Media War of Attrition: Inbar on Implications of Walt-Mearsheimer

Efraim Inbar wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post at the beginning of May which bears close consideration.

What went wrong?

Jerusalem Post, April 2, 2006.

The recently published study “The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by two important professors of international relations, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, blames the Jews for pushing the US foreign policy into the wrong direction at great cost to Washington. The researchers portray themselves as “realists” whose cold analysis has only the national interests of America at heart.

The main thrust of the argument is easily refutable. The two professors are clearly wrong in their ascription of US support for Israel to the machinations of the Israeli lobby.

All polls show consistent support for Israel over many years on the part of a large majority of Americans from all walks of life, and most of them were never exposed to the Israeli lobby. Americans like Israel for what it is: a vibrant and embattled democratic society, which is a natural ally for the US. The proposition that the US would be better off by not lending its support to Israel betrays ignorance of what the Middle East really is, and of the real causes of anti-Americanism in the region. The negative attitudes towards the US and the West are deeply rooted in Arab and Muslim culture and have little to do with American aid to Israel.

In reality, the case for supporting Israel as an important strategic ally due to its strategic location and political stability, as well as its technological and military assets, is almost self evident. Methodologically, it is strange to see realists, whose powerful intellectual paradigm relates little importance to domestic politics, ascribe such a powerful role to any lobby.

To put it slightly differently, the power of the Israel Lobby lies not in its money (Arabs have much more) or its numbers (there are already many more Muslims in the USA than Jews, and Jews don’t vote in a block for pro-Israel candidates), but on the compelling logic of the case, on the deep similarities in values and commitments between Israelis and Americans. Not only is Israel the only reliable ally in the Middle East (something W-M seem to have no clue about), but it is America’s only ally not subject to the politics of resentment.

As to the bizarre anomaly of “realists” ascribing importance to domestic lobbies, I believe that Noam Chomsky has weighed in against the W-M thesis on just that basis.

But the methodological anomaly is important — as Imbar explores below. It signals a deep level of self-contradiction in the paper. On the simplest level, the paper is based on the astounding “realist” notion that Arab allies are as good as Israel (and far wealthier and more powerful), and therefore since it makes more “sense” to ally with them, only the nefarious impact of some mysteriously effective “lobby” can explain how US foreign policy could be so far out of wack. As I’ve noted before: this is the basis of French (and more broadly European) foreign policy, the heart of the Eurabian “deal.” If the shape of Europe isn’t enough evidence against such foolishness, I don’t know what is.

However, despite its shallow analysis and the probable desire of the authors to be provocative and take the spotlight, it would be a mistake to ignore the Mearsheimer-Walt paper. This study is not just the result of the frustration experienced by senior academics when their advice against going to war in Iraq went unheeded. The Mersheimer-Walt study is serious because it is symptomatic of the mood in many intellectual circles in the West. Its value judgments are a great source of concern.

These researchers and others have stopped seeing Israel as morally superior to its foes. Unfortunately for Israel, Palestinian interpretation of the conflict is increasingly gaining credibility in the West. Israeli new historians, whose publications were quoted in the Mearsheimer-Walt study despite their poor scholarship, also provide ammunition to the Palestinian case. For many, Israel has become the culprit in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Israel still has strong bastions of public support, public opinion in most Western countries – America is a clear exception – has shifted in the past decades and is critical of Israel, often taking the Palestinian side.

This is a good a description of the long-range influence of Pallywood, and particularly the impact of Al Durah. It bespeaks the enormous impact that media, especially systematically inaccurate media can have on our thinking.

There is a long-range danger in the emergence of an international consensus questioning the legitimacy of Israel. A new Zeitgeist, which accepts the position that Israel was born in sin, and blames its behavior for the subsequent negative regional repercussions, would make Israel’s elimination expedient – indeed even morally acceptable – to Western regional interests.

And of course the obverse of this is the role of Anti-Zionism as cultural AIDS. As long as you see Israel as the Middle Eastern villain, with all the implications of a reasonable but unjustly treated Arab world as the victim of Israeli perfidy, you’ll come up with the lame and self-destructive foreign policy thinking of W-M, dupes to demopaths, wandering blindly through the straights of Scylla and Charybdis.

Israel is a strong state, but because it is a small country it is more dependent for its well-being than large powers on the vagaries of the international community. Becoming a pariah state is dangerous.

To some extent, Israel itself is at fault for the change in attitudes. Israel bailed out the PLO from its crisis, and brought Yasser Arafat from Tunis to the lawn of the White House in 1993, bestowing unprecedented legitimacy upon him and his cause. Israel’s reluctance to remove the mask of the corrupt and authoritarian PLO leader, who turned a blind eye to terror, allowed the Palestinians to deny their blatant violations of the “peace process.” In fact, its continuation was contingent largely upon Israeli self-delusion.

The frequent references to the casualties of Palestinian terror as the “sacrifices for peace,” helped Arafat hide Palestinian cruelty and cynicism. Portraying the Palestinians as reasonable partners for peace, rather than a society mesmerized by violence, united by abysmal hatred towards Jews, and largely partner to widespread Arab anti-Western sentiments, undermined Israel’s case.

At home, Israel’s undue tolerance of organizations that side with the Palestinians and obstruct Israel’s war effort has played a role in the deterioration of Israel’s moral standing. For example, while various organizations encourage draft-dodging and accuse IDF officers of being war criminals (causing great public relations damage as well as violating Israel’s penal code), the authorities are reluctant to bring such groups to court.

In addition, an education system that exposes the Israeli student to the fabrications of the new historians has undermined the main asset of Israeli society: conviction of the justice of the Zionist cause.

This whole process has been analyzed well by Kenneth Levin in The Oslo Syndrome. And it’s not uniquely Israeli, rather it’s part of a wider pattern of liberal cognitive egocentrism in the grip of an aggressive form of political correctness. It’s a kind of “moral perfectionism” that the Jews have historically excelled at — prophets blaming Israel for being conquered by nasty imperialist regimes like the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. — and now permeates a wide range of thinking, notable for its foolish inability to appreciate the time for such moral perfectionism and the time to gather stones together.

Israel has to recapture the upper moral ground in its conflict with the Palestinians. With a Hamas-led PA in power the task is easier; but Jerusalem needs clarity of purpose and a sophisticated strategy, as well as determination and resources, to help the enlightened world appreciate that we are fighting the bad guys.

The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.

Okay, but what does that last paragraph on the agenda mean? Part of the problem is that merely stating the obvious — the immense moral gap between Arab/Muslim/Palestinian commitment to the values of justice, fairness, civil rights, tolerance, etc. and the Israelis — does not work very well.

Even pointing out to people that in their anti-Zionism they are contributing to their own self destruction has limited effect.

Part of the answer, I think, lies in making clear to people what’s at work in the culturally rare (but in civil society over-abundant) trait of self-criticism. When Israeli “post-Zionists” self-criticize, they manifest, perhaps in pathological quantities, this very rare ability to listen to the outside voices, to accept responsibility, to introspect. This takes maturity and emotional courage, especially when done in public. For people to interpret the work of these men as a blot on Israeli claims to moral superiority when, in fact, they illustrate the immense gap between Israel’s mature and self-critical culture and the demonizing and scapegoating reflexes of Palestinian society, is a colossal mistake.

Part lies in a deep analysis of the psychological resistance to serious moral reasoning… scapegoating (sorry LB), moral Schadenfreude, the roots of moral envy and the politics of resentment.

Part lies in an ability to keep a compass when people seem to have gone morally mad.

Patience, however, may not be a virtue we can afford.

16 Responses to Media War of Attrition: Inbar on Implications of Walt-Mearsheimer

  1. Ah..well done, Stables. I missed this particular article.

    The Palestinian `refugee crisis’ is one of the biggest scams in history. Interested parties with an open mind should read Joan Peters’ prize winning book `From Time Immemorial’.

    Many of the anti-Israel pundits on the Left assume that if it wasn’t for those nasty Zionists, all would be peace and sunlight in the Middle East.They couldn’t be more wrong.

    And from a cold, self-interested American perspective, there’s this:

    Israel is one of the handful of REAL Allies America has that actually posseses a significant military factor..and that has come in handy more than once for the US. Kicking the Russians out of the Middle East during the Cold War and saving perhaps thousands of American lives by taking out Saddam’s nuclear installation at Osirak in 1981 are just two examples in the past.

    Israel’s contribution to US intel and high tech weapons development in the War Against Jihad are a couple of modern ones. They’re one of the most useful allies we have.

    Here’s the central issue when it comes to the Middle East; the inability of the Arabs to live next to Jews and in peace and equality. Solve that one the rest falls neatly into place.

  2. RL says:

    I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there’s a big controversy over the Peters book — sort of one of those shibboleths like Jenin “massacre” — both sides utterly convinced the book is probative/ridiculous.

    worthy of a closer look. details aside, the demography seems pretty impressive. the presence of zionist settlers — not imperial colonialists — sharply increased the previously stable and low population of the region.

    and living with the jews was not impossible, but definitely a blow to arab self-image, compounded wildly by losing wars.

    the logic of US — indeed European — alliance with israel is so overwhelming, the lack of real understanding necessary to adopt the thinking of a “enee menee miney moe” approach to an alliance with israel or the arabs, is pretty amazing. it’s what gives us the suicidal trends of Eurabia.

    but we live in wondrous times.

  3. Hi ya!

    I’m aware of the controversy..but I don’t think the criticism is credible.

    Joan Peters, who won a Pulitzer for her undercover work exposing the Klu Klux Klan went to the Middle East intending to write, by her own admission, a pro-Palestinian book demanding that the refugee crisis be settled.

    She ended up with something very different.

    `Living with Jews’ in equality and peace is almost impossible for many Arabs..because of Islam. The fact that a state of despised dhimmis with no oil wealth and a tiny country is free, strong and prosperous and Islamic countries with huge resources are not is an intolerable challenge to the Islamist mindset.

    The same is true regarding Islamic hatred of America.

    Eurabia is an interesting concept. As Bat Yeor revealed, this was deliberate EU policy spearheaded by France and I think it can be fairly said that the EU traded 6 million Jews for 20 million Muslims..and now may be having a few second thoughts.

    I actually think there’s hope for Europe, at least most of it. Indignation at the Leftist political establishment’s failure to protect European culture or even provide basic safety of life and property in many cases has a lot of Europeans seething.

    The Muslims are essentially behaving like conquerers in much of Europe.

    Eventually, I predict a move to the right in Europe…maybe even towards nativism. Some countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain) look better than others.

    Outstanding site, BTW. I’ve linked to it

    [email protected]

  4. RL says:

    thanks for the link.

    i think the real issue is: the longer it takes europe to wake up, the more fascist the likely response. so how do we get our “leaders/thinkers/talking heads/policy makers to wake up while the fight can still be won with relatively little violence (with the emphasis on “relatively”)?

  5. I think the situation is different in different places.

    In Israel, I interpet the last elections, particularly the showing of Lieberman and Israel Beitenu as an abandonment of the fable of peace with the Palestinians. The election of Hamas emphasized that.

    The next illusion to go will be the pleasant fable that Israel can `disengage’ and wall of its enemies.

    At some point, they will have to deal with the den of rattlesnakes that live next door to them, which will involve major and decisive military action against the PA and perhaps some expulsions on non-Israeli Arabs from Israeli territory. Israel will eventually have to do what’s necessary..they have no choice.

    In Europe, I agree with you..the longer it takes, the closer some parts of Europe will get to Fascism. I actually predict a civil war on the streets in some places. We got a taste of that in France, Britain and Denmark last year.

    In the US, there are two challenges…one from Iran, which needs to be dealt with decisively…and here’s how I propose we do it: J O S H U A P U N D I T: Time to do the mullah dance

    The second one from the internal penetration of jihadi and Wahabi Islam in America. I plan to address the second topic on my site in the near future. Part of the problem is that President Bush allowed the American people to go back to sleep after 9/11, which is amazing in itself!

    Think about it..3,000 Americans get butchered in one swoop in a domestic attack and a significant portion of certain part of the world’s population applauds it..and our president comes out the next day and says Islam is a religion of peace and that we’re in a `war on terror’!?!

    All best…keep in touch

  6. RL says:

    i’m not sure what we do when we wake up. i think it’s hard to even think about problems if you don’t acknowledge them, and one of the things that makes it hard to think about them is that we instinctively don’t like the solutions.

    i actually think there are more and more palatable solutions (my class on honor-shame came up with some interesting ideas that i’ll post on once i’ve graded their papers and exams) but overall i prefer one step at a time. recognize the danger (civilizational); analyze its dynamics (honor shame jihad aggravated by western MOS); then begin to come up with solutions.

    on your last point: i had the direct experience of it. reporters coming to ask me about 9-11, i respond with remarks about apocalyptic jihad, they tell me that’s impossible because islam is a RoP. i ask where they learned that; they say “everyone says it.” i say no; they don’t run the interview or come back.

    now i understand both the president saying islam is a RoP and the press not dwelling on disturbing evidence than even within the usa there were arabs celebrating 9-11. otherwise something as outrageous as that could lead to vigilantism, and innocent people like that Sikh on the train can get hurt.

    but a year later, at the very most, we should have had investigative reports. instead, like MESA, they focused on the aggrieved Arabs and Muslims of America who feel the prejudice of Americans — as if there were no problem except from us racist honkeys.

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  8. Jimmy J. says:

    For a good look at the Arab attitude toward the Israelis a good book is “THE HAJ” by Leon Uris. Written in 1984, it foretells much of what has transpired between the Palestinians and the Jews. And provides insight into the Arab mentality that is valuable to an yone trying to understand the Middle East.

    With Hamas refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist and the threats of Iran, Hamas’ sponsor, to wipe Israel off the map, there can be little doubt that minds are not changing nor positions softening.

    What is left? Israel is once again facing an extreme threat to its existence, which, IMO, will only be settled by war. It’s coming, and we had best realize that we have a dog in the fight and interests to protect.

    Our problem lies in not wanting to see what is coming and understanding this is much like 1938. War clouds are gathering as our MSM and the loyal opposition cry out for peace in our time through diplomacy and reason. As a result we are compromised. There is an equation to describe the power of a nation: Power = Military Capability + Economic Strength + National Will. What is lacking in the equation is our national will, which has been gradually sapped by a constant diet of bad news stories from Iraq and all the reasons why we shouldn’t be in Iraq.

    When the war comes, and it may be 2-4 years before it does, let us hope that we can regain our national will. It is what saw us through WWII and Korea, but deserted us in Vietnam.

  9. RL says:

    i actually found The Haj an extremely interesting book, and unlike many people who dismiss Leon Uris as a kind of simplistic propagandist for zionist causes, i think his handling of arab honor-shame culture is excellent. granted some of his israelis are close of super-heroes, but that doesn’t make him turn the Arab figures into foils. on the contrary, the story of the haj’s family — including his ill-fated visit to the conference about putting an end to the refugee problem — was very sympathetic.

    In getting the link for the book at Amazon i ran across this comment from a Mexican reader:

    Although the author presents a sympathizing view of the main arab characters, there is scarcely a page where his perspective about arabs as a confused, cheating, cruel, ignorant and superstitious lot does not take place. In contrast, jews are painted almost like angels, capable of no evil and universally guided by a brotherly love, on a vision which at times feels absurdly naive.

    That’s actually quite eloquent. the real issue is: is Uris inaccurate in his depictions of a culture of poverty? or the reader’s rejection based on cognitive egocentrism? or even-handedness?

    i agree we have a dog in this fight (pace Walt-Mearsheimer), but we also had one in danoongate, and we prefered to sit by and let the europeans take the heat.

    i also agree — unfortunately — that we’re in a pre-war period. i guess that’s one of the reasons i started this blog. the sooner we wake up, the more of the coming conflict can be handled by discourse not violence, and the longer we wait (thanks to the politically correct crowd) the worse it will be. in any case, we need to prepare mentally for a very unpleasant physical trial.

    i disagree with your formulas, tho. i’ll grant you that your factors are all significant. what’s missing is “intelligence” (as in CIA) an accurate sense of what’s going on “out there.” it’s our inability to realize what’s motivating various players that paralyzes us. i don’t think we lack will so much as clarity. (i’ll grant you that lack of will can make us reluctant to see the problems we don’t want to deal with.)

    that, it seems to me is the key point in Inbar’s comment on W-M. they are able to formulate a foreign policy based on staggeringly stupid premises (arabs and israelis are equally reliable allies, go with the one with the most to offer in “realistic terms”), and that in turn, is based on the pervasively negative image of the israelis purveyed by a sometimes criminally negligent media and a predatory “left” eager to demonize (why?).

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