Saturday, September 22, 2007

Confronting the Saudi lobby

The Walt and Mearsheimer book accusing Israel and its allies of dominating American foreign policy is out. Three developments so far:

First, the reviews aren’t good. The New York Times, for example, derided the book as a “prosecutorial brief.” On the other hand, academics who like the book will assign it for their courses, doing long-term damage to the minds of American students.

Second, thanks to a slip of banana peel proportions, which was caught by CAMERA’s brilliant analyst, Alex Safian, it’s clear the dynamic duo doesn’t believe a major part of their own thesis. While the book says Israel pressured the U.S. into war with Iraq, Mearsheimer instead curiously told an interviewer the truth: When it learned the Bush administration was determined to attack Iraq, Israel argued that the Iranian situation was more dangerous and should be addressed first. So Mearsheimer knows his book is wrong. Israel did not push for, much less author, the Iraq war.

Third, and probably most important, Walt and Mearsheimer’s obsessive focus on Israel is causing critics from the right and the left to look carefully at the 800 pound gorilla of American Middle East policy, Saudi Arabia. With billions to burn, Saudi’s impact on the rest of the planet is well understood. Madrassas, Islamic “universities,” preachers and imams by the score have, among other things, moved Islam profoundly toward xenophobic and violent Wahhabi ideology. Yet most of the U.S. government carefully averts its eyes. Why?

Because Saudi Arabia buys influence and former American officials peddle it. These include former ambassadors to Saudi and Gulf states like James Akins, Edward Walker and John West, former CIA station chiefs and analysts like Raymond Close, and former congressmen like Paul Findley. They’re all on the Saudi payroll – either directly through business deals or indirectly through Saudi support for their think tanks and foundations.

In a masterful Wall Street Journal piece, Jeff Robbins, Mintz Levin lawyer and – full disclosure – attorney for the David Project, recounts how after Sept. 11, 2001, as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, he was persuaded by a defense contractor to arrange a forum for Boston influentials to hear the Saudis expound on their enlightened, tolerant country. Multiply this by every major city and media market, factor in the PR firms and lobbyists, the defense contractors, the public officials and academics – Saudi recently gave Georgetown and Harvard $20 million each – and you begin to get the sense of the scale and dollars behind the Saudi lobby. We’re looking at tens if not hundreds of millions in the U.S. alone. But, Robbins noted, to Israel’s critics, there is “nothing wrong” in any of this.

Walt and Mearsheimer deny being anti-Semites.
Yet, Robbins went on, since they are “content with foreign oil money being used to advance a pro-Arab position on the Middle East, but devote themselves to criticizing American Jews for lobbying their public officials in support of the Jewish state, one may legitimately wonder what phrase would apply.”

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