Shutting Up Won’t Quiet Critics


The controversy over two leading academics who published a scurrilous essay claiming that Israel and its American "Lobby" control American foreign policy is, mercifully, 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 probably a crock. A lot of academics have made a good living bashing Israel and the Jews at the expense of elite institutions for decades.

Mearsheimer and Walt can probably count on cushy honorariums from all the same federally-funded places of higher education – not to mention the plentiful opportunities available from Arab sources – that currently house other less-heralded intellectual poseurs. 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 the cause for which they claim they have sacrificed themselves 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 Revolutionary Guards.

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 who 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. With the chances of a quick success against a far larger and more dangerous foe than Saddam Hussein's Iraq not all that great, what good could possibly come – we are asked – from associating military action against Tehran with Israel's cause?

The only problem is that whatever your opinion of the potential threat 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.



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