Israel will then be free to win this war the way the United States won the war in Japan. It would be unshackled from U.S. inhibition and it would be able to win this war against these Islamic terrorists who see Israel only as a stone in their shoe, not as their final objective. Mind you Israel is just a stone in the Islamic shoe.
Thanks caller. Gentlemen. Let's start with Stephen Walt.
Stephen Walt: Well I don't have much to add to that. I don't accept most of the points he made there but it seems to me that if that view is correct then Israel has no security problems. The caller is suggesting that even without three billion dollars in American aid every year Israel could quite easily take over the entire region and run it. I hope that doesn't happen. I think that would be a tragedy for Israel. It would also be very bad for the neighboring states. Beyond that I don't have much to comment except to say that some of the things the caller said about the contribution Jews have made to American life are absolutely right and we should all be grateful for them.
John Mersheimer let me ask you. Three billion a year to Israel. Two billion to Egypt. Why?
John Mearsheimer: We give three billion dollars a year to Israel even though it's an advanced industrial country with a per capita GNP the same as South Korea and Spain in large part because of the power of the lobby. And the reason that we give two billion dollars a year to Egypt is because that's basically bribe money that we've given the Egyptians to maintain the peace agreement with Israel. We're doing the same thing with the Jordanians. If you were to rank order the three principal recipients of American foreign aid it would be Israel, Egypt and Jordan. And I explained to you why Israel gets that money and why Egypt and Jordan get that money because it's basically bribe money to keep them on board in terms of maintaining peace with Israel.
But I want to go back to the questioner. I'm in the unusual situation that I disagree a bit with Steve here and I'm more sympathetic with what the caller had to say. I think he's basically right that Israel could have easily taken care of itself over the years without American military assistance. As he pointed out they won a series of wars - the 1948 war, the 1956 war and the 1967 war before - before - American aid began flowing to Israel. So there's no question that Israel is capable of taking care of itself. It would be more difficult.
But the argument I would make is not that we should pull the plug on Israel not that we should stop all aid to Israel. The argument I would make is that our aid should be conditional. We should say to the Israelis that if you want these continued high levels of aid then what you have to do is withdraw from the occupied territories. You have to go to much greater lengths to cut a deal with the Palestinians that will result in them getting a viable state. It's the unconditional aid. It's the fact that AIPAC has put us in a position where we just have to give Israel huge amounts of money and huge amounts of diplomatic support no matter what they do that has gotten us into so much trouble. The aid should be conditional but it should not disappear altogether. Because again as Steve and I have emphasized in the piece and here on this show, we fully support the existence of Israel. We just question its policies and the present relationship that our country has with that country.
Minette North Dakota you're on the air.
Caller: Hello. We talk about Israel and these five billion dollar bribes that we give these countries. When we see Israel knock people out of their homes and they're all spread around where ever they're at. It's just like the Native Americans issue. The question is, is that the constitution of our country? And all the statutes that we have to go by, they don't follow them any more. And the question is when do you yourself talk policy or do you talk politics? When do you guys step up and say okay what about those people that got kicked out of their homes?
Stephen Walt: If I understand the question correctly I think that is precisely what we have tried to do with this article. I mean every country that I know of has various negative aspects of its history. Certainly our country does. Certainly every other country that I can think of and we don't suggest in the article that Israel has behaved worse than other countries have. We do suggest that it hasn't behaved any better and can't justify American support on that basis either. But I think by writing this article we were both attempting to engage an important set of policy questions and also in particular engage the politics of those particular issues here at home.
John Mearsheimer forty-one of the eighty-two pages footnotes. Why?
John Mearsheimer: Well Steve and I had actually pretty much finished the piece and were getting ready to submit it to the London Review of Books in December of 2005 and we then circulated it to I believe seven or eight major scholars on the Middle East. And one of them said to us that you have to create a footnoted version because you are going to be intensely criticized and people are going to think that you made up some of these stories or you made up some of these facts. So what you have to do is create a separate version that allows readers to go to the sources and see that you're not making this up. So what Steve and I did end of December and early January 2006 is we created a footnoted version. That's the Harvard working paper that you referred to at the beginning of the show. And then we had to face the question of how we made that accessible to readers. And what we decided to do was put it up on the Kennedy School web site at Harvard University where of course Steve teaches. So there were two separate versions of the piece that came out in mid-March. One was the London Review of Books piece which garnered the most attention and which we intended to garner the most attention. And then the backup version that was posted with footnotes on the Harvard web site. But again we did it mainly so that people who read the piece and were interested in learning more about how we reached the conclusions that are layed out in the piece and where we got our information from could go and find out for themselves.
Stephen Walt, did Harvard do anything after this thing came out on that web site? Is it still there by the way?
Stephen Walt: It's still on the web site. It's a web site that's available to any Kennedy School faculty member to post papers that are works in progress. I should mention that John and I are preparing a revised version of the paper for publication in academic journals this summer. The other point I'd emphasize is that if people go and look at the fully documented version they'll see that our sources are overwhelmingly from rather mainstream sources. From New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Jewish newspaper Forward and from many Israeli sources as well like Haaretz, Jerusalem Post and others. We did not base our findings on extremist literature or on a lot of radical writings. These are from overwhelmingly traditional mainstream sources.
West Plains Missouri for Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. We're about out of time. Go ahead.
Caller: Good morning. Basically I think it's good to talk about the lobby but I have a question for Mr. Walt. He said that nobody was trying to push Israel into the sea anymore. I don't know if he's heard about the rhetoric from Iran or not but both Iran and Syria aren't too pleased with Israel.
Stephen Walt: There's no question that they're not pleased with Israel and the Iranian President Ahmadinejad has made a number of statements that I think are quite reprehensible about suggesting that Israel should not exist. There's debate among scholars about exactly how one should translate what he said. Was he talking about the physical destruction of Israel or was he talking about reversing its creation politically. I can't resolve that particular dispute because I don't speak Farsi. But I regard his statements as unfortunate at best and reprehensible at worst. What I was responding to however was the caller suggesting that there were now hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were now united to try and throw Israel into the sea. I think that goal, if it was ever there, is no longer the case, which is a very good thing. And the question now is to try and resolve the remaining conflicts in the region for the benefit of the parties there and for the benefit of the United States as a whole.
Next call from Norquist Georgia. Go ahead please.
Caller: Yes. Good morning everyone. This is the first time for me to call. And the thing is I'm an Arab American we as Arabs see how much the Israelis are brutalizing the Palestinians. They came and took an Arab country and instead of being good neighbors they've been torturing the Palestinians and the Arabs. And then they call us terrorists. They have the weapons. They shoot Palestinians with Apache helicopters. With F16's. And all these weapons that we as Americans give them. And then we say no when the Arabs defend themselves. We say they are the terrorists. If the Arabs are terrorists they would have wiped out Israel for a long time.
Thanks. John Mearsheimer.
John Mearsheimer: Well I would distinguish between the Arabs and the Palestinians. As Steve said before most of the Arab states surrounding Israel have reached peace agreements with Israel. He talked about Jordan and Egypt. And as he said Syria and Israel could work out their differences rather easily and almost did in the year 2000 and it was the Israelis who walked away from it.The real problem here is with the Palestinians and I agree in good part with what the woman said. The Israelis came into the Middle East, Jews came into the Middle East starting in the late 1800s early 1900s for the purpose of creating a Jewish state. Now they were successful at doing that and there was no way that that state could have been created without causing great pain for the Palestinians. And after 1948 there was an Israel and the Palestinians had by and large been pushed out of what had formerly been their homeland. That's a done deal and there is now an Israeli state and the question is where do we go from here? The point I would make is that it's now imperative that the Palestinians now be given a state of their own that includes virtually all of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. And the Israelis and the United States and the Arabs states in the region go to great lengths to do everything they can to make that a flourishing state - the Palestinian state. We need a two state solution here. There is a Jewish state and as we have said on countless occasions that is a wonderful thing. And it will be a wonderful thing when a Palestinian state is created. It will be wonderful for the Palestinians for sure but also wonderful for the United States and for Israel. So the real issue here is between the Palestinians and the Israelis and what needs to be done is to create a Palestinian state.
If you had it to do over again, Professor Walt, would you do this article?
Stephen Walt: Absolutely.
John Mearsheimer: No question. And I'm absolutely very proud of the fact that Steve and I did this. I think we did it because we thought it was in the American national interest to bring this issue out in the open and talk about it. So I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
We thank you both very much for appearing this morning.
John Mearsheimer: Thank you.
Stephen Walt: Pleasure to be here.