Saturday, March 25, 2006

Blaming "the Israel lobby" lets the U.S. off the hook

Some responses to The Israel Lobby

The Angry Arab:
I of course read it with interest. This is what I think. I will be referring to the full text that appeared as a Faculty Research Working Papers Series by the Kennedy School of Government. I guess I am in the minority in the pro-Palestinian camp on this one; I am not thrilled to read the piece. Not that I do not subscribe to criticisms of US foreign policy, but that is not what the authors do. The authors seem intent on blaming all the ills in US foreign policy on the Israeli lobby. There are obvious problems with that approach: it seems to ignore or deny the ills of US foreign policy in regions outside the Middle East. It also absolves the US administration, any US administration, from any responsibility because they (the administrations) become portrayed as helpless victims of an all-powerful lobby. Thirdly, the approach does not take into consideration the interests that certain elements of the US establishment see in maintaining US foreign policy toward Israel. Fourthly, the approach does not situate US foreign policy in the Middle East into the context of the global role of the US, especially in the ear of Bush--and Clinton. And the piece, while significant because it comes from two mainstream academics, does not offer anything new or original.


Joseph Massad, professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University (and yes, one of witch-hunter David Horowitz's "dangerous" professors):
Blaming the lobby

While many of the studies of the pro-Israel lobby are sound and full of awe-inspiring well- documented details about the formidable power commanded by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its allies, the problem with most of them is what remains unarticulated. For example, when and in what context has the United States government ever supported national liberation in the Third World? The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groups, including European ones, from Greece to Latin America to Africa and Asia, except in the celebrated cases of the Afghan fundamentalists' war against the USSR and supporting apartheid South Africa's main terrorist allies in Angola and Mozambique (UNITA and RENAMO) against their respective anti-colonial national governments. Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain.

The United States has had a consistent policy since World War II of fighting all regimes across the Third World who insist on controlling their national resources, whether it be land, oil, or other valuable minerals.


The arguments put forth by these studies would have been more convincing if the Israel lobby was forcing the United States government to pursue policies in the Middle East that are inconsistent with its global policies elsewhere. This, however, is far from what happens. While US policies in the Middle East may often be an exaggerated form of its repressive and anti- democratic policies elsewhere in the world, they are not inconsistent with them.


Is the pro- Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not. The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel.


Blogger Elizabeth said...

I don't see how Massad etc. can say that our policies in the Mideast are to our "benefit." Maybe that was true at one point--when we could control the oil resources in Iran and Saudi Arabia without much opposition, and during the Cold War--but it certainly isn't true today.

When we were all protesting the Iraq war three years ago, I remember most of the lefties saying the war was for oil. I never believed that. I knew it was mostly for Bush's ego, and he was being egged on by the neo-cons. Now we see that gas prices in the U.S. are higher than ever. I think there are many people who just love to hate the U.S. I don't hate my country; I hate the fact that a small minority lobby has hijacked our political process and is making our government do things contrary to the U.S. interest.

6:04 AM, March 26, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

I think Massad is right on the money in pointing out the consistent postwar policy of the U.S. has been to intervene whenever a Third World nation has tried to gain control over its own resources so they could be used for the benefit of its own population and its own development. I’d have to check Blum’s “Killing Hope” for the complete list, but there was the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 (his cardinal sin: intending to nationalize Iran’s oil resources), the toppling of the Guatemalan government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954, after intense lobbying by United Fruit Company (holdings were threatened by the proposed land reform) and a long, long list of others. Moreover, the goal of American global supremacy and hegemony is stated quite openly, even brazenly, in National Security Strategy documents (2002 and the once recently released), the Space Command Vision for 2020 (“protecting national/commercial interests and investments”), etc. It’s also why the U.S. has an extensive global network of permanent military bases, including the ones under construction in Iraq.

Oil may not have been the only factor behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but the prospect of gaining control of this strategic Middle East resource definitely played a role.

The term “U.S. interest” can be slippery. The people making policy at the top may claim to be acting in the national interest, but generally speaking they’re advancing the interests of the political and economic elite to which they belong, which are often very much at odds with the public interest.

All that said, I don’t underestimate the power that a vociferous single-minded, largely single-issue, dedicated lobby can have in the American political system. In the absence of the “Israel lobby” and the reflexively, slavishly pro-Israel stance of most of the D.C. political class, it’s possible that U.S. policy would be much kinder to the Palestinians, and Israel would not be able to act so brutally and with such impunity.

But I think the larger problem, including continuing intervention or threat of intervention (not just invasion, but also covert action, sanctions, meddling in elections, media manipulation, etc.), whenever a nation independently chose to go down a path the U.S. opposed, would remain. And that is why the United States is disliked so strongly and so widely. It’s not because some people “love to hate America.” It’s because the United States tries to run the show and call the shots. And some people, quite rightly, resist that notion.

8:47 PM, March 26, 2006  

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