The Watchdog, Not the Master
Israel, the "lobby,"
and the United States
by Sherry Wolf
International Socialist Review,
The debate about the relationship between
Israel and the U.S, in particular about the power of the Israel
lobby, has been raging since spring 2006 when two respected academics,
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a paper, "The
Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy." This led to a flood
of articles, a well-publicized debate at Cooper Union in New York,
and now a book by James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United
Mearsheimer and Walt are University of
Chicago and Harvard political scientists who represent the "realist"
school of American foreign policy; that is, they advocate policies
they believe are in the best interests of the U.S. ruling class.
Their paper is well researched and has-despite or perhaps as a
result of the Israel lobby's attacks-forced an important argument
about the U.S.-Israel relationship into the mainstream. They write:
This situation has no equal in American political history. Why
has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that
of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another
state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries
was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives,
but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of
material and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides.
Instead, the overall thrust of U.S. policy
in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics,
and especially to the activities of the "Israel Lobby."
Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign
policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to
divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national
interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing
Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.
Despite some valid arguments Mearsheimer
and Walt make about the role of the pro-Israel lobby in squelching
debate about U.S.-Israel relations, their central contention,
that an all-powerful lobby dictates U.S. policies in the Middle
East that run counter to the interests of the United States, must
be rejected. This "tail wags the dog" argument reverses
the dynamic of the relationship between the United States (the
dog) and Israel (the tail), and flies in the face of any logical
assessment of how the United States determines its own foreign
policy. It is simply not credible to argue that the American Empire
is being hoodwinked into acting against its own interests by the
Israeli state in cahoots with a powerful lobby in Washington and
their latest converts to Zionism, evangelical Christians. Multibillion-dollar
yearly aid to Israel, military intelligence, political cover for
Israel's ongoing terror against the Palestinians, and America's
pugnacious Middle East policies all serve U.S. imperial interests.
Israel is the watchdog, not the master.
However, the right-wing attacks on the
authors and their argument as anti-Semitic must be rejected outright
as attempts to silence any debate about the U.S-Israel relationship
and Israel's brutal policies toward Palestinians and Arabs throughout
the region. Many mainstream newspapers weighed in on the Mearsheimer-Walt
thesis denouncing it as anti-Semitic. In a typical diatribe, the
Washington Post published the following under the headline, "Yes,
If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive
and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them
of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers
and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions
and governments; if one systematically selects everything unfair,
ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group and equally
systematically suppresses any exculpatory information-why, yes,
this paper is anti-Semitic.
But nowhere in their paper do Mearsheimer
and Walt attack Jews as a group; in fact, they repeatedly point
out the differences among Jews in their attitudes toward Israel,
citing for example that 36 percent of American Jews are "either
'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally tied to Israel."
The same, disturbingly, cannot be said
of the latest book to weigh in on the debate by left-wing professor
and writer, James Petras. The Power of Israel pulls a thread of
the argument about the disproportionate power of what he consistently
refers to as the "Jewish Lobby," and it unravels into
a curious obsession with who is and is not a Jew on Capitol Hill,
with unsubstantiated contentions such as, "[Madeline] Albrightbenefited
from her newly-discovered Jewish ancestry."3 He goes on to
say that the wealth of American Jews is a root cause of the relationship,
citing for example, "60 percent of Democratic Party funding
and 35 percent of Republican Party funding comes from pro-Israeli
Jews." Petras ends up dismissing anti-Semitism and argues
that "Jews are the most influential ethnic group."
Many assertions that Mearsheimer and Walt
make about Israel and the lobby are accurate and undeniable. Israel
is by far the largest recipient of U.S. military and financial
aid, receiving $3 billion a year in grants and billions more in
loan guarantees. In grants alone, it averages out to a whopping
$500-a-year per-capita subsidy to Israel.
The "lobby," as Mearsheimer
and Walt explain, is "shorthand for the loose coalition of
individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S.
foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." The prestige in
official Washington and deep pockets of groups like the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are real. Their staffers
do draft position papers for some members of Congress, they have
used their weight to influence policy-as all lobbyists attempt
to do-and they have unleashed torrents of propaganda to support
or condemn people and ideas that aid or impede their cause. The
ongoing character assaults against the authors and the fact that
even Harvard places a disclaimer on its own research paper are
ample evidence of this. The pro-Zionist organizations in the United
States spend a great deal of time and money to cow into submission
anyone who criticizes Israel, accusing anyone who does of rank
But more importantly, the argument that
the continued backing of Israel by the U.S. after the Cold War
serves to undermine and even imperil the interests of the American
state lets the empire and the capitalist system it serves off
the hook. The argument fails to grasp the real sinister aims and
methods of imperial policy. It posits the notion that a tiny state
of under seven million inhabitants along with their satraps on
Capitol Hill have hijacked the policies and treasury of the most
powerful economic and military might in the world. Because this
argument is echoed by many on the pro-Palestine Left, it is important
to take on some of the most important aspects of this position.
While Mearsheimer and Walt speak of "national
interests," socialists reject that notion outright. On one
side, there are the interests of the ruling class-power and profit.
And on the other, there are the competing interests of the ruled-good
jobs and schools, decent health care, respect, etc.
In addition, there is a naïve assumption
about how U.S. policy is shaped that underlies this argument.
If all it takes to manipulate U.S. policy is a well-financed and
articulate team of lobbyists, then surely the nine union political
action committees that rank in the top twenty contributors to
federal candidates ought to have more to show for their money
and effort than eviscerated labor laws and three decades of unrelenting
assaults on the working class.6 The very assumption the U.S. government
can be reasoned into abandoning anti-labor policies fails to understand
the underlying economic interests that guide its policies. Implicit
in the all-powerful lobby argument is a similar lack of understanding
of the central role Israel has played for the U.S. in the Middle
The power of the Israel lobby
AIPAC, Mearsheimer and Walt contend, "has a stranglehold
on Congress." With a $47 million a year budget and more than
100 full-time staffers, it is no doubt a formidable advocate for
Israel's interests. But as Columbia professor Joseph Massad writes
in Al-Ahram Weekly:
Is the pro-Israel lobby extremely powerful
in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full
brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable
influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired,
I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible
for U.S. policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world?
Citing the lobby's phalanx of media-savvy
staffers who have the heads of American TV networks and editors
of major newspapers on their speed dials, advocates of the Mearsheimer-Walt
position ignore a central fact. The interests of American capital
coincide with most of the interests of the Israeli state. If Israel
pursued policies systematically contrary to U.S. interests, they
would lose Washington's support.
Without any major league lobby, the state
of Colombia has managed to snag more than $5 billion in aid from
the U.S. since 2000, starting with the $2.2 million per day Plan
Colombia.8 Under the guise of fighting a war on drugs, the U.S.
government has shored up support for an important ally in a region
of the world where popular opinion and some governments have clearly
turned hostile. In what the U.S. has long considered its "backyard,"
buying off a loyal-and heavily militarized-government is deemed
crucial. Like support for Israel, continued Colombian aid doesn't
even warrant serious debate on the floor of Congress, despite
the shocking rise in murders, kidnappings, and escalation of human
As Noam Chomsky aptly points out, despite
the brutal dictatorships in Suharto's Indonesia, or for that matter
in Saddam's Iraq, the U.S. government poured billions in aid into
those countries' coffers. He writes, "What was the Indonesia
Lobby? The Saddam Lobby?"
If it were simply a matter of shoveling
hard cash and lots of it into Congressional slush funds or government
coffers, then surely Venezuela's government-owned oil giant Citgo-with
2005 revenue in excess of $30 billion-could have diverted U.S.
aid and military might in its direction by now. Widely viewed
as a tool of the leftist anti-imperialist Venezuelan president
Hugo Chávez, even Citgo's offer to give away oil at a 40
to 60 percent discount to America's poor has been rejected by
many American politicians and local governments.11 Far from embracing
Venezuela as an ally, the U.S. has twice tried to overthrow its
democratically elected government.
Why have a lobby at all if it doesn't
steer U.S. policy, Bill and Kathleen Christison former CIA analysts
turned anti-Zionists ask.12 The lobby does in fact play an important
role in attempting to squelch any meaningful debate about U.S.-Israeli
relations and Israel's racist domestic policies. The recent barrage
of attacks by the lobby on former President Jimmy Carter's book,
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, where his argument that Israel
is an apartheid state has been slandered as anti-Semitic, is only
one of many examples. The Washington Post weighed in on January
19, 2007, citing the lobby's defamation in their hit piece, "Jimmy
Carter's Jewish problem."
The yearly pilgrimage to AIPAC conferences
by leading politicians from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Ca.) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush provides a forum
to rally the organization's base of a reputed 100,000 members
to finance and give a "progressive" pro-Jewish sheen
to America's hawkish Middle East policies.
President Bush, speaking at the annual
AIPAC conference in May of 2004, said, "You've always understood
and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks.
In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever."
In a war where Bush finds himself increasingly isolated and discredited,
the lobby furnishes enthusiastic financial and ideological support
to Bush's phony "war on terror."
These politicians' frequent nods to the
Jewish Holocaust and historic suffering of the Jews to justify
an aggressive stance against Iran, for example, provide a veneer
of legitimacy to U.S. plans for reshaping the Middle East. Bush
and Co. can present any potential strike against Iran's purported
nuclear sites as a security measure for Israel. When, in fact,
Iran "possesses a combination of energy resources, strategic
location, economic potential, and political weight (as witnessed
recently by its support of Hezbollah during the war on Lebanon)
that no other country in the region can match," as the ISR's
Saman Sepehri wrote late last year.
Simply put, the American Empire economically
supports and provides political cover for its allies. Israel gets
more booty than the others because it plays a crucial role in
defending U.S. interests in the part of the world containing global
capitalism's most indispensable natural resource-oil.
It is widely accepted on the left that the U.S.-Israel alliance
is a Cold War relic. With Arab-Soviet relations deepening after
the Second World War, especially with the rise of Arab nationalist
leader Gamel Abdel Nasser in Egypt in the fifties, U.S. economic
support for Israel was a counterweight to that relationship. And
while the ties have deepened in the years since, it is not true
that the relationship's survival "causes nothing but trouble,"
in the words of anti-Zionist author Michael Neumann.
Having a "watchdog" (as Israel's
daily Ha'aretz described the country), "a 'little loyal Jewish
Ulster' in a sea of hostile Arabism,"15 has paid off handsomely.
Israel shares an irreplaceable historical, cultural, and political
connection to the United States that no other Middle East country
can claim. Nearly 23 percent of its population was born in the
U.S. or Europe.16 Moreover, while other erstwhile regional allies-Iran,
Iraq, and Syria, for example- have fallen into the hands of regimes
hostile to the United States, Israel has never wavered. So long
as it is a virtually owned subsidiary of the U.S., it never will.
Israel proved itself to be an indispensable
strategic asset to the U.S. starting in 1967. After provoking
its neighbors into war, Israel routed Nasser's forces and took
control of the Sinai Peninsula; defeated the Syrians, and seized
the Golan Heights, which it occupies to this day; and it beat
back Jordanian forces to take control of the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, also under occupation today-all in six days. For thwarting
the rise of Arab nationalism and flaunting its muscular posture
to the regional powers and the world, Israel went from being one
of a team of crucial allies of the U.S. in the Middle East to
being the undisputed heavyweight. U.S. aid ratcheted up from $13
million per year to $600 million and never let up.
As Lance Selfa explained in an earlier
Democratic Sen. Henry ("Scoop")
Jackson, nicknamed the "Senator from Boeing" for his
hawkish views, pronounced in May 1973 that "the strength
and Western orientation of Israel on the Mediterranean and Iran
on the Persian Gulf safeguards U.S. access to oil." They
have "served to inhibit and contain those irresponsible and
radical elements in certain Arab states, who, were they free to
do so, would pose a grave threat indeed to our principle sources
of petroleum in the Persian Gulf."
Opponents of this perspective point to
incidents like the Gulf War of 1990-91 where Israel was kept on
the sidelines because its involvement would have alienated Arab
regimes in the American coalition. But not deploying a weapon
in the American arsenal isn't the same as rendering it useless
or counterproductive to the overall military project. Nobody would
argue that the decade of bombing missions by the U.S. in Iraq
throughout the nineties carried out with F-16s rendered its tanks
and ground troops ineffective. They weren't needed for that mission.
Even historical examples such as the Suez
crisis in 1956 when Israel, Britain, and France launched a secret
war to take over the Egyptian Suez Canal after Nasser had nationalized
it is a poor argument that Israel is a liability to the United
States. When the U.S. forced its imperial allies to back off,
it was positioning itself to dominate the region unimpeded by
France and Britain. If on occasion the watchdog gets overly ambitious
or acts in ways that the U.S. finds problematic, they yank the
leash, and force a correction, as the U.S. did then.
Today, having a nuclear-armed Israel as
its gendarme in the region is a means of threatening potential
regional powers like Iran, the world's second-largest repository
of oil. As the Bush Doctrine makes plain, a primary goal of U.S.
foreign policy is "deterring potential competitors from even
aspiring to a larger regional or global role." The fact that
Israel could strike out at Iran-or Syria-with either conventional
or non-conventional weapons hangs like the Sword of Damocles over
the heads of the region's rulers, an ever-present peril that could
befall them if the empire commands.
Though Mearsheimer and Walt argue from
the right that support for Israel threatens the "war on terror,"
those on the left like Petras argue that a U.S.-Israel strike
on Iran would produce a "pyrrhic victory." It would
endanger U.S. troops in Iraq, destabilize the entire region, and
disrupt oil supplies, he argues. His point appears to be that
since the U.S. might not succeed, it is not in its interests to
attack Iran at all. But as the last few years of war in Afghanistan
and Iraq have shown, the U.S. ruling class is willing to endure
troop losses, regional chaos, and even a disruption in oil flows
if it believes that in the end it will come out as the undisputed
power in the region. If one applies Petras's reasoning to the
disastrous loss in Vietnam in retrospect, then virtually any imperial
adventure appears too risky to attempt and therefore imperialism
itself is against the interests of the empire. For a socialist,
this is a rather bizarre teleological argument to make.
The unfolding disaster of the Iraq War
bears out that the economic necessity for the American ruling
class to control oil and expand its reach breeds an arrogant belief
that despite its own experts' claims, it can prevail, in fact
it must-no matter the human and political costs. For this, it
depends on both direct military intervention, and on reliable
allies in the region. And Israel, because of its unique history,
is Washington's most dependable ally.
Any casual observer of Israeli armed might must marvel at the
extraordinary fact that a country comprising a mere .001 percent
of the world's population has "the fifth most powerful war
machine in the world."19 This obscene arsenal is not just
used for territorial control and "security," Israel
acts as a bully-for-hire to many of the dictatorships, death squads,
and undemocratic allies of the United States. When Iran's democratically
elected leader Mohammed Mossadeq nationalized the oil fields there
in 1951, the daily Ha'aretz laid out the role Israel could play
for its Western backers:
Israel is to become the watchdog. There
is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards
the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes
of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reasons the Western powers
should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied
upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy
to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.
There is a well-documented history of
Israel's relations with apartheid South Africa, and its ongoing
role of helping to prop up almost every pro-U.S. repressive regime
in the world.
Israel defied the global arms embargo
on the white-minority South African government to supply it with
nuclear technology and helped train its notoriously brutal police
and armed forces-imparting its expertise after 1967 of "suppressing
a captive population and keeping hostile neighbors off balance."As
one Israeli newspaper put it, "It is a clear and open secret
known to everybody that in [South African] army camps one can
find Israeli officers in not insignificant numbers who are busy
teaching white soldiers to fight Black terrorists with methods
imported from Israel."
The U.S. is able to funnel weapons and
aid to its unsavory allies abroad through Israel. When the exposure
of human rights abuses in countries like Guatemala made it politically
untenable domestically for the U.S. to continue to back this murderous
regime, it outsourced the job to Israel. From the 1970s to the
a civil war pitted a populist but, in
this case, mainly Indian left against a mainly European oligarchy
protected by a brutal Mestizo Army. As Guatemalan President Carlos
Arana said in 1971, "If it is necessary to turn the country
into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to
do so." The Israelis supplied Guatemala with Galil rifles,
and built an ammunition factory for them, as well as supplying
armored personnel carriers and Arava planes. Behind the scenes,
they were actively involved in the bloodiest counter-insurgency
campaign the hemisphere has known since the European conquest,
in which at least 200,000 (mostly Indians) were killed.
In the past Israel has supplied arms and
training to: the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia for its genocide
of 200,000 East Timorese; the Nicaraguan contras for its killing
of at least 50,000 oppositionists; Chile's Pinochet dictatorship;
the military dictatorships of Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador,
and the list goes on.
But Israel's role as America's bully-for-hire
is not just a thing of the Cold War past-though the statute of
limitations on prosecuting these crimes against humanity should
never run out. "I learned an infinite amount of things in
Israel, and to that country I owe part of my essence, my human
and military achievements," wrote the former (and now deceased)
head of the largest right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia,
Carlos Castaño. As recently as 2002, the Guatemala-based
Israeli company GIRSA supplied Colombian death squads with 3,000
Kalashnikov rifles and 2.5 million rounds of ammunition.25 _The
American Empire will always have a need for these types of covert
black ops services from a reliable ally. Israel continues to play
this role efficiently and discreetly.
Finally, last summer's invasion of Lebanon
by Israel was effectively a proxy war against Syria and Iran's
Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, on behalf of the Americans who were-and
continue to be-bogged down in a losing war in Iraq. The goals
were to stop Hezbollah, control Lebanon, and contain Syria. Israel's
short war destroyed much of Lebanon's infrastructure, killed more
than 1,000 civilians, and created an internal refugee crisis,
in addition to leaving behind thousands of unexploded cluster
bombs-"killing fields in a canister" as the London Times
aptly put it.26 Though Israel was unable to politically and militarily
defeat Hezbollah, the aim of the war was to help their imperial
patron. That's why leading Democrats like Senator Russ Feingold
(D-Wis.) rushed to outdo Republicans in showing support for Israel
in that war. As the Washington Post argued, "For the United
States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah,
Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes
is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in
the Middle East, U.S. officials say."27 Right-wing columnist
Charles Krauthammer summed up the invasion as, "Israel's
rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American
Is the occupation of Palestine in the
interests of the United States?
As foreign policy realists, both Mearsheimer and Walt essentially
promote a form of liberal imperialism. They argue that Israel's
dispossession of half the Palestinian population and occupation
of the other half enrages and destabilizes the Middle East and
therefore conflicts with U.S. interests, in particular with the
"war on terror." There is some truth to this claim,
but pointing out contradictions in the U.S.-Israel relationship
doesn't dispel the overarching reality. As Gush Shalom's (Israeli
Peace Bloc's) Uri Avnery aptly put it, "The U.S. uses Israel
to dominate the Middle East, Israel uses the U.S. to dominate
Palestine."29_While Israel's day-to-day brutality toward
Palestinians and ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands are not
dictated by their imperial overlords, neither do they impede U.S.
oil interests in the region or relations with Arab leaders of
Egypt and the Gulf States, for example. Despite the rhetoric these
regimes regularly employ against the complicity of the U.S. in
Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, these are largely used
for domestic consumption to distract from their own cozy dealings
with the American Empire. If and when the occupation hampers U.S.
interests, they would force an end to it.
Instead, the U.S. has been the driving
force behind three decades of "peace" negotiations between
the parties, which have been detailed by many writers, including
in this magazine. The point is that these negotiations act as
a mechanism to derail any resolution of the conflict that would
bring real justice to the Palestinians, while providing the appearance
that a process is in place to provide an equitable solution for
both Jews and Palestinians somewhere down the road.
While Israel's domestic policies don't
always mesh with every desire of the U.S. government, this isn't
proof of an independent policy that imposes its will on the empire.
Instead, the watchdog has taken its training as brutal and racist
killers all too well. Few would argue that the U.S. supported
every act of terror by the death squad governments in Latin America,
though the U.S. trained them, financed them, and even supplied
intelligence on "state enemies"-but it didn't draw a
roadmap or blueprint for every act of aggression against their
The "excesses" of the guardians
of the empire aren't always punished or even actively opposed
because they serve to normalize the brutalization, in this case
of an occupied Arab people. In a sense, Israel's assault on Jenin
begat Fallujah; Israel's Guantánamo, Facility 1391, compares
well with Abu Ghraib; and Israel's 400-mile apartheid wall evokes
the 700-mile border wall the U.S. is constructing to bar Mexicans
and other Latin Americans from emigrating. Despite the fact that
it was Israeli terrorists who first hijacked an airplane,30 generations
of Westerners have grown up accustomed to the impression of Arab
peoples as terrorists-unpredictable, untrustworthy, inferior,
brutal, and with a nature that is either exoticized or made to
seem bizarre and other-worldly.
The wholesale assault on Gaza since June
and the daily torments of Palestinians may not follow the empire's
script, but nobody is pacing the White House halls at night tormented
by the terrorization of Palestinians either. Certainly the widespread
human rights abuses practiced by American troops in the Middle
East are made more acceptable in the context of Israel's ongoing
war with its indigenous population.
Is Israel to blame for the Iraq War?__
Perhaps the most dubious claim of the Mearsheimer-Walt argument,
echoed in the pages of the Nation and elaborated on by Petras
and others, is that the U.S. war with Iraq is not only due to
the Israeli lobby's sway over U.S. policy but against the interests
of Big Oil. "The consensus among U.S. critics of the Bush
administration is that '9/11 provided the right-wing Zionist zealots
with a unique chance to harness U.S. Middle East policy and military
power in Israel's interest and succeeded in getting the United
States to apply the doctrine of pre-emptive war to Israel's enemies.'"
And elsewhere: "The Bush administration planned its campaign
against Baghdad without input from these companies [Big Oil],
and apparently without a clue about the basics of oil economics."
Four years into this losing war, the jury's
still out on who will be the ultimate beneficiaries. But the arrogance
of the American ruling class and their racist assumptions about
Arabs played no small role in them believing their own hype: Iraqis
would greet them as liberators after "regime change"
was accomplished, oil money would pay for the reconstruction of
Iraq, and a puppet government could be left behind to cut lucrative
deals with Corporate America. In other words, you can't say that
something's "against U.S. interests" because it was
unsuccessful. Iraq is a "strategic blunder" because
it isn't working, but what it is meant to do if it worked-enhance
U.S. military and economic presence and power in the region-is
a goal agreed upon by all parties in Washington.
Back when the war began, the prospects
for Big Oil were enormous: "Regime change in Baghdad would
reshuffle the cards and give U.S. (and British) companies a good
shot at direct access to Iraqi oil fields for the first time in
thirty years-a windfall worth hundreds of billions of dollars,"
said Michael Renner, a researcher at WorldWatch Institute in March
of 2003.33 As Bush ally Patrick Clawson put it before the war,
"U.S. oil companies would have an opportunity to make significant
profits. We should not be embarrassed about the commercial advantages
that would come from a reintegration of Iraq into the world economy."_It
seems worth mentioning that oil prices in 2003 were just under
$25 a barrel, they have risen to well over $60 a barrel since
August 2005, and last summer reached their peak so far of $78.
American corporations have hauled in record profits since the
war began, with no end in sight. As Tariq Ali explains, "The
conquest of Iraq is partially due to this assertion of raw imperial
power, and to say to the rest of the world and the Far Eastern
bloc, China, Japan, South Korea, which is very dependent on oil,
'We control the oil. You can have it, of course, because we've
got enough of our own, but we control it. And any time you step
out of line, we can cut it off.' That was the aim. It's not happened
as yet, and it may never happen. But that is the way they are
It's become clear that no one in the Bush
administration anticipated the kind of opposition to war and occupation
they have received from the Iraqis. But it's in this light that
we need to view Israel's disastrous summer war on Lebanon to destroy
Hezbollah with full U.S. backing. Fears of a regionwide resistance
fueled that war and lie at the heart of the latest saber-rattling
at Iran and Syria. If the U.S. does attack Iran via Israel, as
many are predicting, it will be as a result of a collusion of
interests, not Israel dragging a defiant U.S. into its local battles.
More importantly, though, at the root
of this argument is the notion that U.S. corporate interests are
somehow inimical to war and the instability that often follows.
Blaming the Israel lobby for the war lets the system of capitalist
competition off the hook. Imperialist competition between nations
compels them to go to war over the control of resources and to
extend their power over competitors, even when they risk short-term
instability. Even when they risk imperial ruin.
The special relationship between the U.S.
Socialists ought to acknowledge that while Mearsheimer and Walt
have drawn conclusions we cannot agree with, they have identified
a special relationship that does indeed exist between the U.S.
and Israel. While the U.S. government (including the Pentagon
and CIA) steers the relationship, it is by no means without contradictions
and disagreements. But those contradictions don't undermine the
core support for Israel, a loyal ally like none other.
It may be true that Israel's oppression
of the Palestinian people is a constant festering wound that has
at times interfered with Israel and the U.S. developing better
relations with neighboring Arab states, and which could potentially
threaten Arab ruling classes from below. Hence all the attempts
to broker a "peace" settlement that makes the problem
go away. All of these settlements involve pressuring the Palestinians
to accept rotten compromises in order to create a space for Arab
states to establish firmer economic relations with the U.S. and
Israel, but which do not fundamentally challenge Israel's position.
However, the U.S. also benefits from the "Spartan" quality
of the Israeli state. It has an unparalleled military machine
and a solidly pro-U.S. population mobilized in support of its
policies unlike any other in the region. It is in this sense a
very special ally. It can play this role, moreover, precisely
because it is a settler-colonial state, a garrison-state based
on the expulsion of the Palestinian people. Norman Finklestein,
writing in Counterpunch, summarized the point well:
The claim that Israel has become a liability
for U.S. "national" interests in the Middle East misses
the bigger picture. Sometimes what's most obvious escapes the
eye. Israel is the only stable and secure base for projecting
U.S. power in this region. Every other country the U.S. relies
on might, for all anyone knows, fall out of U.S. control tomorrow.
The U.S.A. discovered this to its horror in 1979, after immense
investment in the Shah. On the other hand, Israel was a creation
of the West; it's in every respect-culturally, politically, economically-in
thrall to the West, notably the U.S. This is true not just at
the level of a corrupt leadership, as elsewhere in the Middle
East but-what's most important-at the popular level. Israel's
pro-American orientation exists not just among Israeli elites
but also among the whole population. Come what may in Israel,
it's inconceivable that this fundamental orientation will change.
Combined with its overwhelming military power, this makes Israel
a unique and irreplaceable American asset in the Middle East.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander
Haig reportedly called Israel "the largest American aircraft
carrier in the world." Without it, the U.S. would have to
spend additional tens of billions of dollars to police the Middle
East with its own troops. While it is understandable that those
who oppose the oppressive and muscular policies of the U.S. and
Israel blame the lobby for justifying and promoting these actions,
anti-Zionists need to accept that it is the capitalist system
and the American Empire that create the facts on the ground for
the Israel lobby to defend.
Sherry Wolf is on the editorial board
of the ISR.