Israel Sends in the Clowns
By MICHAEL J. SMITH
"Does it seem implausible that one might actually feel sympathy for a professor at the University of Chicago? So I would have thought; but as John Mearsheimer got the waterboard treatment from Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross last night at New York's Cooper Union, there was something undeniably poignant in his situation. Mearsheimer, an earnest, polite, owlish gent, had the bemused air of a man trying to reason with a pair of rabid Dobermans.
The occasion was a "debate," hosted by the London Review of Books, on the question, "The Israel Lobby: Does it have too much influence on US foreign policy?"
The prosecution team consisted of professors Mearsheimer, Rashid Khalidi from Columbia, and Tony Judt, from NYU. Appearing for the defense were Israel lobbyists Indyk and Ross, both of whom also served Israel's cause as prominent members of the Clinton administration. They were joined by redundant Israeli labor party politician Shlomo Ben-Ami. (Why, you ask, was a former Israeli cabinet minister invited to discuss a question of American politics? That's a very good question, and I wish you had been there to ask it at the time.)
But of course -- as Mearsheimer came close to saying, at one point -- the best proof of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis was sitting in front of us all night, in the form of Ross and Indyk themselves. These two have spent their careers alternating between organizations like AIPAC and WINEP on the one hand, and guarding the Middle East henhouse in government on the other. The twists and turns of tactics and diplomacy, as one faction replaces another, don't conceal an underlying, essential continuity.
So the times they are a-changin'. But we still have a ways to go. If I correctly assessed the temper of last night's crowd, they mostly still want to find a way to divide the baby -- to support and vindicate Israel, but without all these awful wars and walls. They would like to cajole the Palestinians into playing nice -- without giving them anything that Israel might want. They would like to bring Iran to heel, without putting any boots on the ground, if I may borrow the buzzword-du-jour.
In other words, I fear most of them want Bill Clinton back. And when I contemplate that idea, the glass looks a lot more than half empty."