[News] The Power of the Israel Lobby

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 16 13:36:28 EDT 2006

Weekend Edition
June 16/18, 2006

*** CounterPunch Special Report***

Its Origins and Growth


The Power of the Israel Lobby

Former CIA analysts

Editors' Note: Ten, even five years ago, a fierce 
public debate over the nature and activities of 
the Israeli lobby would have been impossible. It 
was as verboten as the use of the word Empire, to 
describe the global reach of the United States. 
Through its disdain for the usual proprieties 
decorously observed by Republican and Democratic 
administrations in the past , the Bush 
administration has hauled many realities of our 
political economy center stage. Open up the New 
York Times or the Washington Post over the recent 
past and there, like as not, is another opinion column about the Lobby.

CounterPunch has hosted some of the most vigorous 
polemics on the Lobby. In May we asked two of our 
most valued contributors, Kathy and Bill 
Christison, to offer their evaluation of the 
debate on the Lobby's role and power. As our 
readers know, Bill and Kathy both had significant 
careers as CIA analysts. Bill was a National 
Intelligence Officer. In the aftermath of the 
September, 2001, attacks we published here his 
trenchant and influential essay on "the war on 
terror". Kathy has written powerfully on our 
website on the topic of Palestine. Specifically 
on the Lobby they contributed an unsparing essay 
on the topic of "dual loyalty" which can bed 
found in our CounterPunch collection, 
Politics of Anti-Semitism.

In mid May they sent us the detailed, measured 
commentary, rich in historical detail, that we 
are delighted to print below in its entirety. 
Which is the tail? Which is the dog? asked Uri 
Avnery in our newsletter, a few issues back, 
apropos the respective roles of the Israel Lobby 
and the US in the exercise of US policy in the 
Middle East. Here's an answer that will be tough to challenge.

-- A.C./J.S.C.

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the University 
of Chicago and Harvard political scientists who 
published in March of this years a lengthy, well 
documented study on the pro-Israel lobby and its 
influence on U.S. Middle East policy in March , 
have already accomplished what they intended. 
They have successfully called attention to the 
often pernicious influence of the lobby on 
policymaking. But, unfortunately, the study has 
aroused more criticism than debate ­ not only the 
kind of criticism one would anticipate from the 
usual suspects among the very lobby groups 
Mearsheimer and Walt described, but also from a 
group on the left that might have been expected 
to support the study's conclusions.

The criticism has been partly silly, often 
malicious, and almost entirely off-point. The 
silly, insubstantial criticisms ­ such as former 
presidential adviser David Gergen's earnest 
comment that through four administrations he 
never observed an Oval Office decision that 
tilted policy in favor of Israel at the expense 
of U.S. interests ­ can easily be dismissed as 
nonsensical . Most of the extensive malicious 
criticism, coming largely from the hard core of 
Israeli supporters who make up the very lobby 
under discussion and led by a hysterical Alan 
Dershowitz, has been so specious and sophomoric, 
that it too could be dismissed were it not for 
precisely the pervasive atmosphere of reflexive 
support for Israel and silenced debate that Mearsheimer and Walt describe.

Most disturbing and harder to dismiss is the 
criticism of the study from the left, coming 
chiefly from Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, 
and abetted less cogently by Stephen Zunes of 
Foreign Policy in Focus and Joseph Massad of 
Columbia University. These critics on the left 
argue from a assumption that U.S. foreign policy 
has been monolithic since World War II, a 
coherent progression of decision-making directed 
unerringly at the advancement of U.S. imperial 
interests. All U.S. actions, these critics 
contend, are part of a clearly laid-out strategy 
that has rarely deviated no matter what the party 
in power. They believe that Israel has served 
throughout as a loyal agent of the U.S., carrying 
out the U.S. design faithfully and serving as a 
base from which the U.S. projects its power 
around the Middle East. Zunes says it most 
clearly, affirming that Israel "still is very 
much the junior partner in the relationship." 
These critics do not dispute the existence of a 
lobby, but they minimize its importance, claiming 
that rather than leading the U.S. into policies 
and foreign adventures that stand against true 
U.S. national interests, as Mearsheimer and Walt 
assert, the U.S. is actually the controlling 
power in the relationship with Israel and carries 
out a consistent policy, using Israel as its agent where possible.

Finkelstein summarized the critics' position in a 
recent CounterPunch article ("The Israel Lobby," 
May 1, 
emphasizing that the issue is not whether U.S. 
interests or those of the lobby take precedence 
but rather that there has been such coincidence 
of U.S. and Israeli interests over the decades 
that for the most part basic U.S. Middle East 
policy has not been affected by the lobby. 
Chomsky maintains that Israel does the U.S. 
bidding in the Middle East in pursuit of imperial 
goals that Washington would pursue even without 
Israel and that it has always pursued in areas 
outside the Middle East without benefit of any 
lobby. Those goals have always included 
advancement of U.S. corporate-military interests 
and political domination through the suppression 
of radical nationalisms and the 
maintenance of stability in resource-rich 
countries, particularly oil producers, 
everywhere. In the Middle East, this was 
accomplished primarily through Israel's 1967 
defeat of Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser and his 
radical Arab nationalism, which had threatened 
U.S. access to the region's oil resources. Both 
Chomsky and Finkelstein trace the strong 
U.S.-Israeli tie to the June 1967 war, which they 
believe established the close alliance and marked 
the point at which the U.S. began to regard 
Israel as a strategic asset and a stable base 
from which U.S. power could be projected throughout the Middle East.

Joseph Massad ("Blaming the Israel Lobby," 
CounterPunch, March 25/26, 
argues along similar lines, describing 
developments in the Middle East and around the 
world that he believes the U.S. engineered for 
its own benefit and would have carried out even 
without Israel's assistance. His point, like 
Chomsky's, is that the U.S. has a long history of 
overthrowing regimes in Central America, in 
Chile, in Indonesia, in Africa, where the Israel 
lobby was not involved and where Israel at most 
assisted the U.S. but did not benefit directly 
itself. He goes farther than Chomsky by claiming 
that with respect to the Middle East Israel has 
been such an essential tool that its very 
usefulness is what accounts for the strength of 
the lobby. "It is in fact the very centrality of 
Israel to U.S. strategy in the Middle East," 
Massad contends with a kind of backward logic, 
"that accounts, in part, for the strength of the 
pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around." 
(One wonders why, if this were the case, there 
would be any need for a lobby at all. What would 
be a lobby's function if the U.S. already 
regarded Israel as central to its strategy?)

The principal problem with these arguments from 
the left is that they assume a continuity in U.S. 
strategy and policymaking over the decades that 
has never in fact existed. The notion that there 
is any defined strategy that links Eisenhower's 
policy to Johnson's to Reagan's to Clinton's 
gives far more credit than is deserved to the 
extremely ad hoc, hit-or-miss nature of all U.S. 
foreign policy. Obviously, some level of imperial 
interest has dictated policy in every 
administration since World War II and, obviously, 
the need to guarantee access to vital natural 
resources around the world, such as oil in the 
Middle East and elsewhere, has played a critical 
role in determining policy. But beyond these 
evident, and not particularly significant, 
truths, it can accurately be said, at least with 
regard to the Middle East, that it has been a 
rare administration that has itself ever had a 
coherent, clearly defined, and consistent foreign 
policy and that, except for a broadly defined 
anti-communism during the Cold War, no 
administration's strategy has ever carried over 
in detail to succeeding administrations.

The ad hoc nature of virtually every 
administration's policy planning process cannot 
be overemphasized. Aside from the strong but 
amorphous political need felt in both major U.S. 
parties and nurtured by the Israel lobby that 
"supporting Israel" was vital to each party's own 
future, the inconsistent, even short-term 
randomness in the detailed Middle East 
policymaking of successive administrations has 
been remarkable. This lack of clear strategic 
thinking at the very top levels of several new 
administrations before they entered office 
enhanced the power of individuals and groups that 
did have clear goals and plans already in hand ­ 
such as, for instance, the pro-Israeli Dennis 
Ross in both the first Bush and the Clinton 
administrations, and the strongly pro-Israeli 
neo-cons in the current Bush administration.

The critics on the left argue that because the 
U.S. has a history of opposing and frequently 
undermining or actually overthrowing radical 
nationalist governments throughout the world 
without any involvement by Israel, any instance 
in which Israel acts against radical nationalism 
in the Arab world is, therefore, proof that 
Israel is doing the United States' work for it . 
The critics generally believe, for instance, that 
Israel's political destruction of Egypt's Nasser 
in 1967 was done for the U.S. Most if not all 
believe that Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon 
was undertaken at U.S.behest, to destroy the PLO.

This kind of argumentation assumes too much on a 
presumption of policy coherence. Lyndon Johnson 
most certainly did abhor Nasser and was not sorry 
to see him and his pan-Arab ambitions defeated, 
but there is absolutely no evidence that the 
Johnson administration ever seriously planned to 
unseat Nasser, formulated any other action plan 
against Egypt, or pushed Israel in any way to 
attack. Johnson did apparently give a green light 
to Israel's attack plans after they had been 
formulated, but this is quite different from 
initiating the plans. Already mired in Vietnam, 
Johnson was very much concerned not to be drawn 
into a war initiated by Israel and was criticized 
by some Israeli supporters for not acting 
forcefully enough on Israel's behalf. In any 
case, Israel needed no prompting for its 
pre-emptive attack, which had long been in the works.

Indeed, far from Israel functioning as the junior 
partner carrying out a U.S. plan, it is clear 
that the weight of pressure in 1967 was on the 
U.S. to go along with Israel's designs and that 
this pressure came from Israel and its agents in 
the U.S. The lobby in this instance ­ as broadly 
defined by Mearsheimer and Walt: "the loose 
coalition of individuals and organizations who 
actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a 
pro-Israel direction" ­ was in fact a part of 
Johnson's intimate circle of friends and advisers.

These included the number-two man at the Israeli 
embassy, a close personal friend; the strongly 
pro-Israeli Rostow brothers, Walt and Eugene, who 
were part of the national security bureaucracy in 
the administration; Supreme Court Justice Abe 
Fortas; U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg; and 
numerous others who all spent time with Johnson 
at the LBJ Ranch in Texas and had the personal 
access and the leisure time in an informal 
setting to talk with Johnson about their concern 
for Israel and to influence him heavily in favor 
of Israel. This circle had already begun to work 
on Johnson long before Israel's pre-emptive 
attack in 1967, so they were nicely placed to 
persuade Johnson to go along with it despite 
Johnson's fears of provoking the Soviet Union and 
becoming involved in a military conflict the U.S. was not prepared for.

In other words, Israel was beyond question the 
senior partner in this particular policy 
initiative; Israel made the decision to go to 
war, would have gone to war with or without the 
U.S. green light, and used its lobbyists in the 
U.S. to steer Johnson administration policy in a 
pro-Israeli direction. Israel's attack on the 
U.S. naval vessel, the USS Liberty, in the midst 
of the war ­ an attack conducted in broad 
daylight that killed 34 American sailors ­ was 
not the act of a junior partner. Nor was the U.S. 
cover-up of this atrocity the act of a government 
that dictated the moves in this relationship.

The evidence is equally clear that Israel was the 
prime mover in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and 
led the U.S. into that morass, rather than the 
other way around. Although Massad refers to the 
U.S. as Israel's master, in this instance as in 
many others including 1967, Israel has clearly 
been its own master. Chomsky argues in support of 
his case that Reagan ordered Israel to call off 
the invasion in August, two months after it was 
launched. This is true, but in fact Israel did 
not pay any attention; the invasion continued, 
and the U.S. got farther and farther embroiled.

When, as occurred in Lebanon, the U.S. has 
blundered into misguided adventures to support 
Israel or to rescue Israel or to further Israel's 
interests, it is a clear denial of reality to say 
that Israel and its lobby have no significant 
influence on U.S. Middle East policy. Even were 
there not an abundance of other examples, Lebanon 
alone, with its long-term implications, proves 
the truth of the Mearsheimer-Walt conclusion that 
the U.S. "has set aside its own security in order 
to advance the interests of another state" and 
that "the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the 
region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic 
politics, and especially to the activities of the 'Israel Lobby.'"

As a general proposition, the left critics' 
argumentation is much too limiting. While there 
is no question that modern history is replete, as 
they argue, with examples of the U.S. acting in 
corporate interests ­ overthrowing nationalist 
governments perceived to be threatening U.S. 
business and economic interests, as in Iran in 
1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, and 
elsewhere ­ this frequent convergence of 
corporate with government interests does not mean 
that the U.S. never acts in other than corporate 
interests. The fact of a strong 
government-corporate alliance does not in any way 
preclude situations ­ even in the Middle East, 
where oil is obviously a vital corporate resource 
­ in which the U.S. acts primarily to benefit 
Israel rather than serve any corporate or 
economic purpose. Because it has a deep emotional 
aspect and involves political, economic, and 
military ties unlike those with any other nation, 
the U.S. relationship with Israel is unique, and 
there is nothing in the history of U.S. foreign 
policy, nothing in the government's entanglement 
with the military-industrial complex, to prevent 
the lobby from exerting heavy influence on 
policy. Israel and its lobbyists make their own 
"corporation" that, like the oil industry (or 
Chiquita Banana or Anaconda Copper in other 
areas), is clearly a major factor driving U.S. foreign policy.

There is no denying the intricate interweaving of 
the U.S. military-industrial complex with Israeli 
military-industrial interests. Chomsky 
acknowledges that there is "plenty of conformity" 
between the lobby's position and the U.S. 
government-corporate linkage and that the two are 
very difficult to disentangle. But, although he 
tends to emphasize that the U.S. is always the 
senior partner and suggests that the Israeli side 
does little more than support whatever the U.S. 
arms, energy, and financial industries define as 
U.S. national interests, in actual fact the 
entanglement is much more one between equals than 
the raw strengths of the two parties would 
suggest. "Conformity" hardly captures the 
magnitude of the relationship. Particularly in 
the defense arena, Israel and its lobby and the 
U.S. arms industry work hand in glove to advance 
their combined, very compatible interests. The 
relatively few very powerful and wealthy families 
that dominate the Israeli arms industry are just 
as interested in pressing for aggressively 
militaristic U.S. and Israeli foreign policies as 
are the CEOs of U.S. arms corporations and, as 
globalization has progressed, so have the ties of 
joint ownership and close financial and 
technological cooperation among the arms 
corporations of the two nations grown ever 
closer. In every way, the two nations' military 
industries work together very easily and very 
quietly, to a common end. The relationship is 
symbiotic, and the lobby cooperates intimately to 
keep it alive; lobbyists can go to many in the 
U.S. Congress and tell them quite credibly that 
if aid to Israel is cut off, thousands of 
arms-industry jobs in their own districts will be 
lost. That's power. The lobby is not simply 
passively supporting whatever the U.S. 
military-industrial complex wants. It is actively 
twisting arms ­ very successfully ­ in both 
Congress and the administration to perpetuate 
acceptance of a definition of U.S. "national 
interests" that many Americans believe is wrong, as does Chomsky himself.

Clearly, the advantages in the relationship go in 
both directions: Israel serves U.S. corporate 
interests by using, and often helping develop, 
the arms that U.S. manufacturers produce, and the 
U.S. serves Israeli interests by providing a 
constant stream of high-tech equipment that 
maintains Israel's vast military superiority in 
the region. But simply because the U.S. benefits 
from this relationship, it cannot be said that 
the U.S. is Israel's master, or that Israel 
always does the U.S. bidding, or that the lobby, 
which helps keep this arms alliance alive, has no 
significant power. It's in the nature of a 
symbiosis that both sides benefit, and the lobby 
has clearly played a huge role in maintaining the interdependence.

The left's arguments also tend to be much too 
conspiratorial. Finkelstein, for instance, 
describes a supposed strategy in which the U.S. 
perpetually undermines Israeli-Arab 
reconciliation because it does not want an Israel 
at peace with its neighbors, since Israel would 
then loosen its dependence on the U.S. and become 
a less reliable proxy. "What use," he asks, 
"would a Paul Wolfowitz have of an Israel living 
peacefully with its Arab neighbors and less 
willing to do the U.S.'s bidding?" Not only does 
this give the U.S. far more credit than it has 
ever deserved for long-term strategic scheming 
and the ability to carry out such a conspiracy, 
but it begs a very important question that 
neither Finkelstein nor the other left critics, 
in their dogged effort to mold all developments 
to their thesis, never examine: just what U.S.'s 
bidding is Israel doing nowadays?

Although the leftist critics speak of Israel as a 
base from which U.S. power is projected 
throughout the Middle East, they do not clearly 
explain how this works. Any strategic value 
Israel had for the U.S. diminished drastically 
with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They may 
believe that Israel keeps Saudi Arabia's oil 
resources safe from Arab nationalists or Muslim 
fundamentalists or Russia, but this is highly 
questionable. Israel clearly did us no good in 
Lebanon, but rather the U.S. did Israel's bidding 
and fumbled badly, so this cannot be how the U.S. 
uses Israeli to project its power. In Palestine, 
Finkelstein himself acknowledges that the U.S. 
gains nothing from the occupation and Israeli 
settlements, so this can't be where Israel is 
doing the U.S.'s bidding. (With this 
acknowledgement, Finkelstein, perhaps 
unconsciously, seriously undermines his case 
against the importance of the lobby, unless he 
somehow believes the occupation is only of 
incidental significance, in which case he 
undermines the thesis of much of his own body of writing.)

Owning the Policymakers

In the clamor over the Mearsheimer-Walt study, 
critics on both the left and the right have 
tended to ignore the slow evolutionary history of 
U.S. Middle East policymaking and of the U.S. 
relationship with Israel. The ties to Israel and 
earlier to Zionism go back more than a century, 
predating the formation of a lobby, and they have 
remained firm even at periods when the lobby has 
waned. But it is also true that the lobby has 
sustained and formalized a relationship that 
otherwise rests on emotions and moral commitment. 
Because the bond with Israel has been a steadily 
evolving continuum, dating back to well before 
Israel's formal establishment, it is important to 
emphasize that there is no single point at which 
it is possible to say, this is when Israel won 
the affections of America, or this is when Israel 
came to be regarded as a strategic asset, or this 
is when the lobby became an integral part of U.S. policymaking.

The left critics of the lobby study mark the 
Johnson administration as the beginning of the 
U.S.-Israeli alliance, but almost every 
administration before Johnson's, going back to 
Woodrow Wilson, ratcheted up the relationship in 
some significant way and could justifiably claim 
to have been the progenitor of the bond. 
Significantly, in almost all cases, policymakers 
acted as they did because of the influence of 
pro-Zionist or pro-Israeli lobbyists: Wilson 
would not have supported the Zionist enterprise 
to the extent he did had it not been for the 
influence of Zionist colleagues like Louis 
Brandeis; nor would Roosevelt; Truman would 
probably not have been as supportive of 
establishing a Jewish state without the heavy 
influence of his very pro-Zionist advisers.

After the Johnson administration as well, the 
relationship has continued to grow in remarkable 
leaps. The Nixon-Kissinger regime could claim 
that they were the administration that cemented 
the alliance by exponentially increasing military 
aid ­ from an annual average of under $50 million 
in military credits to Israel in the late 1960s 
to an average of almost $400 million and, in the 
year following the 1973 war, to $2.2 billion. It 
is not for nothing that Israelis have informally 
dubbed almost every president since Johnson ­ 
with the notable exceptions of Jimmy Carter and 
the senior George Bush ­ as "the most pro-Israeli 
president ever"; each one has achieved some 
landmark in the effort to please Israel.

The U.S.-Israeli bond has always had its 
grounding more in soft emotions than in the hard 
realities of geopolitical strategy. Scholars have 
always described the tie in almost spiritual 
terms never applied to ties with other nations. A 
Palestinian-French scholar has described the 
United States' pro-Israeli tilt as a 
"predisposition," a natural inclination that 
precedes any consideration of interest or of 
cost. Israel, he said, takes part in the very 
"being" of American society and therefore 
participates in its integrity and its defense. 
This is not simply the biased perspective of a 
Palestinian. Other scholars of varying political 
inclinations have described a similar spiritual 
and cultural identity: the U.S. identifies with 
Israel's "national style"; Israel is essential to 
the "ideological prospering" of the U.S.; each 
country has "grafted" the heritage of the other 
onto itself. This applies even to the worst 
aspects of each nation's heritage. Consciously or 
unconsciously, many Israelis even today see the 
U.S. conquest of the American Indians as 
something "good," something to emulate and, which 
is worse, many Americans even today are happy to 
accept the "compliment" inherent in Israel's effort to copy us.

This is no ordinary state-to-state relationship, 
and the lobby does not function like any ordinary 
lobby. It is not a great exaggeration to say that 
the lobby could not thrive without a very willing 
host ­ that is, a series of U.S. policymaking 
establishments that have always been locked in to 
a mindset singularly focused on Israel and its 
interests ­ and, at the same time, that U.S. 
policy in the Middle East would not possibly have 
remained so singularly focused on and so tilted 
toward Israel were it not for the lobby. One 
thing is certain: with the possible exceptions of 
the Carter and the first Bush administrations, 
the relationship has grown noticeably closer and 
more solid with each administration, in almost 
exact correlation with the growth in size and 
budget and political clout of the pro-Israel lobby.

All critics of the lobby study have failed to 
note a critical point during the Reagan 
administration, surrounding the debacle in 
Lebanon, when it can reasonably be said that 
policymaking tipped over from a situation in 
which the U.S. was more often the controlling 
agent in the relationship to one in which Israel 
and its advocates in the U.S. have increasingly 
determined the course and the pace of 
developments. The organized lobby, meaning AIPAC 
and the several formal Jewish American 
organizations, truly came into its own during the 
Reagan years with a massive expansion of 
memberships, budgets, propaganda activities, and 
contacts within Congress and government, and it 
has been consolidating power and influence for 
the last quarter century, so that today the 
broadly defined lobby, including all those who 
work for Israel, has become an integral part of 
U.S. society and U.S. policymaking.

The situation during the Reagan administration 
demonstrates very clearly the closeness of the 
bond. The events of these years illustrate how an 
already very Israel-centered mindset in the U.S., 
which had been developing for decades, was 
transformed into a concrete, institutionalized 
relationship with Israel via the offices of 
Israeli supporters and agents in the U.S.

The seminal event in the growth of AIPAC and the 
organized lobby was the battle over the 
administration's proposed sale of AWACS aircraft 
to Saudi Arabia in 1981, Reagan's first year in 
office. Paradoxically, although AIPAC lost this 
battle in a head-on struggle with Reagan and the 
administration, and the sale to the Saudis went 
forward, AIPAC and the lobby ultimately won the 
war for influence. Reagan was determined that the 
sale go through; he regarded the deal as an 
important part of an ill-conceived attempt to 
build an Arab-Israeli consensus in the Middle 
East to oppose the Soviet Union and, perhaps even 
more important, saw the battle in Congress as a 
test of his own prestige. By winning the battle, 
he demonstrated that any administration, at least 
up to that point, could exert enough pressure to 
push an issue opposed by Israel through Congress, 
but the struggle also demonstrated just how 
exhausting and politically costly such a battle 
can be, and no one around Reagan was willing to 
go to the mat in this way again. In a real sense, 
despite AIPAC's loss, the fight showed just how 
much the lobby limited policymaker freedom, even 
more than 20 years ago, in any transaction that concerned Israel.

The AWACS imbroglio galvanized AIPAC into action, 
at precisely the time the administration was 
subsiding in exhaustion, and under an aggressive 
and energetic leader, former congressional aide 
Thomas Dine, AIPAC quadrupled its budget, 
increased its grassroots support immensely, and 
vastly expanded its propaganda effort. This last 
and perhaps most significant accomplishment was 
achieved when Dine established an analytical unit 
inside AIPAC that published in-depth analyses and 
position papers for congressmen and policymakers. 
Dine believed that anyone who could provide 
policymakers with books and papers focusing on 
Israel's strategic value to the U.S. would effectively "own" the policymakers.

With the rising power and influence of the lobby, 
and following the U.S. debacle in Lebanon ­ which 
began with Israel's 1982 invasion and ended for 
the U.S. with the withdrawal of its Marine 
contingent in early 1984, after the Marines had 
become involved in fighting to protect Israel's 
invasion force and 241 U.S. military had been 
killed in a truck bombing ­ the Reagan 
administration effectively handed over the policy 
initiative in the Middle East to Israel and its American advocates.

Israel and its agents began, with amazing 
effrontery, to complain that the U.S. failure to 
clean up in Lebanon was interfering with Israel's 
own designs there ­ from which arrogance Reagan 
and company concluded, in an astounding twist of 
logic, that the only way to restore stability was 
through closer alliance with Israel. As a result, 
in the fall of 1983 Reagan sent a delegation to 
ask the Israelis for closer strategic ties, and 
shortly thereafter forged a formal strategic 
alliance with Israel with the signing of a 
"memorandum of understanding on strategic 
cooperation." In 1987, the U.S. designated Israel 
a "major non-NATO ally," thus giving it access to 
military technology not available otherwise. The 
notion of demanding concessions from Israel in 
return for this favored status ­ such as, for 
instance, some restraint in its 
settlement-construction in the West Bank ­ was 
specifically rejected. The U.S. simply very 
deliberately and abjectly retreated into policy 
inaction, leaving Israel with a free hand to 
proceed as it wished wherever it wished in the 
Middle East and particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Even Israel, by all accounts, was surprised by 
this demonstration of the United States' 
inability to see beyond Israel's interests. Prime 
Minister Menachem Begin had attempted from early 
in the Carter administration to push the notion 
that Israel was a strategic Cold War asset to the 
U.S. but, because Israel did not in fact perform 
a significant strategic role for the U.S. and was 
in many ways more a liability than an asset, 
Carter never paid serious attention to the 
Israeli overtures. Begin feared that the United 
States' moral and emotional commitment to Israel 
might ultimately not be enough to sustain the 
relationship through possible hard times, and so 
he attempted to put Israel forward as a 
strategically indispensable ally and a good 
investment for U.S. security, a move that would 
essentially reverse the two nations' roles, 
altering the relationship from one of Israeli 
indebtedness to the U.S. to one in which the 
United States was in Israel's debt for its vital strategic role.

Carter was having none of this, but the notion of 
strategic cooperation germinated in Israel and 
among its U.S. supporters until the moment became 
ripe during the Reagan administration. By the end 
of the Lebanon mess, the notion that the U.S. 
needed Israel's friendship had so taken hold 
among the Reaganites that, as one former national 
security aide observed in a stunning upending of 
logic, they began to view closer strategic ties 
as a necessary means of "restor[ing] Israeli 
confidence in American reliability." Secretary of 
State George Shultz wrote in his memoirs years 
later of the U.S. need "to lift the albatross of 
Lebanon from Israel's neck." Recall, as Shultz 
must not have been able to do, that the debt here 
was rightly Israel's: Israel put the albatross 
around its own neck, and the U.S. stumbled into 
Lebanon after Israel, not the other way around.

AIPAC and the neo-conservatives who rose to 
prominence during the Reagan years played a major 
role in building the strategic alliance. AIPAC in 
particular became in every sense of the word a 
partner of the U.S. in forging Middle East policy 
from the mid-1980s on. Thomas Dine's vision of 
"owning" policymakers by providing them with 
position papers geared to Israel's interests went 
into full swing. In 1984, AIPAC spun off a think 
tank, the Washington Institute for Near East 
Policy, that remains one of the pre-eminent think 
tanks in Washington and that has sent its 
analysts into policymaking jobs in several 
administrations. Dennis Ross, the senior Middle 
East policymaker in the administrations of George 
H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, came from the 
Washington Institute and returned there after 
leaving government service. Martin Indyk, the 
Institute's first director, entered a senior 
policymaking position in the Clinton administration from there.

Today, John Hannah, who has served on Vice 
President Cheney's national security staff since 
2001 and succeeded Lewis Libby last year as 
Cheney's leading national security adviser, comes 
from the Institute. AIPAC also continues to do 
its own analyses in addition to the Washington 
Institute's. A recent Washington Post profile of 
Steven Rosen, the former senior AIPAC foreign 
policy analyst who is about to stand trial with a 
colleague for receiving and passing on classified 
information to Israel, noted that two decades ago 
Rosen began a practice of lobbying the executive 
branch, rather than simply concentrating on 
Congress, as a way, in the words of the Post 
article, "to alter American foreign policy" by 
"influencing government from the inside." Over 
the years, he "had a hand in writing several policies favored by Israel."

In the Reagan years, AIPAC's position papers were 
particularly welcomed by an administration 
already more or less convinced of Israel's 
strategic value and obsessed with impeding Soviet 
advances. Policymakers began negotiating with 
AIPAC before presenting legislation in order to 
help assure passage, and Congress consulted the 
lobby on pending legislation. Congress eagerly 
embraced almost every legislative initiative 
proposed by the lobby and came to rely on AIPAC 
for information on all issues related to the 
Middle East. The close cooperation between the 
administration and AIPAC soon began to stifle 
discourse inside the bureaucracy. Middle East 
experts in the State Department and other 
agencies were almost completely cut out of 
decision-making, and officials throughout 
government became increasingly unwilling to 
propose policies or put forth analysis likely to 
arouse opposition from AIPAC or Congress. One 
unnamed official complained that "a lot of real 
analysis is not even getting off people's desks 
for fear of what the lobby will do"; he was 
speaking to a New York Times correspondent, but 
otherwise his complaints fell on deaf ears.

This kind of pervasive influence, a chill on 
discourse inside as well as outside policymaking 
councils, does not require the sort of clear-cut, 
concrete pro-Israeli decisions in the Oval Office 
that David Gergen naively thought he should have 
witnessed if the lobby had any real influence. 
This kind of influence, which uses friendly 
persuasion, along with just enough direct 
pressure, on a broad range of policymakers, 
legislators, media commentators, and grassroots 
activists to make an impression across the 
spectrum, cannot be defined in terms of narrow, 
concrete policy commands, but becomes an 
unchanging, unchallengeable mindset, a 
sentimental environment that restricts debate, 
restricts thinking, and determines actions and 
policies as surely as any command from on high. 
When Israel's advocates, its lobbyists, in the 
U.S. become an integral part of the policymaking 
apparatus, as they have particularly since the 
Reagan years ­ and as they clearly have been 
during the current Bush administration ­ there is 
no way to separate the lobby's interests from 
U.S. policies. Moreover, because Israel's 
strategic goals in the region are more clearly 
defined and more urgent than those of the United 
States, Israel's interests most often dominate.

Chomsky himself acknowledges that the lobby plays 
a significant part in shaping the political 
environment in which support for Israel becomes 
automatic and unquestioned. Even Chomsky believes 
that what he calls the intellectual political 
class is a critical, and perhaps the most 
influential, component of the lobby because these 
elites determine the shaping of news and 
information in the media and academia. On the 
other hand, he contends that, because the lobby 
already includes most of this intellectual 
political class, the thesis of lobby power "loses 
much of its content". But, on the contrary, this 
very fact would seem to prove the point, not 
undermine it. The fact of the lobby's 
pervasiveness, far from rendering it less 
powerful, magnifies its importance tremendously.

Indeed, this is the crux of the entire debate. It 
is the very power of the lobby to continue 
shaping the public mindset, to mold thinking and, 
perhaps most important, to instill fear of 
deviation that brings this intellectual political 
class together in an unswerving determination to 
work for Israel. Is there not a heavy impact on 
Middle East policymaking when, for instance, a 
lobby has the power to force the electoral defeat 
of long-serving congressmen, as occurred to 
Representative Paul Findley in 1982 and Senator 
Charles Percy in 1984 after both had deviated 
from political correctness by speaking out in 
favor of negotiating with the PLO? AIPAC openly 
crowed about the defeat of both men ­ both 
Republicans serving during the Republican Reagan 
administration, who had been in Congress for 22 
and 18 years respectively. Similarly, does not 
the media's silence on Israel's oppressive 
measures in the occupied territories, as well as 
the concerted, and openly acknowledged, efforts 
of virtually every pro-Israeli organization in 
the U.S. to suppress information and quash debate 
on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, have an 
immense impact on policy? Today, even the most 
outspoken of leftist radio hosts and other 
commentators, such as Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, 
and now Cindy Sheehan, almost always avoid 
talking and writing about this issue.

Does not the massive effort by AIPAC, the 
Washington Institute, and myriad other similar 
organizations to spoon-feed policymakers and 
congressmen selective information and analysis 
written only from Israel's perspective have a 
huge impact on policy? In the end, even Chomsky 
and Finkelstein acknowledge the power of the 
lobby in suppressing discussion and debate about 
Middle East policy. The mobilization of public 
opinion, Finkelstein writes, "can have a real 
impact on policy-making ­ which is why the Lobby 
invests so much energy in suppressing 
discussion." It is difficult to read statement 
except as a ringing acknowledgement of the 
massive and very central power of the lobby to 
control discourse and to control policymaking on 
the most critical Middle East policy issue.

Interchangeable Interests

The principal problem with the left critics' 
analysis is that it is too rigid. There is no 
question that Israel has served the interests of 
the U.S. government and the military-industrial 
complex in many areas of the world by, for 
instance, aiding some of the rightist regimes of 
Central America, by skirting arms and trade 
embargoes against apartheid South Africa and 
China (until the neo-conservatives turned off the 
tap to China and, in a rare disagreement with 
Israel, forced it to halt), and during the Cold 
War by helping, at least indirectly, to hold down 
Arab radicalism. There is also no question that, 
no matter which party has been in power, the U.S. 
has over the decades advanced an essentially 
conservative global political and pro-business 
agenda in areas far afield of the Middle East, 
without reference to Israel or the lobby. The 
U.S. unseated Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in 
Guatemala and Allende in Chile, along with many 
others, for its own corporate and political 
purposes, as the left critics note, and did not use Israel.

But these facts do not minimize the power the 
lobby has exerted in countless instances over the 
course of decades, and particularly in recent 
years, to lead the U.S. into situations that 
Israel initiated, that the U.S. did not plan, and 
that have done harm, both singly and 
cumulatively, to U.S. interests. One need only 
ask whether particular policies would have been 
adopted in the absence of pressure from some 
influential persons and organizations working on 
Israel's behalf in order to see just how often 
Israel or its advocates in the U.S., rather than 
the United States or even U.S. corporations, have 
been the policy initiators. The answers give 
clear evidence that a lobby, as broadly defined 
by Mearsheimer and Walt, has played a critical 
and, as the decades have gone on, increasingly 
influential role in policymaking.

For instance, would Harry Truman have been as 
supportive of establishing Israel as a Jewish 
state if it had not been for heavy pressure from 
what was then a very loose grouping of strong 
Zionists with considerable influence in 
policymaking circles? It can reasonably be argued 
that he might not in fact have supported Jewish 
statehood at all, and it is even more likely that 
his own White House advisers ­ all strong Zionist 
proponents themselves ­ would not have twisted 
arms at the United Nations to secure the 1947 
vote in favor of partitioning Palestine if these 
lobbyists had not been a part of Truman's 
policymaking circle. Truman himself did not 
initially support the notion of founding a state 
based on religion, and every national security 
agency of government, civilian and military , 
strongly opposed the partition of Palestine out 
of fear that this would lead to warfare in which 
the U.S. might have to intervene, would enhance 
the Soviet position in the Middle East, and would 
endanger U.S. oil interests in the area. But even 
in the face of this united opposition from within 
his own government, Truman found the pressures of 
the Zionists among his close advisers and among 
influential friends of the administration and of 
the Democratic Party too overwhelmingly strong to resist.

Questions like this arise for virtually every 
presidential administration. Would Jimmy Carter, 
for instance, have dropped his pursuit of a 
resolution of the Palestinian problem if the 
Israel lobby had not exerted intense pressure on 
him? Carter was the first president to recognize 
the Palestinian need for some kind of "homeland," 
as he termed it, and he made numerous efforts to 
bring Palestinians into a negotiating process and 
to stop Israeli settlement-building, but 
opposition from Israel and pressures from the 
lobby were so heavy that he was ultimately worn down and defeated.

It is also all but impossible to imagine the U.S. 
supporting Israel's actions in the occupied 
Palestinian territories without pressure from the 
lobby. No conceivable U.S. national interest 
served ­ even in the United States' own myopic 
view ­ by its support for Israel's harshly 
oppressive policy in the West Bank and Gaza, and 
furthermore this support is a dangerous 
liability. As Mearsheimer and Walt note, most 
foreign elites view the U.S. tolerance of Israeli 
repression as "morally obtuse and a handicap in 
the war on terrorism," and this tolerance is a 
major cause of terrorism against the U.S. and the 
West. The impetus for oppressing the Palestinians 
clearly comes and has always come from Israel, 
not the United States, and the impetus for 
supporting Israel and facilitating this 
oppression has come, very clearly and directly, 
from the lobby, which goes to great lengths to 
justify the occupation and to advocate on behalf of Israeli policies.

It is tempting, and not at all out of the realm 
of possibility, to imagine Bill Clinton having 
forged a final Palestinian-Israeli peace 
agreement were it not for the influence of his 
notably pro-Israeli advisers. By the time Clinton 
came to office, the lobby had become a part of 
the policymaking apparatus, in the persons of 
Israeli advocates Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, 
both of whom entered government service from 
lobby organizations. Both also returned at the 
end of the Clinton administration to 
organizations that advocate for Israel: Ross to 
the Washington Institute and Indyk to the 
Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle 
East Policy, which is financed by and named for a 
notably pro-Israeli benefactor. The scope of the 
lobby's infiltration of government policymaking 
councils has been unprecedented during the 
current Bush administration. Some of the left 
critics dismiss the neo-cons as not having any 
allegiance to Israel; Finkelstein thinks it is 
naïve to credit them with any ideological 
conviction, and Zunes claims they are 
uninterested in benefiting Israel because they 
are not religious Jews (as if only religious Jews 
care about Israel). But it simply ignores reality 
to deny the neo-cons' very close ties, both 
ideological and pragmatic, to Israel's right wing.

Both Finkelstein and Zunes glaringly fail to 
mention the strategy paper that several neo-cons 
wrote in the mid-1990s for an Israeli prime 
minister, laying out a plan for attacking Iraq 
these same neo-cons later carried out upon 
entering the Bush administration. The strategy 
was designed both to assure Israel's regional 
dominance in the Middle East and to enhance U.S. 
global hegemony. One of these authors, David 
Wurmser, remains in government as Cheney's Middle 
East adviser ­ one of several lobbyists inside 
the henhouse. The openly trumpeted plan, crafted 
by the neo-cons, is to "transform" the Middle 
East by unseating Saddam Hussein, and the notion, 
also openly touted, that the path to peace in 
Palestine-Israel ran through Baghdad grew out of 
the neo-cons' overriding concern for Israel. Both 
Finkelstein and Zunes also fail to take note of 
the long record of advocacy on behalf of Israel 
that almost all the neo-cons (Paul Wolfowitz, 
Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, 
Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, and their 
cheerleaders on the sidelines such as William 
Kristol, Robert Kagan, Norman Podhoretz, Jeane 
Kirkpatrick, and numerous right-wing, pro-Israeli 
think tanks in Washington) have compiled over the 
years. The fact that these individuals and 
organizations are all also advocates of U.S. 
global hegemony does not diminish their 
allegiance to Israel or their desire to assure 
Israel's regional hegemony in alliance with the U.S.

The claimed interchangeability of U.S. and 
Israeli interests ­ and the fact that certain 
individuals for whom a primary objective is to 
advance Israel's interests now reside inside the 
councils of government ­ proves the truth of the 
Mearsheimer-Walt's principal conclusion that the 
lobby has been able to convince most Americans, 
contrary to reality, that there is an essential 
identity of U.S. and Israeli interests and that 
the lobby has succeeded for this reason in 
forging a relationship of unmatched intimacy. The 
"overall thrust of policy" in the Middle East, 
they observe quite accurately, is "almost 
entirely" attributable to the lobby's activities. 
The fact that the U.S. occasionally acts without 
reference to Israel in areas outside the Middle 
East, and that Israel does occasionally serve 
U.S. interests rather than the other way around, 
takes nothing away from the significance of this conclusion.

The tragedy of the present situation is that it 
has become impossible to separate Israeli from 
alleged U.S. interests ­ that is, not what should 
be real U.S. national interests, but the selfish 
and self-defined "national interests" of the 
political-corporate-military complex that 
dominates the Bush administration, Congress, and 
both major political parties. The specific groups 
that now dominate the U.S. government are the 
globalized arms, energy, and financial 
industries, and the entire military 
establishments, of the U.S. and of Israel ­ 
groups that have quite literally hijacked the 
government and stripped it of most vestiges of democracy.

This convergence of manipulated "interests" has a 
profound effect on U.S. policy choices in the 
Middle East. When a government is unable to 
distinguish its own real needs from those of 
another state, it can no longer be said that it 
always acts in its own interests or that it does 
not frequently do grave damage to those 
interests. Until the system of sovereign 
nation-states no longer exists ­ and that day may 
never come ­ no nation's choices should ever be 
defined according to the demands of another 
nation. Accepting a convergence of U.S. and 
Israeli interests means that the U.S. can never 
act entirely as its own agent, will never examine 
its policies and actions entirely from the 
vantage point of its own long-term self interest, 
and can, therefore, never know why it is devising 
and implementing a particular policy. The failure 
to recognize this reality is where the left 
critics' belittling of the lobby's power and 
their acceptance of U.S. Middle East policy as 
simply an unchangeable part of a longstanding 
strategy is particularly dangerous.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political 
analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 
30 years. She is the author of 
of Palestine and 
Wound of Dispossession.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. 
He served as a National Intelligence Officer and 
as Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and 
Political Analysis. He is a contributor to 
Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch's history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

They can be reached at 
<mailto:kathy.bill at christison-santafe.com>kathy.bill at christison-santafe.com.

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