Steve Walt, always believing


Stephen Walt thinks he has a point to make here, although I’m not sure what it is. It is so simultaneously meaningless and contradictory as to defy explanation. But, Lord, It’s 9 PM, I’m still caffeinated, so I’ll give it a go.

Walt uncovers "evidence" that the pro-Israel lobby backs a confrontation (not necessarily of the military stripe) against Iran; he gets the Israel Project email touting an "advocacy training" program that has landed in just about every inbox in Northwest Washington.

And let’s be clear about one other thing. War with Iran is not a project that is backed by all Jewish-Americans, or only by Jewish-Americans. The same was true about the war in Iraq, which was dreamed up by the neocons and backed by key groups in the Israel lobby, but not by many American Jews. Indeed, by the time the United States went to war in 2003, surveys showed that American Jews were less supportive of war with Iraq than the U.S. population as a whole. 

But as in the run-up to Iraq, many of the most persistent advocates of a "kinetic response" to Iran are individuals or organization in the Israel lobby (including those bizarrely bellicose Christian Zionists), and as this invitation suggests, they aren’t being especially bashful about making their policy preferences known. So if the United States does end up at war with Iran in the not-too-distant future, and if it turns out to leave us worse off than before, I hope these same people won’t spend the aftermath denying that they had anything to do with it, or accusing people who discuss their role of being somehow bigoted.

The link under "denying" is to Richard Perle who explains, among many other things, that Israel advocacy did not spur the Iraq war forward.

The reason that calumny persists, and Perle still needs to explain it, is that Walt and John Mearsheimer made it the central thesis of their best-selling and deeply dishonest book, "The Israel Lobby." As he has done recently, Walt tries here to weasel away from the central role the book assigned the lobby — in this latest post, the Iraq war was "dreamed up by the neocons" and "backed by key groups in the Israel lobby," while the 2007 book accused the Israel lobby of joining "forces with the neoconservatives to help sell the war to the Bush administration and the American people."

So that ratchets the lobby’s role back a notch or two — from the active "selling" of the war to the passive "backing" of it, from the neoconservatives’ equal in responsibility for the war to a more subservient role. You’d think given these realizations (and I’m not endorsing this moderated view — Dick Cheney is not a neocon) Walt would be preparing an updated edition of the book, explaining to folks that he might have been more nuanced, that he overstated the case.

But no, because belief always overwhelms fact. So like a fundamentalist paleontologist acknowledging the heft of the fossil in his hands while dreaming up theological constructs that supersede prosaic realties, Walt adjusts his rhetoric toward reality, but can’t stop believing.

That’s clear in the immediately following paragraph, when Walt says that the pro-Israel lobby is as active in advocating confrontation with Iran now as it was in making the case for the Iraq war: "As in the run-up to Iraq, many of the most persistent advocates of a ‘kinetic response’ to Iran are individuals or organization in the Israel lobby."

We’ve entered an evidence-free zone: Where are the TIP email invitations to Iraq invasion advocacy workshops? It’s funny, I was at the AP at the time, and a prime target for this stuff — but I never got those, nor the statements from AIPAC thanking senators for voting to approve the war, nor the press releases touting as "massive" the Jewish rally at the U.N. calling for tanks in Basra. I never got them because they never happened.

What Walt ultimately posits is correct: Those now advocating confrontation (again, with the caveat, not necessarily of the military kind) with Iran include — and to a degree are led by — the pro-Israel community. And should this enterprise turn disastrous, they will have to assume responsibility for their role.

No one is not acknowledging this, but these groups believe that the perceived direct threat Iran poses to Israel and to American interests in the region justifies that risk.

The same groups (or some of them) took a much more hedged risk in 2002 when they were suckered by the Bushies (like a lot of other folks) into standard Washingtonese expressions of support for the overarching obsession of the administration of the day — the Iraq war. I’ve said before that, unlike other suckers in that game — Democrats like Hillary Clinton and journalists like Judith Miller — these groups did not pay a price for their weaselliness, but I think I might have been wrong: Their price is the rise of J Street.

That said, being a weasel is not being a warmonger, however much Walt wishes it so. And should Iran come to catastrophe, he might have to add his name to the list of "pundits to blame": His warnings about Iran, however reasonable, have gone unheeded because he earned himself a reputation for letting belief overwhelm facts.

Recommended from JTA