Mearsheimer on the undiminished power of the Israel lobby

(H/t Pulse)

How do we know the power of the lobby is undiminished? Each time President Obama pressed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the issue of a settlement freeze, Obama was forced into a humiliating retreat. That would not have happened had it not been for the behind-the-scenes machinations of the lobby.

That’s John Mearsheimer’s argument.

Not for a second do I doubt the existence and power of the lobby, but in this instance I think Mearsheimer is actually undermining his and Stephen Walt’s overarching argument about the extent of the lobby’s influence.

To portray Obama as a victim of the lobby is to avoid looking at the effect of two other major factors: Obama’s political skills and political instability in Iran.

Obama went into a fight without carrying weapons. He put pressure on Netanyahu yet neither threatened any consequences if the Israeli leader refused to yield, nor took any kind of punitive actions (beyond petty insults like withholding photo-opportunities) when Netanyahu stood his ground.

Even if the president was constrained in terms of the weapons at his disposal — the lobby as always keeps Congress in its pocket, meaning that legislative pressure is unavailable — he had recourse to more than sternness. He could for instance have derived leverage from Goldstone. In other words, he could have made American support for Israel at the UN conditional on a settlement freeze.

Aside from these types of tactical errors Obama made in terms of how he wielded the power of the presidency, the other factor that seriously undermined his strategy for challenging Netanyahu was the impact of political unrest in Iran resulting from the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

As the Iranian regime set about crushing the Green Movement, Obama became an awkward and passive spectator. For good reasons he believed that there was very little the US could constructively do to support Iran’s embattled democracy movement, yet that created the perception that having been tough on Israel he was now being soft on Iran. In what appeared to be an effort to counter that perception he essentially abandoned his tough love approach to Israel. Thereafter, it became all carrots and no sticks when dealing with Netanyahu.

The lobby no doubt took satisfaction at this turn of events and helped push the claim that Obama must not be tough on Israel while soft on Iran, but this was secondary to the effect of what was playing out on the streets of Tehran.

So, even if I would agree that the lobby’s power is largely undiminished, Obama’s failed Middle East strategy is very much a train wreck of his own making. To say that the lobby tied his hands, simply lets him off the hook.

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5 thoughts on “Mearsheimer on the undiminished power of the Israel lobby

  1. David

    Hmm. You write, “Obama went into a fight without carrying weapons.” Perhaps I am just being picky with your ill-choice of words, but I wouldn’t say that withholding UN vetoes, threatening to cut military and economic aid, making better choices of advisers, pressing Israel on the American killed in the Flotilla attack, or pursuing similar actions on Gaza or the Goldstone report, threatening to pressure it on nuclear weapons — I can think of a bunch of goodies to go into the toolbox — represents an absence of options for Obama. He just doesn’t have the balls to go up against the Israel Lobby. Mearsheimer is 100% right. And the argument that Obama can’t be tough on Israel as long as Iran is a threat is just another line the persistent closet neocons in the Israel Lobby are pushing. This actually demonstrates Mearsheimer’s point.

  2. Renfro

    Why did Obama cave? Looks like to me he has capitulated as most US presidents have, with exceptions like Eisenhower and even Kennedy and Bush Sr. in some regards, simply for Jewish financial and voter support of their political parties.

    I ‘d like to know (all) the actual control levers of the US Israeli orgs and groups.

    Some we know.

    Campaign contributions of course.
    Jewish voter control of important states like Florida in elections.
    500,000 members ( they claim) of AIPAC who constantly phone, write their politicians for Israel favored legislation.
    Obvious Israel first loyalist in congress like Schumer, Ackerman and others who can influence bills , votes and trade favors with their colleagues for Israel .
    A heavy Jewish pro Israel press that can either defame public figures who aren’t pro Israel or influence politicians and public figures to believe it’s in their benefit to protect Israel by implying that the public supports Israel when in reality most of the public doesn’t care one way or another because they know little on the issue.
    The anti semite attack of course on politicians and on others to scare them off or conversely bribes to get their support for Israel.

    There might be some more unsavory things done but I can’t think of one to cite off hand.

    The thing is however these tactics only work on politicians and others with something to gain or lose by acquiescing to it.
    That’s why it’s up to the public, who they can’t directly control with either money or threats, to oppose this kind of influence.

  3. Paul Woodward

    I didn’t say there were no weapons at his disposal but that he didn’t carry weapons — he made no threats. He said: here’s what I want you to do. He didn’t say: here’s what I’m going to do if you don’t comply.

    Although threatening to cut military aid (which is the bulk of the aid Israel now receives) makes perfect sense, there are two problems. It requires Congressional support (which is never going to happen — thanks to the lobby) and the US defense industry (the direct financial beneficiary of the cash) is going to lobby quite effectively that aid to Israel keeps Americans at work.

    And to say, “he didn’t have the balls to go up against the Israel lobby, ” (which I absolutely agree with you on) — that seems to say more about Obama’s weakness than the lobby’s power.

    Obama can’t be tough on Israel as long as Iran is a threat — yes, that’s the line of the closet neocons, Ross et al. The problem here is that when Netanyahu & Co argued that Iran was a more urgent issue than the Palestinians, the response was to come back with a “clever” reversal — to say, the only way of building a “moderate” alliance to challenge Iran is to show progress towards a two-state solution. But I don’t think it was clever — I think it was dumb. It’s a contrived linkage and it’s indicative of a lack of seriousness about resolving the conflict.

  4. DE Teodoru

    The power of the Zionist Lobby is that it will devote BILLIONS OF DOLLARS to buying Congress, matched only by corporate interests, yet nowhere as rich. A similar mess was created under Nixon when Israel used nuclear blackmail (threatening to nuke Egypt) lest Nixon misroute weapons destined for Vietnam to Israel to replenish its stock.

    Congress never directed foreign policy just made prostitute declarations on behalf of Zionism much as it does for corporate interests. All it can do is ear-mark a hidden ~$10 billions a year to Israel in return. Only the President makes policy decisions. Obama is in the same box as was Bush. But IPAC and Israel (before Netanyahu) feared that Obama would take up from where Bush left off, fed up with Israel towards the end of his term, he left it dangling as he initiated yet another attempt to impose on Israel two-states peace talks. The Israelis responded by telling him: “you are irrelevant to us!” But that bravado only heightened their fears of Obama. For Obama the issue is timing and that’s why the Zionists are supporting Clinton for 2012.

    There is no doubt that Iran’s political mishaps paralyzed Obama and raised the prospects of an Israeli free-hand against it and the Palestinians. And, in this cascading catastrophe, Netanyahu collapsed to the crazies in his cabinet. Now Israel is indeed entering the “apartheid state” status Likud long sought. But no one noticed that this ideological position suits Israeli politicians just fine, left and right. As both a renegade nuclear state and a nuclear proliferator that nuke-abled South Africa, Israel, left to right, just looooved South African apartheid. Sharon even spent a long time studying it as a solution to handling the Palestinians “kefirs.” No one seems to appreciate the obsession of the Israeli Right to ape the Nazis. No one seems to appreciate the Likud “final solution.” None appreciates the mid-20th Century East European perspective of the Ashkenazis!

    As a result, when it fruits, Americans will turn on its Jews as the Arab states are forced to repeat the oil embargo of the 70s; this time, hitting a desperate America, a real catastrophe for American Jews will unfold. Very many Jews appreciate this but they have no power in Israel. An internal reading of World Jewry organizations run from Israel shows that their answer is: you Parasite Diasporics want to stay in goyim-world so you have no voice here, just send your due penance in cash and political power or we’ll label you as Holocaustists of the homeland of Judiasm. American Jews have yet to appreciate that the Israelis position is to provoke an American Krystalnacht so the Jews will be forced to make the great aliyah stampede in panic with all their wealth. Zionist exploitation of Diaspora Jews is a history few have the courage to fully discuss. As a result, the current economic crisis may well spell the catastrophe for Israel Mearsheimer predicts. But what he fails to consider is at what cost to life and limb to Diaspora Jews. None of you will be able to stop the cataclysm when it comes lest you start now by mobilizing OUR Jews against this madness.

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