Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blogging, Stephen Walt, and Israel

On Monday I noted that the international affairs journal Foreign Policy has just announced a major relaunch of its website. The magazine has added longtime foreign affairs blogger Daniel Drezner to its blogging masthead, as well as a number of other top scholars, some of whom are just now apparently breaking into the blogosphere.

One of those
joining the Foreign Policy stable is Harvard's Stephen Walt.

Walt wasted no time in jumping right into the thick of the flame wars. He wrote
a provocative post yesterday using counterfactual analysis, "What if Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War?" Walt asks us to imagine what it'd be like if Israel walked in Palestinian shoes, that is, what if the Jewish state was defeated in the 1967 Six-Day War - and "a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees" and abandoned to a strip like Gaza - what would American policy look like? Would "the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?"

Well, this intellectual exercise generated
a little dust-up, of course, with Ross Douthat firing a response at Walt with a direct attack on the "realist" paradigm in international relations, of which Walt is a central contemporary practitioner:

The odd thing is that by Walt's own account, the answer would seem to be "Yes," since presumably the rump Orthodox Gaza - run, perhaps, by Verbover Jews - wouldn't have an all-powerful lobby shaping U.S. policy and public opinion to its specifications. Or am I missing something? ...

... this analogy ... is a reminder of why when I say that the American Right needs
a new realism, I really do mean a new realism, because so many of the old realists have failed to distinguish themselves in the debates of the decade just passed. That failure is the subject for an essay, rather than a blog post, but for now let me just say that on the one hand, you had figures in the broad realist firmament (from Henry Kissinger to George Will to Chuck Hagel) lining up to support the invasion of Iraq at a time when the Bush Administration could have used a serious critique from the right (and then acquitting themselves less-than-impressively, in Hagel's case especially, in the debate over what to do with Iraq once things had fallen apart) ... while on the other hand you had figures like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer deciding that the best way to promote legitimately important "realist" ideas (like, say, that America should be pushing Israel harder to abandon the West Bank settlements, and that American Jews ought to play a more constructive role on this front) was to wrap them up in a farrago of oversimplifications and half-truths, ride the ensuing attention up the bestseller list, and then cry "persecution!" when anyone called them on it.
In turn, Douthat's critique of Walt generated this intellectually dishonest response from L'Hôte:

Douthat is someone who I've admired, but to make a drive-by accusation of anti-Semitism using the stunningly empty "Jewish conspiracy" slander diminishes both him and the Atlantic, and as is always true of frivolous and politicized accusations of anti-Semitism, hinders our ability to fight the real thing. There is a real enemy of anti-Semitism in this world, it is particularly virulent in the Arab world, and those who throw around such accusations withough cause, explicitly or implicitly, do no favors either to the Jewish people or to Israel.
And with that, folks can see how viciously out of control such debates become.

I don't see any "slanders" or allegations of "Jewish conspiracy" mongering in Douthat's post. In fact, Douthat raises one of the most important questions that writers at the nexus of blogging and international relations theory must address: How can a morally competent and responsible theory of American power and foreign policy be developed in post-Bush era? The arguments of Walt and those of the realist paradigm have come to resemble in toto the antiwar left's screaming smears against the "evil BushCo neocons." The key difference is that they ground their attacks on the administration in the scholarly apparatus of "narrow national interests," mounting prestigious yet familiar calls for the "restoration" of constitutional legitimacy and America's "moral standing in the world."

Today's realists, frankly, combine longstanding unhinged leftist attacks with a more surreptitious "traditionalist" idelogical agenda common on the "paleoconservative" right, a paradigm David Frum has identified as comprising "
unpatriotic conservatives."

One excellent example of antiwar dogma masquerading as sophisticated scholarhip is Michael Desch's lead article at International Security from Winter 2007/08, "America's Liberal Illiberalism: The Ideological Origins of Overreaction in U.S. Foreign Policy." Desch's piece, not unlike the most vile netroots smears, was egregiously unbalanced (if not blatantly dishonest) in its attacks on the Bush administration. I submitted a detailed research rebuttal to the editors - roughly 3,000 words in length, with full citations - but they declined to publish my response, and did not tender an offer of "revise and resubmit" (copies available by e-mail upon request).

Let me note something about all of this from a professional perspective: My dissertation, completed in 1999, built on some main research findings in the realist balance-of-power paradigm, of which Walt is a leading scholar. His book, The Origins of Alliances (1987), offered one of the most important emendations to the balancing and alliance literature since the work of Kenneth Waltz in the late-1970s. I've loved the realist paradigm - with its grounding in rationalism and the primacy of the national interest - since my days as a political science undergraduate. Walt, as well as his coauthor John Mearsheimer (who I met in 2002 at the APSA annual meeting in Boston), are great political scientists, worthy of emulation.

But I became increasing less enamored of Walt and Mearsheimer in 2003, with the publication of their attack on the Bush administration's build-up in Iraq in 2003, "
An Unnecessary War." It became clearer to me over time that realist academic political scientists were basically antiwar peaceniks with mortarboards and tassels.

Walt and Mearsheimer, of course, have become central players in the debates on U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Most folks are familiar with the huge controversy over their article a few years back at the London Review of Books, "
The Israel Lobby." I had just started blogging at that time, and didn't get too wrapped up in the debate. I read some flurries of the controversy in the pages of Foreign Policy, "The War Over Israel’s Influence," and I recommend Michael Massing's powerful essay reviewing the debate at the New York Review, "The Storm over the Israel Lobby." See also, Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky's, "Stephen Walt's War with Israel."

Yesterday afternoon I picked up a copy of Walt and Mearsheimer's book that grew out of that debate, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. I read the preface and introduction last night, and will continue reading this afternoon. I figured I might as well read the whole thing. With Walt now a major blogger at the Foreign Policy website, who will likely provide ample fodder to the nihilist leftists of the online fever swamps, it seemed like now's a good time to consume the full argument in preparation for even more intense debates in the months and years ahead.

Just a look at Walt's page this morning gives one a heads-up on what to expect. In an essay entitled "
It's Time to Redefine 'Pro-Israel'," Walt glowingly cites the well-known Bush administration nemisis and eminent sockpuppet Glenn Greenwald:
Over at, Glenn Greenwald has posted some typically sharp and forceful comments on the gap between American public opinion on the conflict in Gaza and the public stance taken by our politicians.
I'm telling you, if Stephen Walt - who is the Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government - describes Greenwald, who is perhaps the most loathed hardline leftist blogger among conservatives across the blogosphere, as "typically sharp," then there really is something strange going on in academic political science. To put Walt's blogging endorsements in perspective, see Rick Moran's, "Glenn Greenwald is a Pathological Liar."

It's kind of sad, actually, but this is the postmodern world we live in nowadays. Good thing I became a blogger, I guess.

I'll have more on all of this as things develop. For more on my take on Israel and blogging,
click here.


shoprat said...

Had the Arabs won in 67 there would have been a genocide of the Jews and Christians. That says it all.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Shoprat: There may well have been.

Norm said...

I'am sorry, I am really confused. Just a few minutes ago a Grad rocket hit Beer Sheva. At this very moment Israeli troops are in very heavy combat in an effort to stop the rockets. Tens of thousands of Israeli reservists are showing up, without being called, to training camps because they want to help the young men taking the brunt of the battle.

So what do we have, a professor from Harvard proposes a hypothetical that is hysterical. I guess a relevant discussion of reality is beyond his Harvard mind.

The answer is so obvious. When Israel was re-established in 1948, the Arab nations expelled almost every Jew (750,000) in their territories. Stealing their goods, possessions and land. Destroying the synagogues. That is what would have happened if Israel lost the war in 1967. There would not have been a gaza strip of Jews. The area would have been judenrein and Christians would be tolerated as dhimmis.

The answer to his second question is that the United States would do what be in the best interest of the United States.

I can write a lot more but I am more worried about reality. His hypothetical is not worthy of a high school discussion....let's argue how to solve the situation.

AmPowerBlog said...

Norm: In the academic world it's all relativism and high theory. These are top scholars too. It's my discipline, and sometimes I'm embarrassed by what I see.

Kenneth Davenport said...

Donald --

As someone who studied under some very well-known America bashers (Chalmers Johnson being the most notable), I can tell you that political science ain't what it used to be. One of the reasons I chose not to pursue a career in acadamia was because of the rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism within most departments. It's pretty pathetic -- and Walt and Mearsheimer are classic examples of it. Walt's hypothetical about the 6 day war ignores the fact that the Holocaust changed all calculations about the place of Jews in history; America and Europe owed the Jews a homeland, and if they had been defeated in '67 I believe the world would have still rallied to their cause. The Palestinians are not in a similar position. Though anti-semitism is now rampant in Europe today, it wasn't always so; few who witnessed the death camps would have begrudged the Jews a place of their own. But memories have now faded, and the secular left in Europe is in the grips of a moral reletivist fit.

Academia is better off having you in it -- but it must be a lonely job. Kudos to you, Professor Douglas!

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Ken!

Anonymous said...

This is not a border dispute. Muslim Fundamentalist want ALL Jews dead and gone. Period.

The delusional insanity of many on the Left and a few on the Right about this is frightening. They ignore all facts and logic. Hamas, a terrorist organization killing the so-called Palestinians' hope for peace, are evil garbage, they must be eliminated. They have sent thousands, yes thousands of missiles into Israel over the past couple of years and Israel had never exercised their right of self-defense, until recently, when Hamas broke the ceasefire and started firing rockets again.

Israel is FINALLY doing the right thing. If Hamas is destroyed, then, if the rest of the 'Palestinians' really want peace they can give up their dream of destroying Israel, if not, they will never have peace.

Israel must destroy as much of Hamas as possible before the MSM and the idiots and ignorants whine loud enough for them to stop. They must only quit when they are ready.

For EVERY missile shot into Israel at least ONE missile should be returned to the area as close as possible to the shooter. Tit for tat. Every single missile should be returned. Period. Treat them like adults, if they kill, they will be killed. If they send missiles, they will receive them. That is the only way they will learn. Screw public opinion, force them to see the truth, or let them be damned.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
hope your kids grow up

to strap bombs on babies
to kill other children

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
form a terrorist country

then wish to be destroyed
by committing acts of war

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
blame your failings on the Jews

for a few more thousand years
they are Earth's scapegoats

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
give Israel away

to appease her enemies
dishonor America

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
never mock Hamas

it's just their religion
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