Friday, May 05, 2006

Mearsheimer & Walt respond to critics (LRB)

In the issue of the London Review of Books dated May 11, 2006, Mearsheimer & Walt have published a letter responding--or, rather, failing to respond--to critics of their March 23 piece on "The Israel Lobby." (For the original piece, see here, and for some of the main critiques so far, see here.)
In substantive terms, M&W's letter is surprisingly thin. It does not actually offer any significant or convincing responses to the most serious criticisms of their analysis. Nor do M&W acknowledge any of the various factual errors and strained interpretations that even sympathetic reviewers have pointed out. They mostly just restate points from their original paper (including some of the standard pious disclaimers and pro forma clich├ęs that they had included to deflect criticisms of their actual arguments), interspersed with complaints about the unfair ad hominem attacks to which they believe they have been subjected.
Therefore, this piece by M&W doesn't merit extensive discussion. However, some of their closing remarks are worth noting, if only because they are so transparently misleading and self-serving:
We close with a final comment about the controversy surrounding our article. Although we are not surprised by the hostility directed at us, we are still disappointed that more attention has not been paid to the substance of the piece.
I'm not sure whether M&W really believe this quite illusory account of the situation, but I suspect that they do--which is both funny and revealing. In fact, "the substance" of their analysis has received a good deal of attention, and many of their specific claims have been subjected to systematic and often devastating criticism (the import of which seems to have passed them by). I think what M&W really mean here is that they are "disappointed" that their most overstated and implausible claims, which seem to them self-evidently correct, have not been more widely and enthusiastically endorsed. Instead, many of their defenders have tended to downplay or ignore these claims--or to misrepresent M&W's arguments in order to sanitize them and make them sound more sensible and uncontroversial--and have tried to change the subject away from "the substance" of M&W's actual arguments to attacks on M&W's critics for allegedly "smearing" and persecuting them.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. For further examination of "the substance" of M&W's original piece and of their new letter to the LRB, it's also worth reading Rick Richman's perceptive and useful criticisms in "Walt & Mearsheimer Try Again".As Richman correctly notes: "In their reply, they acknowledge not a single error in their paper. Instead, they have repeated and compounded their factual mistakes. So, unfortunately, here we go again." --JW]