A chump at Oxford

I’ve written repeatedly about the “The Israel Lobby” by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt since it was first published last year by the London Review of Books and posted in pseudoscholarly form as a working paper on the Kennedy School site. I wrote about the essay in “They too dare to speak out!” immediately after it was published and in numerous subsequent posts.
Mearsheimer and Walt deny that they hate Israel or the Jewish people, and they have turned imputations of anti-Semitism to their advantage with the greatest of ease. When Mearsheimer and Walt happily found themselves feted by the friends of Hamas at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the summer of 2006, I noted the party in “Hatin’ at the haters’ ball.” Gabriel Schoenfeld began his essay “Dual loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby'” with CAIR’s coming-out party for Mearshseimer and Walt. Despite the tropes in which they traffic and the company they keep, they continue to hold themselves out as friends of Israel and scholarly arbiters of the truth.
According to Mearsheimer and Walt, “the Israel Lobby” wields a fearsome power to control the press and suppress debate. Mearsheimer and Walt nevertheless somehow secured a major advance from an American publisher to turn the essay version of their argument into a book, published this past August as The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. One of the most interesting reviews of the book is “Jerusalem syndrome” by Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Walter Russell Mead in the November/December Foreign Affairs. Mead is the author most recently of God and Gold as well as highly regarded works on American foreign policy.
In the review Mead commends Mearsheimer and Walt on their desire to introduce new thinking into the debate over American foreign policy in the Middle East, credits their effort, and more or less acquits them of bad faith or sinister motives. Mead writes, for example: “This may be a book that anti-Semites will love, but it is not necessarily an anti-Semitic book.” Later in the review Mead asserts: “Mearsheimer and Walt state very clearly that they are not anti-Semites, and nothing in this book proves them wrong.”
Mead nevertheless chides the authors for the crudity of their argument. One of the pleasures of the review is contemplating the thorn it must have planted in the side of Mearsheimer and Walt. Unlike charges of anti-Semitism, Mead’s critique is one that hits them where it hurts. Mearsheimer and Walt must have hoped for better from Mead than his facetious tribute: “The authors’ credulity never ceases to inspire.”
Mead’s review carries a special bite because the Council on Foreign Relations — Mead’s home base and the publisher of Foreign Affairs — is one of only two prominent foreign policy think tanks that Mearsheimer and Walt find untainted by Jewish influence in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. (The New America Foundation is the other.) Yet when questioned recently about Mead’s unfavorable review of their book in Foreign Affairs, Mearsheimer attributed Mead’s lack of esteem for the book to the financial power associated with the shadowy force that gives the book its title. In his review, Mead gingerly describes such tropes as the “unwitting and innocent use of certain literary devices that trigger unhappy memories[.]”
Mearsheimer and Walt’s absolution of the Council on Foreign Relations from the taint of Jewish influence should be kept in mind when reading Andreas Knab’s account of Mearsheimer and Walt’s recent appearance at Oxford. Mr. Knab is an undergraduate at Oxford University and Bard College reading Classics; he attended Mearhsheimer and Walt’s discussion of the book at Oxford. Mr. Knab has filed the following report:

What would happen to Walter Russell Mead if he wrote an enthusiastic review of a book critical of the Israel Lobby? This question, posed by John Mearsheimer to an open public at Oxford University, came as the culmination to a talk on November 9 in which authors Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt presented The Israel Lobby. To the outsider, the question seems mundane. Those in attendance, however, could see in it the apogee of the method steadily employed by Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt: saying one thing while insinuating another.
Prof. Mearsheimer’s question countered rhetorically a question from the audience: how might the authors explain the disparaging reception their book has elicited, even among moderates and those we might expect to be sympathetic. Walter Russell Mead, who reviewed the book for Foreign Affairs, was cited as one example.
It was not the only instance of Prof. Mearsheimer evading the question put to him; not a single one of Mead’s arguments was so much as alluded to. But here Mearsheimer went further, stooping to ad hominem attacks. Mead, according to the professor, is “awash in soft money” at the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes Foreign Affairs. Answering his own question, Mearsheimer stated that a single favorable review of a book critical of the Israel Lobby on Mead’s part would jeopardize his continuance at the CFR. So desperately is the Senior Fellow clinging to his employment, apparently, that he found it necessary not only to reject the authors’ basic argument but also to criticize their execution, from the organization down to the very diction.
All of this is rubbish, of course. As elsewhere, the speaker did not proffer a splinter of evidence in support of his claims. Mearsheimer and Walt spent a great deal of time distancing themselves, understandably, from anti-Semites and other fringe groups their book will appeal to. But to claim that where there is a negative book review, there is at work the influence of the Israel Lobby is not only fallacious reasoning; this is to come frightfully close to the sort of conspiracy-theorizing Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt profess to be so free of.
Nor was Mead the only butt of Mearsheimer’s opprobrium. The editor in charge of the review, the professor explained, made it clear to him that he disagreed with the thesis of the essay previously published in the London Review of Books, and that the book on the same topic was unlikely to change his opinion. From the outset, then, the authors expected The Israel Lobby to be “hacked to pieces.” When they learned the review was assigned to Walter Russell Mead, fear became certainty. Their work, Mearsheimer reemphasized, would surely be “hacked to pieces.”
What makes it necessary to call into question Walter Mead’s and the CFR’s integrity rather than responding to fair arguments in kind?
Firstly, this is their method. Mearsheimer and Walt say they do not call the war in Iraq a “Jewish” war; yet they claim the Israel Lobby was “indispensable” in the run-up to the war. They say they are no conspiracy theorists; yet Walter Mead cannot even write so much as a sympathetic book review without fearing the wrath of the Israel Lobby. They say one thing and they insinuate another.
Worse, it is their pervading logical fallacy. It is the same fallacy that leads the authors to affirm that the Israel Lobby was “indispensable” to the invasion of Iraq without enlisting even a shred of evidence in support of their claim ” where did the Bush administration waver in its conviction or hesitate in action that the Israel Lobby intervened to guarantee war?
It is the authors’ fallacy of believing that anything confounding their expectations must therefore be the doing of the Israel Lobby. In their realist terms, they cannot fathom why the Bush administration might choose to invade Iraq. Therefore, it must be the Israel Lobby at work. In their conviction of their cause (or perhaps out of pride in their literary accomplishment), they cannot imagine why one might write a scathing book review. Therefore, it must be the Israel Lobby to blame. This is a sad illusion.

Mr. Knab’s report makes an intriguing contribution to our understanding of the case of Mearsheimer and Walt. Mr. Knab invites questions and comments at [email protected]


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