Policy analysis -- paranoid style

MAX BOOT is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

IN HIS CLASSIC 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the late Richard Hofstadter noted: “One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality that it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed.” As examples, he cited a 96-page pamphlet by Joseph McCarthy that contained “no less than 313 footnote references” and a book by John Birch Society founder Robert Welch that employed “one hundred pages of bibliography and notes” to show that President Eisenhower was a communist.

For a more recent instance of the paranoid style, a modern-day Hofstadter could consult “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy,” a “working paper” by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. With 83 pages of text and 211 footnotes, the Mearsheimer-Walt essay (part of which appeared in the London Review of Books) is as scholarly as those of Welch and McCarthy -- and just as nutty.

Mearsheimer and Walt are out to prove that the “Israel Lobby” has seized control of U.S. foreign policy and thereby “jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world.”


But their very first footnote demonstrates a terminal lack of seriousness: “Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about.” By that standard, Social Security, the 2nd Amendment and Roe vs. Wade must not be “in the American national interest” either, because they are all defended by even more powerful lobbies.

The whole paper is full of such faulty reasoning -- not to mention inaccurate “facts” and numerous quotations taken out of context. (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has posted a long list of mistakes at its website

In Mearsheimer-Walt’s telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper. Many of those cited actually have conflicting views -- “the Lobby” is said to include architects of the Oslo peace process such as Dennis Ross and critics of Oslo such as Richard Perle. One suspects that it’s enough for Mearsheimer-Walt that most of those they name are Jewish, though in fairness, they are careful to note that the fifth column also includes “Christian evangelicals” and “neoconservative gentiles.”

Mearsheimer-Walt can’t see any legitimate reason why all these people (along with most Americans) might support Israel -- support they claim is “in good part” responsible for our “terrorist problem.” In reality, Osama bin Laden was far more inflamed by our support for the Saudi royal family than for Israel. But Mearsheimer-Walt never mention the existence of the Saudi lobby, whose success in influencing American policy is far more mysterious considering that Saudis, unlike Israelis, are leading participants in anti-American terrorism.

It’s true that the U.S. has paid a price for supporting Israel, but it has paid an even bigger price for supporting other embattled allies. The U.S. has sent subsidies but never soldiers to protect Israel -- unless you believe, with Mearsheimer-Walt, Pat Buchanan and David Duke, that the invasion of Iraq was a Zionist plot. We have sent troops to save, among others, Britain, France, South Korea, South Vietnam, Kuwait and Kosovo. Today we risk war in defense of nations from Latvia to Taiwan, even though there is no good reason why their fate should matter to us any more than that of Israel. Perhaps Mearsheimer and Walt will write another paper exposing the tentacles of the Latvian lobby. Or are they only exercised about the power of the Hebrews?

After finishing their magnum opus, I was left with just one question: Why would the omnipotent Israel lobby (which, they claim, works so successfully “to stifle criticism of Israel”) allow such a scurrilous piece of pseudo-scholarship to be published? Then I noticed that Walt occupies a professorship endowed by Robert and Renee Belfer, Jewish philanthropists who are also supporters of Israel. The only explanation, I surmise, is that Walt must himself be an agent of those crafty Israelites, employed to make the anti-Israel case so unconvincingly that he discredits it. “The Lobby” works in mysterious ways.