Thursday, April 06, 2006

Some Rebuttals to Mearsheimer & Walt's "Israel Lobby"

[Also posted, with updates, in the Engage Archive]

The manifesto attacking the "Israel Lobby" and its alleged stranglehold on US policy in the Middle East by two prominent academics of the self-styled "realist" school, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, appeared in mid-March of 2006 in two versions: The full 83-page version (with footnotes) was printed as a Working Paper at Harvard entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," and a condensed version (without footnotes) appeared in the London Review of Books (vol. 28, #6 - 23 March 2006) as "The Israel Lobby."

[A slightly updated version, with footnotes, was published in the Fall 2006 issue of Middle East Policy (XIII:3). The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy was published as a book in August 2007, as noted below, and reprinted in September 2008.]

When I first wrote this post in April 2006, a number of critical responses had already appeared, many of which were internet-accessible. I had referred to some of them in a few of my own previous posts: Mearsheimer & Walt on the Zionist Conspiracy ... with a response by Herf & Markovits, Why Mearsheimer & Walt are wrong (continued), and Chomsky and Massad on Mearsheimer & Walt. It was suggested to me that it might be useful to collect a lot of the most serious and systematic critiques of Mearsheimer & Walt's argument in one place, so I have tried to do that below.

I emphasized that this was a preliminary list--not least because I expected that further critiques of M&W's argument would be appearing, as indeed they did. Among the relatively brief responses already available at that time (i.e., as of April 6, 2006), I think the letter to the LRB by Herf & Markovits was the most substantial single critique. (I would also highlight the Forward editorial, despite the fact that it has a few slips and errors of its own, and the piece by Lee Smith, which is both cogent and hilarious--see here).

Any comprehensive, point-by-point refutation would have to be a long piece, given how many of M&W's assertions are either tendentious, misleading, logically questionable, or simply incorrect. At the time this list was originally posted, the only full-scale refutation I knew of was the one by Alan Dershowitz that appeared on April 5, but I suspected that others were already in the works. When they appeared, I have tried to include them in this list. [Update 4/28/06: The New Republic piece by Benny Morris also belongs in his category, though Morris focuses on just a few key assertions made by M&W.]

Critiques and rebuttals of Mearsheimer & Walt's "Israel Lobby" manifesto tapered off some time ago, but new ones continue to appear occasionally. If anyone knows of other significant pieces that should also be included here, suggestions are welcome. (Let me emphasize that I have included only pieces that make some kind of substantive argument, so mere denunciations are excluded, and I would also exclude any piece that even hints at the possibility of any kind of professional sanctions against Mearsheimer or Walt--though, to be honest, I don't recall seeing any serious critiques that did this.)

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Back in April 2006, Richard Kuper reminded me of a piece that appeared several months before Mearsheimer & Walt's paper, but which--in effect--strongly criticizes some key elements of their argument (since Mearsheimer & Walt are mostly just recycling earlier claims made by others). So while this piece does not precisely fit into the list below, it is nevertheless relevant and deserves to be mentioned here:
Steven Zunes, "The US Invasion of Iraq: Not the Fault of Israel and Its Supporters" | Foreign Policy in Focus - January 4, 2006
[See also two pieces by Zunes listed below:
"The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?" - May 16, 2006
"The Israel Lobby Revisited" - December 20, 2007]

[P.P.S. 5/5/2006: In the issue of the London Review of Books dated May 11, 2006, Mearsheimer & Walt published a letter responding--or, rather, largely failing to respond--to critics of their March 23 piece on "The Israel Lobby." For some comments, see Mearsheimer & Walt respond to critics (LRB).] [In December 2006 they did the same in a 60-page document, with 13 pages of endnotes, that purported to be "Setting the Record Straight".]

[Update 10/29/2007: In August 2007 Mearsheimer & Walt published a book-length version of their manifesto, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The list below now includes critical responses to their book as well as to their original article.]

Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits, Letter to the London Review of Books | LRB (Vol. 28, #7) dated April 6, 2006 [also here]

Martin Kramer, "Stephen Walt's World" | Sandstorm - March 17, 2006
Martin Kramer, "Israel and the Iraq War" | Sandstorm - April 12, 2006
Martin Kramer, "Israel, Oil, and Realism" | Sandbox - April 24, 2006
Martin Kramer, "Mearsheimer and Walt in Retreat" | Sandbox - May 15, 2006
Martin Kramer, "The American Interest" | Azure - #26, Autumn 2006
Martin Kramer, "The chronologically-challenged Stephen Walt" | Jerusalem Post BlogCentral - Thursday Feb 11, 2010

Daniel W. Drezner, "Trying for the Full Huntington" | Foreign Policy - March 17, 2006
Daniel W. Drezner, "A Follow-Up on the Israel Lobby" | Daniel W. Drezner blog post - March 21, 2006

Lee Smith, "A Place Called Saudi Arabia" | Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal - March 20, 2006

Richard Baehr & Ed Lasky, "Stephen Walt's War with Israel" | American Thinker - March 20, 2006

Robert Fine, "The Lobby: Mearsheimer and Walt's Conspiracy Theory" | Engage - March 21, 2006

David Hirsh, "The Blame Game" | Guardian "Comment is Free" blog - March 21, 2006

Rick Richman, "Walt, Mearsheimer, and Academic Malpractice" | Jewish Current Issues - March 22, 2006

Shalom Lappin, "More on Mearsheimer and Walt" | Normblog - March 22, 2006

Ruth R. Wisse, "Harvard attack on 'Israel lobby' is actually a targeting of American public" | Jewish World Review - March 23, 2006

Forward Editorial, "In Dark Times, Blame the Jews" | Forward - March 24, 2006

ADL Analysis, "Mearsheimer and Walt's Anti-Israel Screed: A Relentless Assault in Scholarly Guise" | Anti-Defamation League - March 24, 2006

Adam Shatz, "Dialogue of the Deaf" | Guardian "Comment is Free" blog - March 24, 2006
[Shatz would clearly like to be able to praise M&W's paper. He goes out of his way to compliment their "welcome" contributions and dismiss their critics, and he devotes much of this piece to his own attacks on Israel and the "Israel Lobby"; but in the end he is forced to conclude that M&W's argument is overstated, unconvincing, and misleading. "[T]hey seem so in awe of the lobby's power that they have abandoned their realism for the fantasy that Washington is Israeli-occupied territory." --JW]

Ami Isseroff, "The Israel Lobby Revisited" | Zionism & Israel Web Log - March 26, 2006

Peter Berkowitz, "Unscholarly Scholars: Mearsheimer, Walt, and the 'Israel Lobby'" | - March 26, 2006.

Christopher Hitchens, "Overstating Jewish Power" | - March 27, 2006

Noam Chomsky, "The Israel Lobby" | ZNet - March 28, 2006

Joseph Massad, "Blaming the Lobby" | Al Ahram Weekly On-line (#787) March 23-29, 2006

Max Boot, "Policy analysis -- paranoid style" | Los Angeles Times - March 29, 2006

Erik Schechter, "The Lobby Made Me Do It" | - March 29, 2006

Brendan Simms, "'The Israel Lobby': Why John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are Wrong about United States Middle East Policy and Its Motivations - Brendan Simms Offers a 'Realist' Response to their LRB Article" | The Social Affairs Unit - March 29, 2006

Richard L. Cravatts, "The Paranoid View of History Infects Harvard" | History News Network - April 3, 2006

David Aaronovitch, "Terrorism, the Iraq war--now we can blame one mysterious, powerful group" | Times Online - April 4, 2006

Eliot A. Cohen, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic" | Washington Post - April 5, 2006

Alan Dershowitz, "Debunking the Newest--and Oldest--Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt 'Working Paper'" | Harvard Faculty Responses to KSG Working Papers - April 5, 2006
Alan Dershowitz, Letter to the London Review of Books | LRB (Vol. 28, #8) dated April 20, 2006

Jacob T. Levy, "Thoughts on 'The Israel Lobby'" | - April 6, 2006

Dov Waxman, "'The Israel Lobby"--Finally a Balanced Review" | The Globalist - April 6, 2006
Dov Waxman, "The Israel Lobby--Preserving an All-Around Perspective" | The Globalist - April 7, 2006

James Klurfeld, "'Israel lobby' didn't con Bush into invading Iraq" | Newsday - April 7, 2006

Ned Lazarus, "The Irony of Great Power Politics" | Ha'aretz - April 11, 2006

Jeremy Schreiber, Letter to the London Review of Books | LRB (Vol. 28, #8) dated April 20, 2006
John Gretton, Letter to the London Review of Books | LRB (Vol. 28, #8) dated April 20, 2006
Michael Grenfell, Letter to the London Review of Books | LRB (Vol. 28, #8) dated April 20, 2006

Michelle Goldberg, "Is the 'Israel Lobby" distorting America's Mideast policies?" | - April 18, 2006

Gidon D. Remba, "The 'Israel Lobby' and the Persian Gulf Wars" | Chicago JUF News - April 24, 2006

Benny Morris, "And Now For Some Facts" | New Republic - May 8, 2006 [posted April 28, 2006]

Rick Richman, "Walt & Mearsheimer Try Again" | Jewish Current Issues - May 8, 2006

Stephen Zunes, "The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?" | FPIF Special Report - May 16, 2006

Marc Landy, "Zealous Realism: Comments on Mearsheimer and Walt" | The Forum - Volume 4, Issue 1 - May 2006

Ned Lazarus, "Playing Pin the War on the Lobby" | The Forum - Volume 4, Issue 1 - May 2006

Martin Kramer, "The American Interest" | Azure - #26, Autumn 2006 [also listed with Kramer's other pieces above]

David Verbeeten, "How Important Is the Israel Lobby?" Middle East Quarterly | Fall 2006 (XIII:4)

Dan Fleshler, "Conspiracy?: Was defending Israel the motivating factor behind the US-led invasion of Iraq?" | Reform Judaism - Winter 2006

Mitchell Plitnick & Chris Toensing, "'The Israel Lobby' in Perspective" | Middle East Report - Summer 2007 (#243)
[Plitnick & Toensing are sympathetic to Mearsheimer & Walt, praise them for the "courageous step" they took, and dismiss most of their critics as "hysterical and unfair." However, when it comes to the substantive issues, Plitnick & Toensing's critique of M&W's position is actually quite devastating.]

Forward Editorial, "The Wrong Guys" | The Forward - August 22, 2007

David Remnick, "The Lobby" | New Yorker - September 3, 2007

George Friedman, "The Israel Lobby in US Strategy" | Strategic Forecasting - September 5, 2007
[This piece does not explicitly mention Mearsheimer & Walt, but the kinds of arguments it criticizes are recognizably those peddled by M&W.]

Mark LeVine, "No, it's the dog that wags the tail" | Asia Times - September 8, 2007
[LeVine's critique of M&W is similar to those of Chomsky and Massad: "Mearsheimer and Walt seem to know little about the Middle East, Israel's role in US foreign policy, and what are core US goals and strategic interests in the region. They argue that this is a case of the "tail wagging the dog" - a small client state and its allies in the US leading the US government to engage in policies that are manifestly against its interests because of undue political power.
But this is nonsense. In fact, it is the other way around. The United States has been using Israel to fulfill its policy objectives for decades...."

George P. Shultz, "The 'Israel Lobby' Myth" | U.S. News & World Report - September 9, 2007

Leslie H. Gelb, "Dual Loyalties" | New York Times Book Review - September 23, 2007

Leonard Fein, "Sheer Recklessness": Leonard Fein on Mearsheimer & Walt's The Israel Lobby | Americans for Peace Now - September 27, 2007

Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Usual Suspect" | New Republic - October 8, 2007 [posted October 1, 2007]

Daniel Lazare, "Lobbying Degree Zero" | The Nation - October 22, 2007 [posted October 4, 2007]
[A strongly critical review by someone who would have liked to see a powerful and effective critique of the Israel Lobby, and who clearly dislikes many of M&W's critics intensely, but who is forced to conclude that the actual book "that Mearsheimer and Walt have written suffers from significant methodological deficiencies, which is a polite way of saying it's a mess. [....] They seem to know little about how American government works, how lobbyists function or how the United States interacts with the world at large. They are blind to history and tone-deaf to ideology. Because they blame America's Middle Eastern rampage on a knot of wily Zionist agents, they seem to think that the US role in the region would turn benign if those agents were removed." Etc.]

Samuel G. Freedman, "Conspiracy Theory: Who really drives America's policy toward the Middle East?" | Washington Post - October 7, 2007

Amitai Etzioni, "Small lies, big lies, and the Israel lobby" | Huffington Post - October 4, 2007

Walter Russell Mead, "Jerusalem Syndrome" | Foreign Affairs - November/December 2007

Gershom Gorenberg, "Missing the Conversation About the Israel Lobby" | American Prospect (On-Line) - November 6, 2007

Martin Kramer, "Mearsheimer, Walt, and 'Cold Feet'" | Sandbox - December 10, 2007

David A. Harris, "The U.S.-Israel Relationship: Fact and Fiction" | German Council on Foreign Relations - December 17, 2007

Steven Zunes, "The Israel Lobby Revisited" | Foreign Policy in Focus - December 20, 2007

Brad DeLong, "The Crucial Flaws in Mearsheimer and Walt's 'The Israel Lobby'" | Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Economist Brad DeLong's Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based Semi-Daily Journal - February 24, 2008

John B. Judis, "Rinse, Wash, Repeat: For the last time, Stephen Walt, Israel did not send the U.S. and Britain into Iraq" | New Republic - February 14, 2010

David Mizner, "It’s Not Just the Lobby" | Jacobin - April 6, 2015