Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saying the unsayable

The links between the Israel lobby and US foreign policy are a Washington taboo. But a controversial new study is opening up a long-stifled debate

by Andrew Stephen

New Statesman (September 17 2007)

The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John J Mearsheimer & Stephen M Walt (Allen Lane the Penguin Press, 484 pages)

You have to have lived in America a long time before you realise that political correctness - far from ridding the country of -isms such as racism, sexism and anti-Semitism - has merely driven them underground. Words that are completely unacceptable in public, for example, are used every minute of every day in living rooms and bars across the country. It took me quite a while, too, to realise that coded words and phrases have also insinuated themselves into the national vocabulary to replace the unacceptable: that "single-parent mothers on welfare" really means "blacks", or that when Republicans lash into Democrats for their supposed reliance on "Hollywood" for election funds, what they really mean is "Jews". Americans, though few outsiders comprehend this, instinctively understand these many hidden codes that disguise intolerance supposed not to exist.

I was thinking about this when I picked up John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's important new book, while simultaneously watching the most crucial debate so far of Republican candidates for next year's presidential elections. The no-hoper who refuses to conform so much that he is fast becoming my hero - 72-year-old Representative Ron Paul, a trained obstetrician who has continued to deliver babies while being a far-right, libertarian congressman - suddenly broke away from the sanitised scripts of the others and launched into words I've never heard any politician of either party use in public: "Why leave the troops in the region?" he responded dramatically when pressed about Iraq. "It was the fact that we had troops in Saudi Arabia [that] was one of the three reasons given for the attack on 9/11". Amidst the resulting Republican booing, he went on: "The American people didn't go in. A few people advising this administration, called the neoconservatives, hijacked our foreign policy. They're responsible, not the American people."

This was pretty revolutionary stuff, but even when he was saying the unsayable - that US foreign policy was really to blame for 9/11 - he was still resorting to coded language. You can be sure that his constituents back in their homes and bars in Lake Jackson in Texas, though, knew exactly what he was saying: that US troops were being killed in the Middle East to protect Israel, and that this policy and the invasion of Iraq had been cooked up by Jews. That really was unsayable: Americans love to tut-tut that anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe, but very few want to acknowledge that it is also alive and well in the US, except that is has been driven underground.

We should, then, welcome the publication of this book in the hope that it will finally open a vital discourse that has been stifled for 35 years. Mearsheimer and Walt say that Israel became the centrepiece of US foreign policy after the Six Day War in 1967 - a more accurate date would be 1973, when major military assistance began - but what is indisputable is that the whole subject of what the authors call "the unmatched power of the Israel lobby" in the US, and its most prominent cheerleaders such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, has been virtually taboo since then.

Did they hijack US foreign policy in order to synchronise it perfectly with the needs of Israel, culminating in the Iraq catastrophe? "Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical On Mideast Policy", a Washington Post headline proclaimed just a month before the invasion. This discussion might seem old hat elsewhere in the world, but in the US the issue has largely been driven underground until now; even to mention the existence of the Israel lobby is to risk being labelled anti-Semitic ("Andrew Stephen should be exterminated with extreme prejudice", an American reader wrote to the former New Statesman editor after I had made some mild observations about a strong Jewish presence in the Bush administration early in 2001).

It's a cliche' of present-day bigotry that only blacks can call themselves niggers or Jews make jokes about Jews, so I will leave it to a veteran Israeli commentator and a former member of the Bush administration to say the unsayable for me. Akiva Eldar, of Ha'aretz, says that the likes of Feith and Perle are "walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments ... and Israeli interests"; while Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, says he has put this book on his students' curriculum because it contains "a lot of blinding flashes of the obvious but, that said, blinding flashes of the obvious that people whispered in corners rather than said out loud at cocktail parties where someone could hear you".

It is a major symbolic step forward that, following the publication of Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster) last year, a mainstream American publisher in New York should dare to pay an advance of $750,000 to two academics - albeit distinguished ones from the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively - to write a book that represents such a huge political and commercial risk for them. It is almost impossible to convey the degree of sensitivities and touchiness that the subject evokes - among both Jews and gentiles - throughout the US.

The thesis put forward by Mearsheimer and Walt, briefly, is that Israel has become a "strategic liability" for the US and that ending the special relationship - the one the British delude themselves they, rather than Israel, have with Washington - would benefit not only the US, but the rest of the world, including Israel itself. They are proponents of the "offensive realism" school of foreign policy thinking, which (put simply) argues that the more powerful a major power becomes, the more aggressively it will act in what ultimately becomes a relentless quest for hegemony. Mearsheimer, a former military man, has argued in works such as The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton, 2001) that the US should encourage countries such as Germany, India and the Ukraine to develop nuclear programmes to hinder the rise of hypernationalism elsewhere.

The genesis of this book is highly revealing in itself. The authors were first commissioned to write a long, scholarly article on the Israel lobby by Atlantic magazine in 2002, but editors sat on the manuscript for months before deciding not to publish it. The article ended up in the London Review of Books in March 2006, and the authors then wrote a longer, 42-page version (plus an additional forty pages of footnotes), which was posted on the website of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Furious denouncements followed. Dr Eliot Cohen, a prominent neocon who was appointed by Condoleezza Rice as her adviser in the state department as recently as last March, accused Mearsheimer and Walt in a prominent comment piece in the Washington Post (headlined "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic") of having "obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews" whom he said they accused of "disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments".

The ubiquitous academic showman Alan Dershowitz, meanwhile, law professor at Harvard and author of The Case for Israel (Wiley, 2003), likened Mearsheimer and Walt's writings to "contemporary variations on old themes such as those promulgated in the notorious czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in the Nazi and America First literature of the 1930s and early 1940s, and in the propaganda pamphlets of the Soviet Union". Harvard soon caved in under such pressures, removing the Kennedy School's logo from the web pages carrying Mearsheimer and Walt's study; Walt stepped down as academic dean at the Kennedy School.

Reading any of the articles or the book itself - 484 pages with 127 of them footnotes and indexes - it is hard to understand what has inspired such extravagant venom. The authors go to some trouble to explain that they are writing about an "Israel" and not a "Jewish" lobby, and that a significant proportion of members consist of the so-called "Christian Right", or "Christian Zionists". They write, too, that the lobby is a "loose coalition of individuals and organisations"; it is "not a single, unified movement with a central leadership, and it is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that 'controls' US foreign policy ... it is engaged in good old-fashioned interest-group politics, which is as American as apple-pie".

They point out, though, how the special relationship has worked. Israeli leaders have addressed Congress six times since 1976, far more than those of any other country and have also been, by far, the recipient of the most US foreign aid during that period.

Mearsheimer and Walt estimate that Israel currently receives $3 billion a year from the US, three-quarters of it for military purposes, or $4.3 billion if you accept the estimate of former congressman Lee Hamilton, the highly respected Democrat who was co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission. They add that Israel is unique in that it receives all its aid in one lump sum at the beginning of each fiscal year and, unlike other countries, does not have to account for how it spends it - details too complicated to go into here but which Hank Gaffney, former chief nuclear planner at the Pentagon, describes as "absolute bosh" and "bullshit". Mearsheimer and Walt then point out that the second and third largest recipients of US aid are now Egypt and Jordan, which is "at least partly intended to benefit Israel as well ... as a reward for good behaviour".

Phew. The j'accuse statistics run thick and fast, with the book emerging as a curious combination of academic scholarship and journalistic polemic, reading rather like a prosecutor reeling off an endless series of misdoings. I can dismiss the overheated rhetoric of Cohen and Dershowitz, but not the reaction of people like Gaffney - neither an Arabist nor a Zionist - when he describes the book as a "rant" and says "they haven't done their homework and [have got] an enormous amount wrong". Indeed, the authors concede that they are not Middle East experts, and it shows. They repeatedly single out for criticism Martin Indyk, for example, an Australian-turned-American who was Clinton's ambassador to Israel; he is actually a remarkably level-headed and moderate representative of the Israel lobby, about as far from being a neocon extremist as a member could be.

Yet anybody who has lived in Washington as long as I have knows that the Israel lobby can be extraordinarily ruthless and unpleasant, and I'm not just talking about the deranged letter-writers and threat-merchants. Take the example of my good friend Tim Tyler, who was the US Navy's Israel desk officer during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a young naval officer, before he joined the Pentagon's secretive Defence Security Assistance Agency, where he performed various important roles including that of chief of the Middle East South Asia Division.

He then worked at Nato as a defence planner with special expertise in Pershing II and cruise-missile deployment, before returning to the Pentagon to be "deputy director plans", when he was directly involved in international sales of major weapons systems.

He has recently retired, and is thus free to speak to me for publication. He tells a chilling story, however. In the 1980s he recommended that the Pentagon stop funding the development of Israel's own multibillion dollar Lavi jet fighter, but offer them America's own F-16s instead. His recommendation, much to the fury of the Israelis, worked its way up the Pentagon hierarchy and was eventually accepted. I will let him recount the sequel in his own words:

"Through all of this I remained friends with Marvin Klemow [negotiator for the Israelis] and one holiday I was at his house for a party. It was a good party, and the only slight hiccup was the rather brusque manner of an Israeli colonel who was there - but I thought nothing of it. Then Marv pulled me aside. He said something along the lines of, 'You won't believe this, but I just got chewed out for inviting you to this party'. I asked him why, and he told me that he had just been informed that I was on the [Israeli] embassy's anti-Semite list because I didn't support the Lavi programme. We were both flabbergasted. But, sadly, I was never invited back to Marv's house."

The story of another friend is no less chilling. Former Senator Chuck Percy is now nearly 88 and far from well, but until 1985 was a vigorous and moderate Republican senator who was chairman of the all-powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He started to ruin his career, though, when he refused to sign a letter sponsored by AIPAC - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the best-known and most powerful individual lobby - which had been drawn up to protest against President Ford's proposed "reassessment" of Middle East policy. Then he said publicly that Yasser Arafat was more moderate than some other Palestinian leaders and - despite having a generally pro-Israeli record - began to be perceived by AIPAC from then on as an enemy.

The final blow, in fact, came when he supported the sale of Awacs aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Huge sums of money duly poured in from AIPAC supporters all over the country to support Percy's Democratic opponent in the 1984 elections, and despite huge popularity in his native Illinois, Percy narrowly lost - and never returned to politics. Mearsheimer and Walt quote Tom Dine, then executive director of AIPAC, saying after Percy's defeat: "All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians - those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire - got the message."

They certainly did, and some of the handful of politicians who have dared to defy AIPAC have got the Percy treatment, too. Mearsheimer and Walt say, of next year's presidential elections, "on one subject, we can be ... confident that the candidates will speak with one voice". Indeed so, after reading this book; both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama attended this year's AIPAC conference in DC, giving media briefings in rooms 25 yards apart afterwards, while Benjamin Netanyahu was also briefing frantically away behind closed doors a few steps from them.

Perhaps it is hard, for those of us who are not Jewish, to understand the passion and intensity with which America's Israel lobby pursue their goals. It would have been helpful if Mearsheimer and Walt had tried, dispassionately, to explore why they are so often driven, sometimes to the excesses I have described. But the authors are too busy with their prosecutorial charge-sheet to pause and wonder. We read all too much about AIPAC, but next to nothing about the Project for the New American Century - a genuinely sinister group that included the now-discredited neocons but also, more crucially, non-Jewish fanatics such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Bolton. In my opinion it, far more than the likes of AIPAC, was responsible for the foreign-policy calamities - culminating in the Iraq tragedy - that have occurred under George W Bush.

We should be grateful to Mearsheimer and Walt, nonetheless, for embarking on their near-impossible task and bringing out into the open a rancorous issue that desperately needs to be addressed by all concerned. The passions and anger - and, indeed, anti-Semitism - are such that writing a detached and lucid book on this subject is probably impossible. Heaven knows what Mearsheimer and Walt have been through, but we should all now hope that it has been worth it and that their book marks the beginning of a new and more open era when it comes to this most painful of subjects.

Andrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer and in 1992 was made Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the American Overseas Press Club for his coverage.

Bill Totten


  • Here's a couple of interesting articles. This guy had it right back in 1987.

    SAN FRANCISCO – THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, a genre spy-thriller by Robert Spirko, is now in its second printing and was fourth on the best-seller list at Atlasbooks, Inc., a national book distributor. Ingram Books is the worldwide distributor.

    Spirko, a financial and geo-political analyst who has given his advice to the National Security Council, turned his attention to the Middle East in 1987, after discovering several common elements related to the Middle East question. He wrote down his analysis, and when he was finished, he not only had a solution to the quagmire, he had a story to tell. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY foreshadowed the Persian Gulf War by three years, and the resultant Iraq War followed by the Sept. 11 attack.

    Spirko states, "The chief threat in the region I see right now is the threat to Saudi Arabia by Iran and Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda were to overthrow the present royal family in Saudi Arabia, cutting off the oil supply to western nations including Japan and China, it would bring down entire world economies. France and Germany would be begging us to go to war to retake those oil wells. It would be World War III."

    “If such a scenario were to occur,” he reiterates, “France and the European economies would collapse in a matter of weeks.”

    “Another looming concern is Iran which wants to develop nuclear weapons to couple with their Shahab 4, 5 & 6 missiles on the drawing boards which have a range to hit London, Israel, all of Europe, southern Russia and the United States. Also, the Iranian government has said it initially had 300 centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons grade material. They have increased that to 3,000. They will soon increase that again to 10,000 centrifuges,” Spirko says. “They have the additional capacity to add another 20,000 centrifuges in mass production techniques that will enable them to produce at least seven nuclear bombs in about a year. Where did they get these centrifuges?”

    Spirko answers that question by stating an Arab proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    “Simply put,” Spirko explains, “they probably got them from Saddam Hussein before the Iraq War started and were probably smuggled out of Iraq and into Iran just like he did his air force of 600 Soviet fighter planes. In other words, he gave them to his former enemy rather than let them be destroyed on the ground.”

    “Why would he have done any differently with the 30,000 centrifuges he supposedly had on a decentralized basis inside Iraq before the war?” Spirko asks. “Isn’t it strange that Iran could come up with a nuclear weapons program in about six months to a year when it took the United States six years under the Manhattan Project with 5,000 of the world’s most brilliant scientists like Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Seaborg, Einstein, Fermi, and others working on it?”

    Another point Spirko makes on the Mideast is that, “It is time for the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the Camp David Peace Talks or some other place, resume where they left off and "freeze in place" the already-agreed-upon negotiating points,” Spirko says.

    "And, it's all related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which I said back in 1987 was the crux of my book. It always has been, and always will be until it's settled,” Spirko says. “That linkage is exactly what Osama Bin Laden stated in a taped message aired the weekend before the election in November of 2004. Whether you believe him or not is beside the point. That's what's he told us, and we'd better take that into account."

    The novel is a mass market paperback produced by Olive Grove Publishers, and can be purchased at area bookstores through Ingram Book Group, New Leaf Distribution, and Baker and Taylor, priced at $14.99, ISBN 0-9752508-0-9. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY can also be ordered on the web at, or email orders from:, or from Barnes & Nobles, Border's, Dalton's, & Follett bookstores at colleges and universities, WaldenBooks,,, and other popular retail bookstores. Or, readers and store managers can call 1-800-BOOKLOG, or 800-247-6553 direct, to order.

    SAN FRANCISCO - When it comes to spy novels and Middle East intrigue, after 16 spell-binding years, the gripping story behind the Middle East quagmire - its issues of nuclear weapons and the quest for a Palestinian State - is finally being told in a ground-breaking new book entitled, THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY.

    Author Robert Spirko created the work in such a way that every reader in the world would understand all the intricate issues in the Middle East and how close the region actually came to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, a genre spy-thriller by Robert Spirko, was fourth on the best-seller list at Atlasbooks, Inc., a national book distributor. Ingram Books is the worldwide distributor.

    Mr. Spirko has a unique way of holding the reader in his grasp as the plot of THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY unfolds. He literally takes you from your armchair and immerses you into the lifestyle of the Bedouin, the Israeli, the PLO and the mindset of the Middle-Easterner.

    THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY is not just another spy-novel; it is the quintessential spy-thriller because it forces the reader to understand how both sides "think" and why that thinking ultimately led to repeated wars in the Middle East.

    Spirko, a financial and geo-political analyst, turned his attention to the Middle East in 1987, after discovering several common elements related to the Middle East question. In working for peace, and after several frustrating years, he put down his analysis in writing and when he was finished, he not only had a solution to the quagmire, he had a story to tell.

    But, nobody was listening.

    Today, all that has changed, thanks to Olive Grove Publishers who decided to give his book a chance.

    When the Palestinian question came to a festering crisis in 1990, he had already predicted several of the actual events before they occurred. For instance, Spirko predicted the Intifada and Persian Gulf War, missing the actual invasion date of Kuwait by only one week. He did this through spectacular supposition, analysis and prediction based on what he was "seeing" in the region.

    When Spirko typed his manuscript, he set the work to fiction, about what he thought might occur soon in the Middle East involving weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation, the Palestinian uprising before it occurred, and how the Palestinian question begged to be answered, little did he realize that every event he described in the book would eventually transpire.

    His story of what was really happening behind the scenes in the Middle East is truly astounding and remarkable, and his contribution to the Camp David Peace Talks in 2000, formulated a solution to the Jerusalem question. When the BBC got wind of it, they termed it "as nothing short of brilliant" - Jerusalem becoming the simultaneous capitals of both Israel and Palestine in congruous or concentric zones.

    Spirko originally copyrighted his book on October 20, 1987, in the U. S.
    Library of Congress where intelligence agencies reviewed his work.

    Today, finally, somebody is listening.

    Spirko feels that both sides must return to the Camp David Peace Talks and resume where they left off and "freeze in place" the already-agreed-upon negotiating points.

    “It's like a marriage where both spouses storm away mad in an argument.
    They don't divorce and then try to resume their relationship, they come back together, settle their differences, and resume their marriage. It must be the same for the Middle East Peace talks," Spirko says.

    The story begins in Beirut, Lebanon, once a great financial capital of the Middle East, which lay in ruin, having been systematically blasted to rubble during 20 years of inexhaustible civil war and siege by Israel, the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and Lebanese factions. Soon, the quest for a Palestinian State would be framed by these events; namely, the invasion of Kuwait by a neighboring rogue state, Iraq, with Saddam Hussein's goal of seeking nuclear parity with Israel.

    In Mr. Spirko's story, Rick Waite, a forgotten UPI correspondent, and Adrienne Waters, a Pulitzer Prize journalist from the London Times, meet-up in Beirut with a PLO operative named Ahmed, who discovers a secret intelligence memo about a secret plan to destroy Israel.

    In the ensuing chase to find the answer to this secret communiqué and what it means, a deadly race against time begins as the unlikely trio tries to halt the launch of a secret weapon from a hidden PLO base camp in the Syrian Desert. U. S. and British intelligence operatives have their own agenda, and attempt to stop whatever is going on to save the entire region from a nuclear holocaust.

    Spirko weaves a tale of chilling duplicity and thrilling action, as the characters evade and devise a method to announce the discovery of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles to the rest of the world - all while United Nations' delegates bicker endlessly.

    An executive at BookMasters, Inc., says, "The book is absolutely stunning in the manner in which Mr. Spirko, tells his tale. He is truly a master as an analyst, and it's totally unlike anything else we've ever read in a spy-thriller. It keeps you turning pages and won't let you quit - until the very end. And, what an ending it is! If you crave twisting plots, thrilling spy-action and intriguing characters, then this is the book for you."

    Spirko, whose own background includes a stint in the U. S. Air Force and has given his advice to the National Security Council in Washington, D. C., has a degree in journalism and knows first-hand about the newsroom and what it takes to be an intelligence field agent. His knowledge of the trade makes the story real, daunting, and strikingly similar to "The Year of Living Dangerously."

    "THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY drips with reality," quips a book reviewer from Olive Grove Publishers. "If books were rated by Siskel & Roeper, it would be given a two-thumbs up."

    Not since, Casablanca, do characters as earthy as Rick Waite, or as beautifully mysterious as London Times reporter, Adrienne Waters, or as desperate as PLO operative, Ahmed, bring fresh characters to a story that will be remembered by readers for a long time.

    The novel is a mass market paperback produced by Olive Grove Publishers, and can be purchased at area bookstores through Ingram Book Group, New Leaf Distribution, and Baker and Taylor, priced at $14.99, ISBN 0-9752508-0-9. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY can also be ordered on the web at, or email orders from:, or from Barnes & Nobles, Border's, Dalton's, & Follett bookstores at colleges and universities, WaldenBooks,,, and other popular retail bookstores. Or, readers and store managers can call 1-800-BOOKLOG, or 800-247-6553 direct, to order.

    For readers who want to know what was really going on in the Middle East prior to the Persian Gulf War, Sept. 11th, and Iraq War, THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, is a must read.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:46 AM, September 23, 2007  

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