The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Walt & Mearsheimer vindicated

I can't help but share in Stephen Walt's self-satisfaction over Tony Blair's testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry, in which he recognized that Israeli officials were consulted about the decision to invade Iraq and were a major part of the run-up to the war:

In his testimony to the Iraq war commission in the U.K., former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered the following account of his discussions with Bush in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. Blair reveals that concerns about Israel were part of the equation and that Israel officials were involved in those discussions. 

Take it away, Tony:

As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this."

Notice that Blair is not saying that Israel dreamed up the idea of attacking Iraq or that Bush was bent on war solely to benefit Israel or even to appease the Israel lobby here at home.  But Blair is acknowledging that concerns about Israel were part of the equation, and that the Israeli government was being actively consulted in the planning for the war.

Blair's comments fit neatly with the argument we make about the lobby and Iraq. Specifically, Professor Mearsheimer and I made it clear in our article and especially in our book that the idea of invading Iraq originated in the United States with the neoconservatives, and not with the Israeli government. But as the neoconservative pundit Max Boot once put it, steadfast support for Israel is "a key tenet of neoconservatism." Prominent neo-conservatives occupied important positions in the Bush administration, and in the aftermath of 9/11, they played a major role in persuading Bush and Cheney to back a war against Iraq, which they had been advocating since the late 1990s. We also pointed out that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials were initially skeptical of this scheme, because they wanted the U.S. to focus on Iran, not Iraq. However, they became enthusiastic supporters of the idea of invading Iraq once the Bush administration made it clear to them that Iraq was just the first step in a broader campaign of "regional transformation" that would eventually include Iran. 

Israelis themselves were divided about the war, from what I remember of the Israeli press in the 2002-2003 period, although Ariel Sharon wasn't. This is only natural since the last time Iraq had been invaded, Scud missiles rained on Tel Aviv. Even though the scare about the Scuds proved to be disproportionate to the reality of the damage they inflicted, people were scared of the possible consequences. 

The neoconservatives, though, had no such qualms. I've been ranting for a while that, as far as I can see, not only support for a territorially maximalist and aggressive Israel is a key tenet of neoconservatism, it may be its central tenet. I see little consistent in the ideology otherwise, apart perhaps for an spirited embrace of American imperialism — but even then, outside the Middle East, there is no consistency: the neocons were not so gung-ho about Russia, North Korea, China, or Latin America after all. 

Walt ventures to suggest that Israeli political leaders, left and right, unequivocally began to support the war as a reaction to the American neocons' push in Washington and all quickly lined up to active the formal lobby (AIPAC, etc.) to push for war. Do read his lengthly explanation of how that worked. So in other words, the most controversial argument in Walt and Mearsheimer's book — that the lobby played a significant, and perhaps decisive, role in driving US policy on Iraq — is pretty much unassailably correct