A year and a half after they published their ground-breaking article "The Israel Lobby" in the London Review of Books, the distinguished American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have now published their book entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy."
The venerable American publishers Farrar Straus and Giroux proved far more courageous in publishing the book than the Atlantic Monthly magazine that had commissioned the original article then refused to publish it - presumably because the Atlantic did not want to handle the consequences they anticipated would follow such an open analysis of the influence of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.
Mearsheimer and Walt argue the basic point that this influence is bad for the US, Israel and everyone else in the Middle East, given the way events have been unfolding there in recent years.
During a stay at Harvard University this week I contacted Professor Walt, whom I have known for a few years since speaking together on a panel here, to find out if the public reception to their book had been any different from the hostile attacks, discrediting attempts, and deep personal character assassination campaigns they had been subjected to after the original article appeared last year.
The answer is, yes and no, as I was also able to witness that same evening when I attended a public panel discussion the authors gave at the respected Cambridge Forum (available on the web at www.cambridgeforum.org).
The pro-Israel lobby that they analyze diligently in their book obviously learned that these two established scholars could not be intimidated or hounded out of town by the lobby's usual accusations of anti-semitism, or, in this case even more astoundingly, of sloppy research. You do not become tenured professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard University by doing sloppy research or practicing racism. Those accusations rolled of Mearsheimer and Walt's backs like water off a duck - because they were so patently false, and because the authors did not cower before the attacks against them - mainly because they knew that their basic argument was factually correct, however politically controversial in the US they were.
As the authors explain in their book and public talks, such personal attacks are how the lobby intimidates and usually silences people in the United States - politicians, journalists, academics and others - whose views it disagrees with. Their core argument is that the Israel lobby does this regardless of the impact on US or Israeli interests.
"Many policies pursued on Israel's behalf now jeopardize US national security," they write. "This situation, which has no equal in American history, is due primarily to the activities of the Israel lobby ... By making it difficult to impossible for the US government to criticize Israel's conduct and press it to change some of its counterproductive policies, the lobby may even be jeopardizing the long-term prospects of the Jewish state."
The many elements that comprise the Israel lobby may have realized that continuing to attack the authors was only giving their work more publicity, and stoking the policy debate they wished to instigate in the first place.
"This is an important policy subject that reasonable people should be able to discuss openly in this country," Walt notes. "The impact of the lobby's discrediting, marginalizing and silencing critics is that little serious debate takes place on the lobby's impact on US foreign policy, even though it is obvious to all that this policy has badly gone off the rails in recent years."
They argue that the Israel lobby is perfectly legitimate and normal in the context of American policy-making. The problem is in the foreign policy that Israel and its lobby end up advocating for the US, and that the US dutifully pursues.
The authors are making extensive book promotion tours in the US and soon embark on a long European trip. They have also been invited to Israel - where, they note, their book has been reviewed much more thoughtfully and honesty than in the US. The book is now also being translated into 16 languages.
The issues they raise are all the more relevant these days because of the crescendo of calls for American and/or Israeli military attacks to halt Iran's nuclear industry development. They see troubling parallels between the lobby's push for the US attack against Iraq - "one of the greatest strategic blunders in American history," Mearsheimer calls it - and the current drive by Israel and the pro-Israel lobby to nudge Washington to do something similar against Iran.
If their analysis is correct, which I believe it is, their cautionary warnings deserve open, thorough and honest debate, before the confluence of zealots in the White House, neoconservative radicals in their retinues, and the Israel lobby and other special interest groups combine again to propel the US and the world into another reckless and dangerous adventure.
*Published in Lebanon's THE DAILY STAR on October 31, 2007. Rami G. Khouri is Daily Star staff and is published twice-weekly.