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January 05, 2012

Kaplan, Mearsheimer and Israeli Concessions

A profile of John Mearsheimer in this month's Atlantic is titled "Why John J. Mearsheimer is Right*." The asterisk in the title offers some qualification: In the space normally reserved for a pull quote, readers are told that the controversial University of Chicago professor might only be right "*about some things."

The article, by Robert D. Kaplan, focuses mainly on Mearsheimer's realist theory of international relations, and how that guides his views on China. But Kaplan also spends some time discussing The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the widely criticized book Measheimer co-wrote with Stephen Walt.

Although the piece is largely complimentary (see its title), it certainly isn't a hagiography (see the asterisk). Kaplan doesn't hesitate to relay criticism, or to introduce some criticism of his own.

Readers are reminded, for example, that a former colleague of Mearsheimer's described his book as "piss-poor monocausal social science," and that other distinguished professors have said worse. They are reminded that The Atlantic rejected the essay on which the book was based because the magazine's editors understood it lacked objectivity. Kaplan, too, questions the book's objectivity, and acknowledges unnamed distortions and inconsistencies by its authors.

Still, he sees "nothing wrong or illegitimate" with the Mearsheimer's argument that the U.S. should squeeze Israel harder, and that the pro-Israel lobby stands in the way of this. Perhaps not.

But it's surprising that Kaplan doesn't appear to have strong opinions on whether it's illegitimate scholarship to "negatively distort[] key episodes in Israel's history," as he admits Mearsheimer does. And he describes the book as "a tightly organized marshalling of fact and argument," though he isn't especially concerned that many of Mearsheimer's "facts" are, in fact, invented. (Kaplan alludes to this, and brushes it aside, when he refers to "nitpicking" about the book's end-notes.)

Most surprising, though, is that while Kaplan's article is generally measured, he seems to have total amnesia about the straightforward history of Israeli offers to withdraw from territory. After writing that "the Palestinians have been willing at times to make major concessions," Kaplan argues that "the cost to Israel of its unwillingness to make territorial concessions will grow rather than diminish."

Unwillingness? At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians most of the territory they demand for a state, and accepted President Clinton's plan that would have given them nearly all that territory. Israeli negotiators expressed willingness to withdraw from even more land at Taba. And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, too, extended a generous offer of land for peace, which the Palestinian leadership openly acknowledges rejecting.

In other words, while the two sides were indeed divided by their respective willingness and unwillingness to make territorial concessions, Kaplan seems confused about which side was which.

Posted by GI at January 5, 2012 03:57 PM


As far as I'm concerned, the concept of the Israel Lobby is hate speech equivalent to the Jews Run America. If that isn't clear, then I don't know what is.

But, then, I'm not a professor. I'm not a journalist. I'm just a Jew, living in America, and dealing with the ramifications of supporting Israel in spite of all the uneducated fools who continuously complain about The Israel Lobby.

Any news is good news for Mearshimer. He should be ostracized not studied.

Posted by: Asher Garber at January 6, 2012 09:32 AM

the walt-mearsheimer "Israel Lobby" book is far from "tightly organized." It is sloppy and does not deserve the name of scholarship. It is an ugly tract. By endorsing mearsheimer in any way, Kaplan reveals his own immorality.

Posted by: Elliott A Green at January 7, 2012 04:50 PM

I casually have ritten the Mearsheimer`s article of 1989 about the USSR.He predicted the great success of its economy.That was two years before the economically driven collapse of the country.Nobody noticed this blunder.
It`s difficult for me to believe in anti-semitic geniuses.

Posted by: Ben at January 12, 2012 12:23 PM

I appreciate Asher's comment but the truth is there are all kinds of lobby's, and the only lobby criticized more harshly than the supposed Jewish "conspiracy" (sic) is the Evangelical lobby. I don't have a problem with a a group expressing itself and trying to influence the outcome of an election, if it is done above board. If a Jewish lobby influenced Truman and the vote on Israel's Independence i don't have a problem with that, it was hardly a secret conspiracy. The bias towards the Jewish lobby is what Asher points out, it is somehow malevolent and subversive just because it's Jewish. I draw the line with power groups that want to change the Constitutional protections that would allow for Sharia law or impose a national religion. It's one thing to demand Constitutional protection to practice ones beliefs another to force them on everyone else. The notion 5 million Jews are running the USA from the ashes of the WTC is where the anti-Jewish anti-American bias lead. The planes weren't flown by agents of the Mossad and the CIA didn't pack explosives in building 4. It seems like folly to have to aver the plain facts but that is usually the best way to confront hate. Thanks Asher for reminding.

Posted by: jeb stuart at January 20, 2012 09:10 PM

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