The controversy over two leading academics who published a scurrilous essay claiming that Israel and its American "Lobby" control
American foreign policy may be starting to die down.
The pair, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt, academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of
Government, have been roundly criticized by figures spanning the political spectrum for pawning off garden variety anti-Semitic
canards as scholarly work.
Predictably, the two have painted themselves as martyrs to the cause of stopping the pro-Israel cabal they fear so much, with
Mearsheimer even whining to friendly media (such as the education section of The New York Times) that he and Walt had
committed "career suicide."
But Mearsheimer's prediction of a gloomy life with fewer invitations to conferences in the future (cancel his reservation at the sushi
bar!) is a crock. Intellectual poseurs such as these two have made a good living (from both federal grants and funding from the Arab
world) bashing Israel and the Jews at the expense of elite institutions for decades. By contrast, it is still those few scholars of
genuine merit who speak up for Israel such as the Middle East Forum's Daniel Pipes who will continue to be shut out of
consideration at the top schools.
But while Mearsheimer and Walt can get down from their cross, the payoff for their cause may not be far off. After all, the goal of
"The Lobby" thesis and its fans living in the fever swamps of the far right and far left is to effectively silence Americans who support
Israel. And, as implausible as that may sound, their chances are better than you think.
CAN THE LOBBY BE LICKED?
Given the fact that their definition of "The Lobby" included everyone from the president of the United States to the president of your
local Chamber of Commerce not to mention the mass media how can the vast array of forces that have created a wall-to-wall
bipartisan pro-Israel majority be licked?
The outcome of the coming debate over how to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions may provide an answer.
The threat of a nuclear Iran is getting harder to ignore. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vows to pursue Iran's nuclear
program to fruition has sent shivers down the spines of policy-makers.
Ahmadinejad's quotes taunting the United States, promising to annihilate Israel and denying the Holocaust are often put down as
mere rhetoric aimed more at shoring up the Islamic regime's internal power base.
But Ahmadinejad is probably scarier than you think. As an article in the April 24 issue of The New Republic reports, the Iranian
leader's statements are part and parcel of the ideology of the Basiji, the most extremist element of the Iranian ayatollah's
The Basiji were used in suicidal attacks during the Iran-Iraq war, in which tens of thousands of teenage "volunteers" were sacrificed.
Add in the fact that suicidal sacrifice is at the core of Shiite Islam and the notion that concepts like the "mutually assured
deterrence" that kept the peace during the Cold War will work against a nuclear Iran seem forlorn hopes.
For now, the Bush administration is committed to a policy of diplomacy to deal with Tehran. But the idea that this will work or that
our European allies will stick with us to impose sanctions against Iran is ridiculous. The only question is whether or not the United
States is prepared to risk military action to halt Iran's program. If not, our only option will be to shrug and stand by as Ahmadinejad's
scientists present him with nukes by the end of the decade or even sooner.
That stark dilemma has aroused many in Washington to begin speaking seriously of doing something about Iran.
According to writer Seymour Hersh, who made a splash with allegations about plans to attack Iran in the April 17 New Yorker,
"Bush and others in the White House view [Ahmadinejad] as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. 'That's
the name they're using. They say, 'Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?' "
Since President Bush himself has stated he will "use military might to protect our ally Israel," from Iran the question of the pro-Israel
community's stance is likely to loom large in the debate over what, if anything, America will do.
But given the fact that the last thing the pro-Israel community wants right now is to give extremists another reason to claim the
Israeli tail is wagging the American dog, it may well be that some voices that might otherwise be loudly declaiming the danger from
Iran will be silent.
A MORTAL DANGER
Indeed, the not-so-subtle message coming from the increasingly vocal anti-war crowd right now is that if "The Lobby" knows what's
good for it, it will pipe down and, by its silence, help quash any support for decisive action on Iran.Given the fact that some
extremists still falsely claim that the Iraq war is being fought for Israel's sake that might seem like good advice.
Whatever your opinion of the potential threats that Saddam's Iraq posed in 2003, there is very little doubt that a nuclear Iran poses a
mortal threat to the peace of the world. If the United States were to act to keep Ahmadinejad's finger off the nuclear button, it would
not be so much to save Israel as to save the world from his Basiji notion of purification and sacrifice.
That said, there should be no reason for us to be afraid of also pointing out that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear war with an
Israel that it says it wants to exterminate. What good would a prudent silence on the issue do us if a few years from now or
sooner we wake up to learn that Iran has a bomb ready to drop on Tel Aviv and create a new Holocaust?
None of the options facing Bush on Iran are good, but supporting a do-nothing policy is as bad for America as it is for Israel.
Israel-haters such as "The Lobby" authors and their extremist fans want us to be silent because they don't want such a deadly
Islamic threat to millions of Jewish and non-Jewish lives to be forestalled. Still, that is no reason for the majority of Americans who
are members of a democratic pro-Israel consensus to be shy about pointing that out.