David Bromwich is the Sterling Professor of English at Yale. In his spare time he hangs his shingle out at the Huffington Post, most recently with an admiring review of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. According to Bromwich, the book is “a work of considerable scope, carefully documented, and not just an expanded version of “the [London Review of Books] article” on which it is based (here is the authors’ footnoted March 2006 working paper).
Bromwich’s sole example of the book’s virtues is its account of the nascent conflict with Iran:
The truth is that many new facts are in this book, and many surprising facts. By reconstructing a trail of meetings and public statements in 2001-2002, for example, the authors show that much of the leadership of Israel was puzzled at first by the boyish enthusiasm for a war on Iraq among their neoconservative allies. Why Iraq? they asked. Why now? They would appear to have obtained assurances, however, that once the “regime change” in Iraq was accomplished, the next war would be against Iran.
A notable pilgrimage followed. One by one they lined up, Netanyahu, Sharon, Peres, and Barak, writing op-eds and issuing flaming warnings to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein was a menace of world-historical magnitude. Suddenly the message was that any delay of the president’s plan to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq would be seized on by “the terrorists” as a sign of weakness. Regarding the correct treatment of terrorists, as also regarding the avoidance of weakness, Americans look to Israelis as mentors in a class by themselves.
So a war projected years before by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz–a war secured at last by the fixing of the facts around the policy at the Office of the Vice President–was allowed to borrow some prestige at an intermediate stage by the consent of a few well-regarded Israeli politicians. Yet their target of choice had been Iran. They accepted the change of sequence without outward signs of doubt, possibly owing to their acquaintance with the Middle East doctrine espoused by the Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute–a doctrine which held that to create a viable order after the fall of Iraq, regime change in Iran and Syria would have to follow expeditiously.
To sum up this part: the evidence of Mearsheimer and Walt suggests that Israel was never the prime mover of the Iraq war.
I have italicized the portion of the quote above to reflect the book’s speculative inference (according to Bromwich’s account of the book, anyway) based on “a series of meetings” in 2001-2002 that Israel secured an agreement from the United States to go to war against Iran in exchange for which Israel supported the war with Iraq. I do not buy Mearhsheimer and Walt’s account of events as reported by Bromwich, but is this not passing strange?
On the one hand, it shows the United States pulling Israel’s strings to advance its own strategic purposes. This by itself tends to conflict with the Mearsheimer-Walt worldview in which Jews conspire to induce the United States to undertake detrimental actions that redound to Israel’s sole benefit. On the other hand, the “new facts” cited by Bromwich not only add to Mearsheimer and Walt’s 2006 essay, they undermines the capstone of their essay. Mearhsheimer and Walt’s 2006 essay culminated in the extended argument that American Jews and their Israeli masters induced the United States to go to war with Iraq in 2003. Here are excerpts (footnotes omitted) from pages 30-38 of the Mearshsimer-Walt working paper section titled “The tail wagging the dog” (and you know what they’re talking about:
“Pressure from Israel was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.”
“Within the United states, the main driving force behind the Iraq war was a small band of neoconservatives, many with close ties to Israel’s Likud Party.”
“[T]here is little doubt that Israel and the Lobby were key factors in shaping the decision for war….”
“Israeli leaders did not push the Bush adminstration to put Syria in its crosshairs before March 2003, because they were too busy pushing for war against Iraq.”
So what if the charges conflict? In a sense, there is no inconsistency between Mearsheimer and Walt 1.0 in the 2006 article and Mearhsheimer and Walt 2.0 in the 2007 book as presented by Bromwich. The Jews remain the villain of the piece — in Bromwich’s post, Elliott Abrams and Elliot Cohen take the place of honor — though I do not doubt Bromwich’s assurance that “the imputation of anti-Semitism will doubtless be repeated more sparingly for readers lower down the educational ladder.”
UPDATE: At least by the lights of Tim Rutten’s Los Angeles Times review, it does not appear that Professor Bromwich fairly represents the book in his report on it. According to Rutten:
Perhaps most malicious of all, Mearsheimer and Walt go to great lengths in the book to make what they clearly believe is the most immediate case in point — which is their assertion that the Israel lobby, acting at the Likud’s behest, drove the United States into attacking Saddam Hussein.
Professor Bromwich’s praise for the book may be irreconcilable both with the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as well as the book itself.