The New York Times Book Review chose a reviewer with the most impeccable Establishment credentials to evaluate the potentially incendiary "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt: one Leslie H. Gelb, a former Times foreign-affairs columnist and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In arguing, as so many others have, that Mearsheimer and Walt overstate the power of "the Israel lobby," Gelb makes a remarkably sweeping statement in his review -- one so sweeping I had to read it twice, just to be sure I'd got it right. As a prelude to it, Gelb concedes that Mearsheimer and Walt (unlike Gelb and so many others) foresaw what was coming in Iraq: They predicted the invasion would lead to a bloody, grinding mess and and that it could distract from the war against al Qaeda.
But Gelb says it is unfair of the authors to leap from their correctness about the war to the conclusion that a Jewish-Israeli lobby pushed the country into it. After all, he writes, "America's foreign policy community, including many Democrats as well as Republicans, supported the war for the very same reasons that [Undersecretary for Defense Paul] Wolfowitz and the lobby did -- namely, the fact that Hussein seemed to pose a present or future threat to American national interests."
America's foreign policy community ... supported the war. Was there really such unanimity? The "lobby's" influence aside, Gelb must inhabit an insular world to remember 2003 and 2004 that way, defining the foreign policy community, most likely, as those several dozen sober-sided luminaries who revolve around the Council on Foreign Relations, in Manhattan. (If Gelb is the archetype of this group for the emeritus generation, Fareed Zakaria serves the same role for the post-Boomer demographic.)
In 2004, recall, in advance of the Bush-Kerry Presidential election, some 700 foreign-policy experts from academia signed a petition that, as I wrote in Ideas at the time, "blasts the Iraq war as a 'misguided' distraction from the war on radical Islamic terror and the need to curb nuclear proliferation. Its organizers call the statement an almost unprecedented display of consensus on a controversial public issue."
Most of these foreign-policy specialists, who called themselves Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy, had resisted the war from the beginning.
At the time, the petition's authors charged that I treated their document disrespectfully. For one thing, I went on to quote two neoconservative scholars who argued that the academic group was trying to invent consensus where none existed (and there was one snarky segue in the piece, which I regret). Nevertheless, it was obvious then, as it is now, that a black-and-white consensus among experts for or against the war simply did not exist -- whatever Leslie Gelb says now.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.