Mearsheimer-Walt: Truth in advertising?


It’s been pointed out (here, for example) that Mearsheimer & Walt are sloppy/misleading with their handling of several news articles and quotes. So, in a warped sort of way, the selective quotations in the full-page New York Times ad on Monday for their new book could be considered an example of truth in advertising

“Ruthlessly realistic” was the quote attibuted to the NYT’s William Grimes. Now here’s the full quote from Grimes’ review of the M & W book: “Slowly, deliberately and dispassionately Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt lay out the case for a ruthlessly realistic Middle East policy that would make Israel nothing more than one of many countries in the region.”

It’s clear that Grimes was not calling the book “ruthlessly realistic.” In fact, the end of his review suggests that he thinks the scholars’ overall argument is anything but:

The general tone of hostility to Israel grates on the nerves, however, along with an unignorable impression that hardheaded political realism can be subject to its own peculiar fantasies. Israel is not simply one country among many, for example, just as Britain is not. Americans feel strong ties of history, religion, culture and, yes, sentiment, that the authors recognize, but only in an airy, abstract way.

They also seem to feel that, with Israel and its lobby pushed to the side, the desert will bloom with flowers. A peace deal with Syria would surely follow, with a resultant end to hostile activity by Hezbollah and Hamas. Next would come a Palestinian state, depriving Al Qaeda of its principal recruiting tool. (The authors wave away the idea that Islamic terrorism thrives for other reasons.) Well, yes, Iran does seem to be a problem, but the authors argue that no one should be particularly bothered by an Iran with nuclear weapons. And on and on.

“It is time,” Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt write, “for the United States to treat Israel not as a special case but as a normal state, and to deal with it much as it deals with any other country.” But it’s not. And America won’t. That’s realism.

The citation from New Yorker editor David Remnick’s review was less egregious, but also a misleading half-sentence. Remnick in the ad: “The strategic questions they raise now, particularly about Israel’s privileged relationship with the United States, are worth debating.” Here’s the full line: “The strategic questions they raise now, particularly about Israel’s privileged relationship with the United States, are worth debating – just as it is worth debating whether it is a good idea to be selling arms to Saudi Arabia. But their announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument – a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs.”

This was criticism, not praise – Remnick was arguing that the scholars’ questions might be good ones, but their answers are way off.

Here is Remnick’s concluding graff:

Taming the influence of lobbies, if that is what Mearsheimer and Walt desire, is a matter of reforming the lobbying and campaign-finance laws. But that is clearly not the source of the hysteria surrounding their arguments. “The Israel Lobby” 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 this respect, their account is not so much a diagnosis of our polarized era as a symptom of it.

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