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Israel's lobby as scapegoat

BOOK REVIEW

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 484 pp., $26

September 12, 2007|Tim Rutten | Times Staff Writer

Perhaps most malicious of all, Mearsheimer and Walt go to great lengths in the book to make what they clearly believe is the most immediate case in point -- which is their assertion that the Israel lobby, acting at the Likud's behest, drove the United States into attacking Saddam Hussein. Thus, readers are treated to an explication on the religious affiliations of various Bush administration officials that reads like it was inspired by the Nuremberg Laws. The fact of the matter is, however, that the figure most responsible for pushing the attack on Iraq -- Vice President Dick Cheney -- is not Jewish, nor even ideologically neoconservative. He is a card-carrying member of the petroleum industry elite, however, and names like Halliburton and ExxonMobil never seem to make their way onto these pages. The United States attacked Iraq because the American public -- panicked and disconsolate over the Sept. 11 atrocities -- was misled by the administration's bad and manipulated intelligence into thinking that Hussein was preparing another attack with weapons of mass destruction.

To grasp the underlying malice running through "The Israel Lobby," it's helpful to consider the domestic precipice on which the United States now teeters. The Bush administration's Iraq debacle has made it all but inevitable that the early years of the next presidency will be marked by a vicious debate over what went wrong in the Middle East, a controversy -- typical of this unhappy period in our history -- in which the parties won't even agree on what it is that's being fought over.

The left will demand to know how the country was tricked into war with Saddam Hussein. We had a taste of how that inquiry might go this week, when the loony fringe of MoveOn.org published ads denouncing Army Gen. David Petraeus, the able and honorable U.S. commander in Iraq, for "betrayal." The right is already honing its own who-lost-Iraq rhetoric. You can sample that in neoconservative patriarch Norman Podhoretz's new book -- "World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism" -- in which he describes the war's critics as a "domestic insurgency" with a "life-and-death stake" in making sure America is defeated. In other words, to be against the war is to enlist in a Fifth Column.

New Yorker editor David Remnick was the first to note that Mearsheimer and Walt have subtly pushed Israel's American admirers and supporters into this rhetorical cesspool. (You'd never guess from the Mearsheimer-Walt analysis that many people in this country support Israel precisely because they admire it as a brave, dynamic and democratic society.) In a comment published this month, Remnick shrewdly observed that the Mearsheimer and Walt book "is a phenomenon of its moment. The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran -- all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby."

In fact, if you accept the analysis put forward in this book, it's impossible not to conclude that the United States was, in fact, tricked into a disastrous war in Iraq by a domestic Fifth Column and that the ranks of that subversive formation are filled with Jews, their friends and willing dupes.

Mearsheimer and Walt go to great pains to proclaim their disinterested benevolence toward all and to attach the word "realist" to their argument. The only adjective that comes to this reader's mind is "sinister."

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timothy.rutten@latimes.com

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