Thursday, August 30, 2007

Must Read: "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy"

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have just published the book which follows up their 2006 article by the same name which stirred a firestorm. This is a very carefully and thoughtfully reasoned book by two academic political scientists. It gives a wealth of information about how much money and support we have given Israel beginning in the 1960s; this aid is frequently in the form of grants they don't have to pay back and we give it to them no matter what they do with it. The authors make the argument that this unconditional support is contrary to US interests and those of Israel. If this seems difficult to believe please recall that governments have been horribly wrong in the past regarding their own best interests, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan doesn't look too smart now does it? How about Hitler's attempt to rule the world? Japan's decision to attack the US?

Read Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers".
An economically expanding power… may well prefer to become rich rather than to spend heavily on armaments. A half-century later, priorities may well have altered. The earlier economic expansion has brought with it overseas obligations (dependence upon foreign markets and raw materials, military alliances, perhaps bases and colonies)…. In these more troubled circumstances, the Great Power is likely to find itself spending much more on defense than it did two generations earlier, and yet still discover that the world is a less secure environment—simply because other powers have grown faster, and are becoming stronger…. Great Powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on ‘security,’ and thereby divert potential resources from ‘investment’ and compound their long-term dilemma (emphasis added).
I believe, along with Chalmers Johnson (see his Nemesis), that this is the position the U.S. is now in; it is on the downslope of over-reaching militarily which will eventually hurt it economically and seriously undermine its world power.


steven andresen said...

Let's say the piece from Kennedy applies to the United States and that we are now investing more attention to protecting what we have than in making more wealth.

Is this a problem that Conservatives give us, where the seeming failed state that we are becoming is the fault of conservatives? Or, is it something which we could blame on liberals?

I'm not sure that you can blame either one or the other. And so, I feel skeptical that you can characterize conservatives as being any more incompetant at foreign policy than liberals. That is, there seem to be natural developments in the history of a country that neither conservatives nor liberals can prevent.

I wonder...

James A Bond said...

Steven Andresen,

I think you're right that both liberals and pseudo-conservatives have contributed to our huge military-indutrial complex and our imperialism overseas. However, I also believe that since Vietnam Democrats have shown more sensibleness about trying to avoid foreign policy over-reach (Carter, Clinton). I think the most serious pro-military, rabid, world domination threat now comes from the pseudo-con right by far. You can see this in the candidates for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations: Giuliani is the most authoritarian but McCain wants to continue the war in Iraq and Romney wants to double the size of Guantanamo. For the Dems Hillary is the most hawkish but committed to a very different policy in Iraq and the rest of the candidates are pretty much committed to some kind of withdrawal. It's a habit in the U.S. to hear many criticize both parties and say "a pox on both your houses" or there's no difference between the parties. I think that is absolutely untrue. While I prefer the Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel or Ron Paul approach to getting us out of telling the world what to do, Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Dodd, or Biden would be far superior to the lead Republicans.

steven andresen said...


Your original post said something about how countries have a natural progression from being young and aggressive about wealth production to becoming older and more concerned about protecting their "spoils" instead of keeping up with the innovative or agressive accumulation of capital.

My thought was that if we agree with this understanding of how countries age, and that the U.S. is no different, then neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to be free of the responsibility for leading us into destructive militarism, and away from productive economic policies.

Yes, this dem or that one might be marginally better about some things than the repubs, but not about the big questions relating to our survival as a viable independent country.

Do you think any of the dems would be able to stop the wars and the unjustifiable investment in war materials because it was a danger to our survival and was going to destroy our economy? I don't think they can. I think any effort to reduce the military or trying to stop invading other defenseless countries will be taken as a sign of weakness. They may argue that it would be a good thing if we had peace, but they will most all agree that you can't have peace until you kill, imprison, or torture to insanity anyone who is evil.

evil is just anyone who isn't agreeing with them.

I understand that there are differences between dems and reps, but I don't think they are big enough differences anymore, and the similarities between them justify the attacks on them as both being "business" parties, or "war" parties. There might be a few who seem to be different, but the organizations themselves have no fundamental differences.

James A Bond said...

You say: "Do you think any of the dems would be able to stop the wars and the unjustifiable investment in war materials because it was a danger to our survival and was going to destroy our economy? I don't think they can."
There is a distinction between whether any candidate would WANT to stop this and whether anyone is ABLE to stop it. I think either Kucinich or Paul would WANT to stop it and Edwards and Obama might want to mitigate it.
Whether ANYONE is ABLE is a separate question and I, like Chalmers Johnson, am pessimistic about whether there is any possibility of stopping it. However, even tho I'm pessimistic, it is too important an issue of literal survival to merely give up; so I do not give up. Moreover, there are many things that happen in history that are unexpected and so my pessimism is too weak a basis upon which to give up.
I disagree with you strongly about whether there are big enough differences between Reps and Dems. I think the differences and potential for differences are very great. FDR came out of the Democratic Party and posed a considerable opposition to the degree of control over American society that business exercised in the 1920s and again today. That is a potential within the Dem Party because it is NOT a wholly owned subsidiary of business (only partly owned), whereas the Rep Party is, except for a very few liberal Republicans, the party of business. Moreover, there is a principled anti-war contingent within the Dem Party and this is not true of Republicans. Ron Paul is really a Libertarian running as a Republican that is why he differs from the rest. Finally, if we are headed to Armageddon anyway the Republicans are different enough that they will speed up that process and the Dems would tend to slow it down.

steven andresen said...


want to, able to, ...want to....?

I agree that we are heading to armagedon. I mean by this that people are basically committed to thuggery as a way of achieving their most important goals in life. The idea that you can't or shouldn't trust anyone and the related thought that you have to get people to change or stay the same by beating them, being sneaky, or lying, is at the bottom of all their thinking.

Consequently, such people are a danger to themselves and others.

Now, yes, some dem or rep might "want to" keep us from jumping over the precipice. They may think, it isn't in our interest to sneak attack Iran with hundreds of nuclear warheads. But, the question then is would such an isolated person be "able to" stop such a crime. I think not because most people who are now in control of the buttons, or even the major dems who would take their places, believe that you can't talk to the Iranians, (because they're evil,) and so you can't not bomb the shit out of them now,(because they can't be allowed to have the weapons that might deter our attacking them in the future.)

I don't see that the dynamics of the parties are much different in this case.

You suggest that the dems have some kind of influential peace element that could pull an FDR out of a hat that could turn things around. After the 40 odd years I've been watching them, the dems' peace faction has shown it cannot stop any kind of a fight, let alone a war. They have no influence in the dem party. Kucinic has no allies that support him that want to do it in public.

Yes paul or Gravel or whomever says stuff about our war commitments that we like, but basically, they have no influence on what's going on. Paul will not stop Bush from nuking Iran if Bush so chooses. Neither would Congress stop him.

You said that the dems would slowe down our flight to armageddon. In support, you said that the dems were able to get behind FDR who turned things around and keep the country from ruination during the depression. My understanding is that FDR was considered a traitor to his class for saving the country in the way he did. The rich folks were having a fine time and FDR came in and spolied it all for them. I suspect that the country has been fixed since then and no "FDR" type will be able to come in and spoil the serious folks' efforts in the future.

steven andresen said...


I am not alone in thinking the dems are at bottom no different than the reps. Here is a libertarian take on the reps/dems resistance to war:

"...It's true that none of the major Democratic presidential candidates have dissented from the "approved" script on Iran, and that all are kowtowing long and low to the Israel lobby, which is the powerhouse behind this latest rush to war. It is also true that – naturally – the major Republican presidential candidates are even more vehemently calling for an attack – and they won't rule out using nukes. The only sane Republican in the lot – Ron Paul, of course – is plainly horrified by this, but the Republicans' willingness to contemplate a nuclear Armageddon in the Middle East is hardly surprising, coming from a party effectively in the grip of deranged "born-again" dispensationalists – for whom rumors of nuclear war are part and parcel of the "good news" that Christ is returning. It has been widely noted that the Republicans have become a party of authoritarians, but it's much worse than that: they've morphed into a party of lunatics, as well.

The Democrats, however, aren't taking advantage of this: indeed, Hillary Clinton, her party's leading candidate for the presidential nod, refuses to rule out using nukes in any situation – even when it comes to Pakistan, and, for god's sake, Afghanistan. The Lobby is just as firmly ensconced in the supposedly "antiwar" party as it is in the GOP, as the stripping of a provision from the recent defense appropriations bill that would have required the President to come to Congress for authorization for a strike on Iran made all too clear."

I suspect the socialists will say they're about the same too.

steven andresen said...

I was right. The WSWS had this to say,

"...A little publicised amendment to the defence spending bill denouncing Iran for the “murder” of US soldiers in Iraq was proposed by Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman and passed unanimously in the US Senate on Wednesday. Republicans and Democrats all lined up to support the White House’s unsubstantiated accusations that Tehran is funding, training and arming Iraqi militias, “who are contributing to the destabilisation of Iraq and are responsible for the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces”.

For all their antiwar posturing, not a single Democrat, including the leading presidential contenders Hilary Clinton, Barrack Obama and Joseph Biden, opposed the amendment. Having supported the Bush administration’s crimes in Iraq, the Democrats are lending credibility to another campaign of lies, half-truths and disinformation aimed at justifying a new military adventure.

The vote demonstrates once again that the differences between the White House and the Democrats are purely tactical. What unites all factions of the American political establishment is their defence of the strategic and economic interests of US imperialism in the Middle East. None of them has any principled opposition to a US military attack on Iran, if it would further American domination in this key region."

They go on to talk about other evidence that the dems, or the NY Times differ with the repubs only in tactics.

So, the people think the R's and the D's are the same because they both are funded and thereby controlled by the zionist Israelis. The socialists think the R's and D's are the same because they are funded and therefore controlled by the corporations.

You say that a few folks want to prevent war, but that being able to stop it is another matter. Yet, you believe the D's would slow down the drive to war. I want to see a good argument that the D's or R's are able to do anything to stop such a war/armageddon despite these kinds of influences.

James A Bond said...


I'm very aware that there are many that agree with you about how there is no difference between the Dems and Reps (Ralph Nader has made this argument, I used to believe this myself). Nonetheless I continue to believe (1) that there are now significant differences between the parties and (2) that if there were a change in the ideological complexion of the country there are huge 'potential' differences between the parties.

What you say about the Iran vote is accurate and deplorable; I recommended Mearsheimer and Walt's book because I believe the Israel Lobby is too profoudly influencing both Reps and Dems and that this plays its way out in votes on Iran. But I refuse to give up and say because it's this way now it can never change. If you had told me in 1967 that in 2007 the right would have the power and cultural hegemony it now possesses I would have said you were certifiably crazy. Changes in politics and beliefs do occur: there was a 1960s, there was an FDR, and there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. If you look at the history of the French Revolution you'll see that from the absolutism of Louis XIV to the overthrow of the monarchy under Louis XVI wasn't such a long time (1715 to 1789). FDR died only 62 years ago. If FDR hadn't given in to party leaders and dumped Henry Wallace in 1944 then Wallace would have become President upon FDR's death and it is hard to think of two people more different than trigger-happy HST vs. rational, humanistic Wallace. The right has gained its power since 1981. Louis XVI over-reached in spending on wars, etc. and ran into a financial crisis; his mishandling of the financial crisis led to the French Revolution. I believe the U.S. government's over-reach around the world and its cost, coupled with corporations outsourcing American jobs, and Republican fostering of increased socio-economic inequality, and the potential for a global warming crisis, could well produce a situation in the U.S. where the potential for change was much greater than today. I know enough about history to know I cannot predict with certainty how it would play out. The advantage is always on the side of the right because it has more institutional power and wealth, however, one cannot say for sure.

steven andresen said...


I hear you say that you once believed with Nader that there were no significant differences in the parties, that if one would take us down a path to armageddon, the other would likely do the same. For some reason, you changed your mind about that. You now have reason to think there is some great and significant difference.

You also seem to think, along with others I'm sure, that the U.S. is becoming such an intolerable place that change is becoming inevitable.

I have to say, because the investigation of these points seems important, I am not similarly persuaded the parties are different. I do not see that the dems are any less puppets of the corporations than the reps. I do not see the Jewish Lobby any less commanding than they have been about maintaining U.S. support for the farthest right-wing policies imaginable for Israel. I had thought that the parties were so much the same based on their being funded and therefore manipulated by these powers. What do you think has changed for the dems, or even the repubs that now you think either of them could support workers, say, or equal rights in the middle east? I just don't know the data that supports your optimism.

You say change is coming, but you seem to assume that our country will follow upon examples of change for the better. So, FDR comes along and we don't get a dictatorship like everyone else. Well, it wasn't so long between the Weimar republic and the Nazi state. I think it's more likely that as the country's economy gets worse, we will get worse. After all, we started out pretty bad. The place was founded on the policy of stealing the land from the natives and then killing enouigh of them that they could not object. We then brought in slaves to do the work that white folks didn't want to do. When some part of the continent happened to belong to Mexico, and we wanted it, a convenient war occurred to place it in our hands.

Yes, we thought we had to stop the Nazi's, but my question is why. Was it because we thought that force and the unprovoked attack on innocent people had to be stopped, or we were just concerned that the Nazi's and Japanese were getting too uppity. I suspect the Bush Presidencies show that it's the later. This Bush argues that my Dad was a fool for sticking his neck out in the Pacific. If he were smart, he would have been like Bush's grand dad and made some money off the Nazi's. Because actually, the U.S. people have no real problem with sneak attacks on countries that haven't attacked them.

Yes, I think I could make a good case that the basic character of the American people is no different than the "good german's". If our leaders think they can make our lives better by stealing wealth from others, we aren't going to object if they also have to kill them if they try to effectively object.

I understand that you would like to be optimistic about the dems. You want to think that the solution to the problems will be the dems, who by some argument will stand up for peace and human rights and so forth. I just don't think the dems are that kind of political force.

I think it;s important to point this out, not because I want to undermine your hope that things can improve. I think we need to be realistic about what our situation is and about the source of any kind of improvement.

steven andresen said...


I know I've sought out and found two kinds of support for my claim that the parties are too much the same. I wanted to bring up Sheehan, though, as a particularly interesting advocate for the thesis, with her particular experience fighting the commitment Congress has to the war in Iraq. She had great support from the dems when she was bashing Bush for his role, but they turned on her when she pointed out that when the Congress changed hands it was their responsibility to get us out.

Here's an interview with hir at the WSWS:

"...DW: How have your own views about politics and society evolved over these several years, and what are they now?

CS: I was a history major at UCLA. Even when you’re in advanced history classes, you don’t get the true history of America. What we’ve done to people. I always thought that America was ... I never thought America was the greatest country on earth, but it was a good country, and I thought that mostly our government did good, and tried to do good. But since my son died I’ve gone on this campaign not only raising awareness in America about the Iraq war, but about the reasons that we have war, and about our military-industrial complex.

I thought there was a distinct difference between Democrats and Republicans, now I know that if there is a difference it’s very slim, it’s a very small difference. We have really courageous Democrats, but for the most part, we have a one-party system. Gore Vidal calls it the bankers’ party, I call it the war party.

I think the ‘corporatocracy’ is what runs our country, and not democracy. Because I believe that the politicians, they do what the special interests want to happen, and not what the people want to happen...."

I wanted you to hear again the kinds of arguments that support the perception that they're tweedle dee and tweedle dumb.

The parties don't want to hear this. They see themselves as trying to hold back the catastrophes caused by the other side. I think on these issues, they are no different. On some other "niche" issues, they might have some variations.

no fortunate son said...

steven, remember that Iraq and the m-i complex are not the only issues. There is considerable difference between the two parties in terms of judicial and federal appointments.

Consider the difference Bush's appointments have made at FEMA, compared to how well it worked under the professionals Clinton appointed.