(Double) Guest Entry by Lee Smith
I find it a little hard to believe Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby” was written while sober. In their first sentence, the authors assert that, “For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel.”
Pretty much any American who has ever been in a motorized vehicle knows that the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy is Washington’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and has been so since the mid-30s. It is a vital national interest — not just because cheap fuel permits Americans to drive SUVs, but because protecting the largest known oil-reserves in the world ensures a stable world economy. Moreover, the US military counts on access to that oil in the event it has to wage war — an activity that demands a lot of oil.
Walt and Mearsheimer’s article explains how “the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics,” which I agree with, because like many Americans I’ve ridden in a car before and I believe that the ability to get people and things from one place to another is a big part of successful domestic politics. It’s not entirely clear that the authors of this really long article have ever been in a car before, because when they’re talking about domestic politics, they’re not talking about cars, or the economy or even our military, but “the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.’”
So, how much credit should these guys get for staking out a “realist” position on US Middle Eastern policy that does not account for the existence of cars, or something even bigger than a Hummer — the Arabian Peninsula? Unless they were drunk, they shouldn’t get any at all. If they were drunk, kudos to them for no spelling mistakes! — none that I could find anyway. Maybe they were smoking some ace reef because Walt and Mearsheimer see spectacular forces at work everywhere in US regional policy — and a hangover would surely explain why they totally forgot about Saudi Arabia. Ouch! But that still doesn’t make them realists, just big partiers who can type well when they’re bombed.
If you’re one of Walt or Mearsheimer’s drinking buddies, or a bartender serving them, here’s a quick quiz, with questions drawn from their article, so you know when to cut them off and send them home — but definitely not to write another article about Middle East affairs.
Discuss: “The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden.”
The first Gulf War, wherein roughly 500,000 US troops were committed to the Gulf to protect our friends in Kuwait and a country called Saudi Arabia, revealed that no matter how many arms we sold to our Gulf allies finally only real live US soldiers could protect them from predators. And yet in due course we also learned that while the Saudis could not protect their own oil, our protecting that oil further weakened the royal family and compromised their legitimacy, making them vulnerable to dangerous domestic forces — like Osama Bin Laden, for instance. Ruling over a country that cannot protect itself, or safely be protected, from foreign threats or its own citizens, a country whose wellbeing is a vital national interest makes the Saudi royal family the Liza Minnelli of “strategic burdens.”
True or False. “As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel.”
False. Israel has a strong military and a nuclear arsenal. Remember guys, the rationale of Zionism is not to control the media and send Christian boys to die in Jewish wars, but that the Jews would not ever again have to depend on the kindness of strangers to defend them, since they did not do so very adequately in the past — hence a powerful Jewish army is trained and equipped to defend Jews. Of course Israel is concerned about the prospects of an Iranian nuclear program, but not as much as our allies in the Gulf, who have neither strong militaries nor nuclear arsenals. A nuclear Iran is a threat to that big country in the desert named Saudi Arabia and other tiny sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, and getting Gulf oil to market is a vital US interest.
Gut-check follow-up: Discuss: “Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons — which is obviously undesirable — neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation.”
Well, but what if an Iranian nuclear weapon emboldened the IRI to close the Straits of Hormuz? (That’s a narrow body of water between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located.) Could the US and its Gulf allies be blackmailed? Or do realists like you two believe that there is political will in Washington and other Western capitals to “retaliate overwhelmingly” against Tehran for closing shipping lanes?
True or False. “…Unwavering support for Israel … has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world.”
True. Nice work, boys — this Goldschlager’s on me. But just remember, guys, that those flames of anti-Americanism do not always issue from organic sources; often indeed they are fed by Arab regimes, including many of our allies in a place called Saudi Arabia. (What? Yes, Saudi Arabia is a dry country.) US taxpayers have spent a lot of money to protect the flow of oil over the last seven decades and ensure that the Saudi ruling family keeps collecting receipts. (Yes, just one family, Al Saud, with about 5000 princes on the pad. Yes, some of them drink when they’re not in Saudi Arabia.) Sometimes that money is used to incite anti-American sentiment and fund terror operations against Americans and US interests abroad. Think this one over in the morning: Should we stop supporting Israel because that makes us hated by Arabs, or should we put more pressure on Arab allies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who have institutionalized anti-US incitement at home in their press, schools and mosques, while also funding it lavishly abroad? OK, OK, think about it like this: Would you bag friend A if friend B was paying everyone he knew to spit in your face and kick your ass just because you were friends with friend A? Wrong answer and you can take my number out of your Palm Pilot.
True or False: “By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby’s task even easier.”
True — not. Psyche. Yeah, true if you exclude the obviously limited influence that oil companies have exercised in US policymaking over the last seventy years. And it’s not just the oil companies doing Gulf bidding; virtually every American ambassador who’s served in Riyadh winds up with a nice package to keep selling the Saudi line back in Washington. Yes, you’re right, AIPAC’s annual budget is a whopping $40 million dollars — or precisely equivalent to the private donation Saudi prince Walid Bin Talal recently gave to two US universities to start up Islamic centers. What? Come on Steve, he gave half of it to Harvard! OK, give me the car keys. The keys to the car, it’s how you got here. In a car. It has four wheels and a motor. It runs on gas. Gas comes from a place called Saudi Arabia….