On the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship in last summer’s disastrous war in Lebanon, for example, I disagree with their denial of responsibility on Washington’s part — the original impulse to take some form of action may have come from the Israeli leadership, but as I made clear at the time, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the scale and objectives of the operation became defined by Washington, and they were plainly goals for which Israel had not prepared its forces. ~Tony Karon
Indeed, it is surprising that Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt would argue that Washington was not at least partly responsible for the Lebanon debacle, since the war in Lebanon–and the U.S. political class’s virtually unanimous support for it–seems to me to serve as a principal example of how the Lobby’s definition of U.S. and Israeli interests skews and shapes U.S. policymaking in ways that are actually detrimental to the interests of both states. The way that the war in Lebanon was cast in much of the U.S. media–very simply as Iran and Syria’s proxy war against Israel and Israel’s purely righteous retaliation against this proxy war–had a lot to do with Lobby influence in creating an impressive bipartisan consensus here that everything Israel does can be described as “self-defense” and a similarly broad consensus that Iranian influence in the Near East is the great danger of our time.
In addition to Washington’s role in exacerbating the war in Lebanon, a clear demonstration of Lobby influence was in its control of the public debate about the campaign. (We routinely heard how “the American people” support Israel, but few bother to wonder why this support remains as strong as it does.) This public relations offensive was led by numerous denunciations of the idea of proportionality in the commentary pages of major newspapers, reliable anti-Vatican criticism from prominent pro-Israel Catholics and Christians, Rev. John Hagee’s declaration that the bombing of Lebanon was a “miracle of God” (Hagee is now the head of Christians United for Israel, which aspires to mobilise pro-Israel evangelicals and wield AIPAC-like influence), the U.S. Ambassador’s statement that “we are all Israelis now,” Secretary Rice’s infamous “birth pangs” quip, and on and on. Obviously, this was not all coordinated or synchronised, as critics of Mearsheimer and Walt accuse them (falsely) of claiming about Lobby activities, but resulted from the shared objectives of numerous different interest groups in this country in boosting for Israel. (The crucial point of the argument against the Lobby is that these interest groups that belong to it are highly unrepresentative of the interests of most Americans, and not surprisingly they advocate policies that serve their narrow interests rather than U.S. national interest.) It was, of course, technically possible to speak out against the rampant anti-Lebanonism that swept the country last summer (which was wrapped up in the nicest qualifications), but you didn’t find many people doing it, and certainly not many politicians and foreign policy intellectuals.
I agree with Mr. Karon that some of this response is ingrained and habitual now. It is mixed up to some extent with our own nationalists’ paranoia about so-called “Islamofascism,” and it dovetails nicely with the goals of hegemonists in the Near East. Then again, most hegemonists are themselves very keenly pro-Israel and are as interested in U.S. regional hegemony in the Near East for the sake of Israel’s security (as they understand it) as they are for reasons of projecting U.S. power, and it seems likely that they not only see no conflict between the two priorities but assume that the two are quite complementary. In any case, reflexive support for Israel obviously gets constant reinforcement from the media and politicians, which is how it became reflexive in the first place, and the coverage and commentary in this country on the war in Lebanon were perfect examples of how “the Lobby” works.