One prism through which to gauge the impact of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy is a September incident involving Barack Obama. His campaign had placed small ads in various spots around the Internet, designed to drive readers to its website. One turned up on Amazon’s page for the Walt and Mearsheimer book. A vigilant watchdog at the New York Sun spotted it and contacted the campaign: Did Obama support Walt and Mearsheimer?
The answer came within hours. The ad was withdrawn. Its placement was “unintentional.” The senator, his campaign made clear, understood that key arguments of the book were “wrong,” but had definitely not read the work himself. In short, Walt and Mearsheimer had reached a pinnacle of notoriety.
Though The Israel Lobby was on the way to best-sellerdom and has become perhaps the most discussed policy book of the year, the presidential candidate touted as the most fresh-thinking and intellectually curious in the race hastened to make clear he had not been corrupted by the toxic text.
The episode illustrates one of the book’s central arguments: the Israel lobby is powerful, and American politicians fear its wrath. Any Democrat running for president—drawing on a donor stream that is heavily Jewish, very interested in Israel, and perceived as hawkish—would have reacted as Obama did.
In their book’s introduction, Walt and Mearsheimer summarize the consequences of this power. In an election year, American politicians will differ radically on domestic issues, social issues, immigration, China, Darfur, and virtually any other topic. But all will “go to considerable lengths to express their deep personal commitment to one foreign country—Israel—as well as their determination to maintain unyielding support for the Jewish state.” The authors find this remarkable and deserving of analysis, which they provided first in a paper, posted last year on Harvard’s Kennedy School website and published in the London Review of Books, and now expanded into a book. (MORE)