Mearsheimer’s Blunder

Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the controversial paper and now book entitled The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy, have consistently leveled a key charge: That the “Israel Lobby” played a critical role in pushing the Bush administration into the Iraq War, a war which they claim was in fact fought to assure Israel’s security rather than America’s.

(For CAMERA’s point-by-point debunking of the Walt/Mearsheimer work see here; for a roundup of the controversy see here.)

Thus in their Harvard paper and in their book, Mearsheimer and Walt assert:

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element. (p. 31 paper; p. 230 book with a lower case lobby)

So central is this charge to Mearsheimer and Walt that they return to it again and again, for example:

.. the war was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neoconservatives within it. (p. 32 paper)

.. the war was due in large part to the lobby’s influence, and especially its neoconservative wing. (p. 243 book)

But in an interview on NPR’s On Point program, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, Mearsheimer lets the truth slip out – early on the administration itself was determined to go to war against Saddam, and once the Israelis understood the die was cast, they decided not to contradict their most important ally.

After admitting this, Mearsheimer suddenly remembers that for more than a year he has been making exactly the opposite case, and so he immediately tries to backtrack, but there is no doubt about what he said. Here is the segment (click here to listen):

Ashbrook: The argument’s been made that Iran is Israel’s greater fear, so if the Israel Lobby were so powerful, why would the US have gone into Iraq? That’s not the number one Israeli concern. Is there a contradiction then John, in you having described Iraq as the result of Israeli lobby influence?

Mearsheimer: No, Tom. It’s quite clear that in early 2002 – now remember we went into Iraq in March 2003. In early 2002 when the Israelis caught wind of the fact that we were seriously thinking about doing Iraq, that they came to Washington and told us that they would prefer that we do Iran first. The Israelis very clearly thought that Iran was a greater threat than Iraq. It’s not that they were uninterested in having us effect regime change in Iraq and Syria, it’s just that they preferred Iran.

But once they came to understand that Iraq would be the first operation, and we would subsequently deal with Iran and Syria, they embraced the idea of attacking Iraq, although they continually reminded us that we had to do Iran and Syria afterwards.

So what you see from early 2002 up until the war starts in March 2003 is that the Israelis are pushing us very hard, harder than other country outside the United States, to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

So according to what Mearsheimer just said, rather than pushing or manipulating the U.S. into war with Iraq, the Israelis “came to understand that Iraq would be the first operation,” which makes it very clear that this was a U.S. decision which Israel was merely going along with (or “embracing” as Mearsheimer would have it). After all, if the Israelis in early 2002 merely “caught wind” of our plans to topple Saddam, they could hardly have authored those plans, or even coauthored them, Mearsheimer’s backtracking notwithstanding. (For the full details on Israel’s real stand prior to the war in Iraq see this excellent article by Prof. Martin Kramer.)

The bottom line is that Professor Mearsheimer has now directly contradicted one of the central elements of his book and paper, once again underscoring just how flimsy his theories are, and how questionable his agenda.

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