Ezra Klein has an interesting note about Walt and Mearsheimer. He reports that Jon Chait of the New Republic started writing about Israel because of Walt and Mearsheimer, he was so angry about them; and Klein says he also was drawn into the topic by Walt and Mearsheimer, the Chait-ian reaction against them, which he regarded as "fearful tribalism." Talk about the power of ideas.
I'm in Klein's camp. I started writing this blog in March 2006 just before W&M published their incredible paper. I'd finally decided to write about Israel (after avoiding the topic all my life) because of a comment a relative made to me in 2003: "What do you think about this war [Iraq]? I demonstrated against the Vietnam War, but my Jewish newspaper says this war could be good for Israel." I was shocked and disturbed by the comment. But it was Walt and Mearsheimer who gave me courage. Their bombshell paper echoed the political truth of my relative's statement. Walt and Mearsheimer said that the neocons, the braintrust for George Bush's disastrous war, were motivated by Zionism. I remember the day Scott McConnell emailed the paper to me, he had gotten it from Mike Desch that morning, in Texas. The shock of recognition went round the world.
The reaction was vicious. "In Dark Times Blame the Jews," the Forward wrote at the time, a disgraceful headline. Yivo Institute held a panel to denounce the authors as anti-Semites.
Chait was defensive but Klein is not defensive. And Klein will win. Some day there will be an open conversation inside the Jewish community about the Jewish role in the Iraq war, specifically, ultra-Zionists' role in selling a policy of permanent war in the Arab world as an American interest. Peter Beinart just further opened the door to this conversation by making it clear that his politics are fueled by Zionism, Beinart who pushed the Iraq war as "the good fight"--a book in whose index the words Israel and Palestine did not appear.
Agree with them or not, Walt and Mearsheimer's book changed the discourse. They blew the bridge. They opened up a space where no one said you could go. Two realists, they spoke feelingly about the Nakba and the humiliations of the occupation--which all the liberals like Beinart and Ken Pollack and Lawrence Kaplan and Paul Berman had dismissed out of hand.
When their book came out in 2007, I compared it to Silent Spring and Unsafe at Any Speed, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I think that was an understatement.