Reviews of the Walt-Mearsheimer Book

Posted: 9/18/2007 4:38:00 PM
Author: Tim Rutten, et al.
Source: These reviews appeared on the webssite on Sept. 18, 2007.

Despite a blaze of publicity and the publication of their new book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy", Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer have continued to claim that an all-powerful "Lobby" has silenced them and other critics of Israel in the media. The very need for organizations such as HonestReporting and the best-seller status of Israel critics such as Jimmy Carter and his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" would appear to mitigate Walt and Mearsheimer's claims to martyrdom.

As for Walt and Mearsheimer, perhaps their own book will not be the bestseller they are looking for, based on many reviews in the mainstream media. Rather than some conspiratorial effort to bury it, as W & M may have us believe, it appears that common sense has prevailed. Many newspapers, including some that are regularly critical of Israel, have recognized that W & M's publication is simply a terribly flawed read. Here is a selection of recent reviews:

Tim Rutten, LA Times: "Anyone familiar with the tortured history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have a hard time recognizing the history Mearsheimer and Walt rehearse. Every hoary old Israeli atrocity tale is trotted out, and the long story of Palestinian terrorism is rendered entirely as a reaction to Israeli oppression. The failure of every peace negotiation is attributed to Israeli deviousness under the shield of the American Israel lobby. There is nothing here of Palestinian corruption, division and duplicity or even of this unhappy people's inability to provide a reliable secular partner with whom peace can be negotiated.

At times, the authors simply contradict themselves, asserting -- rather remarkably -- at one point that the United States has nothing to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran and, at another, that the dangerous prospect of a nuke-equipped Tehran is the Israel lobby's fault. Similarly, they write, Al Qaeda would hammer its swords into ploughshares and Osama bin Laden would lay down with the lamb if only the United States would come out from under Israel's thrall and create by coercion a Palestinian state.

Baloney. If -- as was long ago proposed -- the Jewish state had been established in Uganda, the Twin Towers still would be rubble."

David Remnick, The New Yorker: "Where many accounts identify Osama bin Laden's primary grievances with American support of "infidel" authoritarian regimes in Islamic lands, Mearsheimer and Walt align his primary concerns with theirs: America's unwillingness to push Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. (It doesn't matter that Israel and the Palestinians were in peace negotiations in 1993, the year of the first attack on the World Trade Center, or that during the Camp David negotiations in 2000 bin Laden's pilots were training in Florida.) Mearsheimer and Walt give you the sense that, if the Israelis and the Palestinians come to terms, bin Laden will return to the family construction business.

It's a narrative that recounts every lurid report of Israeli cruelty as indisputable fact but leaves out the rise of Fatah and Palestinian terrorism before 1967; the Munich Olympics; Black September; myriad cases of suicide bombings; and other spectaculars."

Steve Huntley, Chicago Sun Times: "The two go to lengths to try to rebut any suggestion of anti-Semitism in their criticism of the American Israeli Political Action Committee and other pro-Israel groups. But you can't read The Israel Lobby without realizing that whenever two interpretations exist for some action by Israel or its supporters, Mearsheimer and Walt automatically default to the darker view."

William Grimes, The New York Times: "The general tone of hostility to Israel grates on the nerves, however, along with an unignorable impression that hardheaded political realism can be subject to its own peculiar fantasies. Israel is not simply one country among many, for example, just as Britain is not. Americans feel strong ties of history, religion, culture and, yes, sentiment, that the authors recognize, but only in an airy, abstract way.

They also seem to feel that, with Israel and its lobby pushed to the side, the desert will bloom with flowers. A peace deal with Syria would surely follow, with a resultant end to hostile activity by Hezbollah and Hamas. Next would come a Palestinian state, depriving Al Qaeda of its principal recruiting tool. (The authors wave away the idea that Islamic terrorism thrives for other reasons.) Well, yes, Iran does seem to be a problem, but the authors argue that no one should be particularly bothered by an Iran with nuclear weapons. And on and on."

Mark LeVine, Asia Times: "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."

Richard Cohen, The Washington Post: "In the end, Mearsheimer and Walt disappoint. They had an observation worth making and a position worth debating. But their argument is so dry, so one-sided -- an Israel lobby that leads America around by the nose -- they suggest that not only do they not know Israel, they don't know America, either."