Walt & Mearsheimer’s book is actually rather boring and contains plenty of disclaimers. That’s likely the result of how much flak they caught for their original article, although I can’t say it did them any good (on the other hand, what should you expect?). I was expecting something more intentionally controversial, but I think they wanted to project a more sober and mainstream image. There is no discussion of “realist” theory at all, which is surprising as the authors are known for taking that approach to unusual lengths. It is also surprising because the thesis of the book goes against the core assumptions of realism, which they admit in their online reply to critics of their original London Review of Books article:

We concede that the phenomenon described in “The Israel Lobby” is not consistent with realism, but three comments are in order.  First, no social science theory explains all phenomena; there are always important exceptions that must be explained on other grounds.  Second, because realism portrays international politics as a competitive realm where mistakes are penalized, it implies states that are overly swayed by narrow interest groups are likely to undertake policies that turn out to be costly.  Realism cannot explain the lobby’s impact, but it helps us understand its effects.  Third, America’s enormous material power and favorable geopolitical position give it the latitude to act contrary to its interests, even though it would clearly be better off if it behaved differently.  Thus, although realism does not include factors like domestic lobbies, it does help us understand some of the circumstances that give them greater influence.   In any case, whether this particular article was consistent with all of our prior work is not the critical issue at hand, which is whether our claims about the lobby’s influence and its negative impact are correct.

I suppose they should be commended for admitting the limitations of their favored theory, but it would be preferable if they laid out in advance which situations are best analyzed from a realist perspective and which aren’t. I have to say that I agree that the relative immunity of the U.S due to its great power has led it to take stupid risks simply because it could afford to. This would suggest that Israel is more likely to act correctly according to its self-interest because it is in a more precarious situation. The U.S and Israel are both democracies, so perhaps we should expect distortion in the foreign policies of both countries.

I also note that in their reply they list among objections the existence of “plenty of countervailing centres of
power, such as paleoconservatives, Arab and Islamic advocacy groups… and the diplomatic establishment” as well as “the so-called oil lobby (either in the form of oil companies or wealthy Arab oil producers)”. In their book they only mention Arabs/Muslims and oil, in addition to the “military industrial complex”. No mention is made of Michael Neumann’s Victory and Recruitment, which gives a good debunking of many candidates. They rightly make no reference to paleos, because they are completely impotent. The “diplomatic establishment” sounds like something Mencius Moldbug would blame (as parodied here). James Q. Wilson might be a better man for that phenomenon than a realist.

One thing they changed my mind on was Israel’s position on the Iraq war. I had been persuaded by people who said years after the invasion that Israel opposed it because they feared it would empower Iran. The authors show that is a misrepresentation of the past and that while Israel initially was angling for action against Iran, once American neocons got the ball rolling against Iraq (which should indicate that they aren’t receiving instructions from Israel) Israel pushed that forward, with AIPAC being discreet but definite in its support for war. They failed to change my mind on Osama bin Laden’s motivations. Actions speak louder than words, and while plenty of terrorist groups attack Israel, al Qaeda has been absent. That they have attacked “moderate Arab” regimes and the United States supports the importance of their other grievances.

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