- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Frankly, on those few occasions when I imagine Osama bin Laden I prefer to envision him wasting away from some bat-borne illness he picked up in the caves he frequents. That’s why thinking of him sitting there flipping through his well-thumbed copy of Walt and Mearsheimer’s tedious tome is almost satisfying. Really, who knew there was a Death-to-Israel Book Club? But even more satisfying than thinking of Bin Laden drifting off somewhere between The Israel Lobby’s recitation of the obvious and its misreading of America’s challenges in the Middle East, was Walt’s exquisite response on the FP site.
While I’m tempted to leave well enough alone, it’s hard to ignore the significance of Osama embracing Walt and Mearsheimer’s theories. What could better illustrate that the book possesses all the internal logic of an al Qaeda press release than the mere fact of this intellectual love connection?
And what could I write about this development that would be more of a revealing indictment of the Walt-Mearsheimer approach than Walt’s own efforts to fend off a big wet one from al Qaeda’s head maniac? Watch him twist slowly in a noose of his own manufacture as he begins his response with a brief disavowal and then uses his Osama Moment to move quickly into a reassertion of his own theory. Once again, he recites the list of others who have mentioned that there was an Israel lobby without yet noting that this is simply evidence that his principal conclusion offered nothing new.
Walt’s response gets really good when he then goes so far as to suggest that Osama’s embrace of his book only proves his point that the Israel lobby (or is it The Israel Lobby?) is used as a justification by terrorists. Blind to the irony all his book did was weave precisely the kind of fabric of partial truths and old biases that are used to dress up the hatreds of demagogues everywhere, Walt actually has the chutzpah to try use the news that the most evil man in the world is reading his work as a soap box from which to once again sell his argument (and books).
Of course, even more disturbing to me than the fact that Bin Laden has now been given the opportunity to suggest that he has found support for his arguments from “prestigious academics” is of course, that not just terrorists are reading this book or buying its conclusions. The cold hard fact is that Walt and Mearsheimer have won the moment here in Washington. The United States is getting tougher with Israel and more open to Hamas and their supporters in the Arab world. We are seeking “balance” in the name of “realism.” There are two prevailing groups who are driving the argument at the moment: those who see moral equivalency between the Israelis and the Palestinians (see yesterday’s “war crimes” report) and those who think the Israelis are worse.
Walt and Mearsheimer have achieved a near miracle, creating one thing on which both the current Washington establishment and Bin Laden can agree on. Bad as that may sound, at worst I think that is a mixed blessing. Because in the end there’s only one sure way to undercut such theories, and that’s to try to put them into action.
Fortunately for all of us, the ultimate antidote to “realism” is reality.
Which is why I am advising my Israeli and pro-Israel friends to put the Jew back into Jiu Jitsu. (We talk that way to each other at World Jewish Conspiracy meetings.) Let’s see what happens when the United States distances itself further from Israel, when we beat up on them and embrace the Palestinians and their “allies” elsewhere in the region … soon enough we will see that we ended up in support of Israel not because of the power of the Israel lobby or America’s deep love of the Jews (hold on while I choke back my own laughter at that idea), but because they were the only country in the region that actually was a suitable and dependable ally and that as big a problem as the Israelis may have been for the long-suffering Palestinians, the Arabs have been as bad or worse. All that’s even more true today. So, Israel should go along with the new approach (careful to defend itself against imminent threats, of course) and let Hamas and Ahmadinejad do the heavy lifting when it comes to disproving the whimsy of the realists that all it will take is for us to make nice with the Arab world and all will be well. And at the same time, by losing this argument big time, those who are supporters of Israel will (once again) prove their own weakness in the U.S. political process.
In other words, go on, try “realism.” Make my day. It’s the best possible way to discredit Osama, Hamas, Ahmadinejad, Walt and Mearsheimer all at once.
Now, before I conclude, I have to admit that at least on one level, I do have a little sympathy for Walt. My last book, Superclass, actually attracted a bunch of the same kind of folks who read his work, conspiracy theorists who, much as Walt did himself, start out with a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it (while carefully avoiding countervailing facts). It took me a long time to come to grips with the existence of this readership and realize that even though, in the end, my book disappointed them because it really sought to debunk most of their crazed theories, I played a role in attracting them to the book. I was responsible. And so it is that one can only hope that on some level, this most recent development will help Walt and Mearsheimer come to grips with one of the toughest truths any author can grapple with.
Every book gets the readers it deserves.