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Walt & Mearsheimer’s Proof That ‘Tail Wagged the Dog’ Points American Jews to a Universalist Ethos

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Everyone in my community (opponents of the Iraq war who seek a more balanced American policy toward the Palestinians) has only one question about Walt and Mearsheimer’s forthcoming book: Will it be ignored? For instance, James Morris, who I believe I once saw explode in the audience at an American Enterprise Institute program on Israel’s secure borders (led by Richard Perle and Dore Gold), has been sending out emails about his efforts to get the book covered by ’60 Minutes’. No dice.

I am a cockeyed optimist; I don’t think it will be ignored. I don’t think it can be. One fear we’ve have is that the LRB paper was such a tremendous sensation that the big media, having only grudgingly covered that, would now say, Oh well this is just an expansion of the paper; old news. One mainstream editor said as much to me a few weeks back in shooting down a proposal I made for an article about Stephen Walt’s Jewish milieu (more about that later…). "Oh I think that moment is over," the editor said. Class dismissed.

I no longer fear as much. Making my way slowly to the end of the actual book (it’s a dense read, esp. for someone who cares deeply about every issue they raise), I don’t think anyone can argue that the book recapitulates the paper. The book expands the paper by a factor of 4 in pure numbers of words, and the book’s tone is more exalted than the paper’s. The authors are less tentative, and less emotional, qualities I remember in the original. The manner of the book is amazingly calm. The arguments are more solid, and go much further. As for solidity, I am simply awed by the field of reference. W&M have read every comment ever made by an Israeli official about U.S. policy, they have found every neoconservative crackpot comment about remaking the Middle East. They did this in little over a year. God bless the internet (or the coolie system in academic research!).

But the main reason the book cannot be ignored is that the arguments go much further, and are devastating. Simply put, the book proves that the tail has wagged the dog on the greatest foreign policy mistake of the last 40 years, a mistake that has caused incredible suffering in Iraq and the U.S., and blasted my country’s image. The evidence the authors marshal is so compelling that it leaves me, as a progressive Jew, weeping with distress over what the fervid particularist imagination of rightwing Jews has done to my country. I applaud the authors for being cold. They don’t seem to have any of my feeling. They leave it to the readers, and they trust educated Americans to be able to discuss these issues without setting loose the cossacks.

Again I say, it is progressive American Jews who as much as anyone ought to be morally and spiritually engaged by this book. I hope that the JJ Goldbergs and Dan Fleshlers and Seymour Hershes and Glenn Greenwalds and Jerrold Nadlers of the world (none of whom supported this war) will at last turn on the neocons openly and say, Your wrongheaded policies about Israel are a big reason our country is in Iraq, how do you answer? Progressive Jews must do this, a political/moral cleansing for the sake of the United States and Jewish tradition. And they will do it. The only question is how many of us there will be.

I would point to one sentence in the book that I found heartbreaking. The authors describe in detail the neocon vision of transforming the Middle East as democracies by starting with Iraq. The dream that peace in Jerusalem would begin with war in Baghdad, which has ended in such a miserable failure, grew out of the conviction that Israel was a great democracy and that its treatment of the Palestinians would be overlooked once the U.S. changed Arab societies. It is a complete delusion; and yet its power over Jews of even liberal stripe can be glimpsed this week in The New Republic, where, in further evidence that the prowar coalition is delaminating, Jonathan Chait turns on Bill Kristol and at one point cries out, Oh where is that dreamy neocon philosophy of yesteryear. "[T]here was something inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower–a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self interest." I.e., we will decide who among you Arabs are subjugated, and then destroy that society…

But I still haven’t gotten to Walt and Mearsheimer’s sentence. In describing that neocon vision of the "wonderful future Israel [could] expect after the war," the authors say, you might think people would be more sophisticated and experienced than to believe such stuff. But they add, "The original Zionist dream of reestablishing a Jewish state where none had existed for nearly two millennia was nothing if not ambitious…"

That sentence is devastating because (while it refers to Israel’s leaders) it describes American neoconservatism, accurately, as an expression of a great Jewish attribute, the prophetic ability to cast a vision of the future into the world and gain adherents for that vision. (Communism, Freudianism, globalism all have drawn on dreamy Jewish brains). As I have argued on this site before, this is why anti-Zionism is the new Zionism. American Jewish universalists (including assimilationists) must help to chart a different vision for Israel’s future and the U.S.’s too, away from the militarized isms this book anatomizes so calmly and convincingly. We must accept our new status as principals in the U.S., and find a spiritual/political raison-d’etre that takes greater account of other peoples, for instance Arab societies and the American communities that have produced the foot soldiers of this war.

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