Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jewish Fact Check #9: How Stephen Walt ignores the facts

Reading Stephen Walt's blog reminds me of that Simpsons episode where a cartoon version of Ed Begley, Jr. shows off his new environmentally friendly car, which he says is powered by his "own sense of self-satisfaction." Combine that with some kind of martyrdom complex, and you've got his Monday post, "On Grabbing the Third Rail."

The post is Walt's "Ten Tips for Handling a Smear Campaign," which he of course claims he has been subjected to because of his writings on the "Israel lobby. Simplifying his post to one sentence, it would be something like "If people are criticizing you, it must be because you're right -- and not because perhaps you don't know what you're talking about or actually made errors." (You should read the whole thing if you have a chance, but just be prepared to want to throw your computer out the window by the time you get about two-thirds of the way through.)

OK, maybe that's simplifying it a bit, but Walt, of course, ignores the real reason people keep criticizing him -- he continually distorts or just flat out ignores facts that he doesn't like or don't agree with his and Mearsheimer's thesis on the Isarel lobby. The best example of this comes from just last week.

Earlier in the month, Walt wrote a post entitled "I don't mean to say I told you so, but ... ", in which he proudly touted "a new piece of evidence" that had come to light strengthening his an Mearsheimer's case that the Israel lobby played a "key role" in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. It's a quote from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said in testimony to the Iraq war commission in the UK about a meeting he had with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas in 2002: "As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this." Walt then writes: "Notice that Blair is not saying that Israel dreamed up the idea of attacking Iraq or that Bush was bent on war solely to benefit Israel or even to appease the Israel lobby here at home. But Blair is acknowledging that concerns about Israel were part of the equation, and that the Israeli government was being actively consulted in the planning for the war.

The problem with that quote, as JTA's Ron Kampeas and The New Republic's John Judis point out, is that it doesn't prove in any way what Walt contends and has been totally ripped out of context. As Judis writes:

The real problem is that Walt does not seem to have taken the trouble to have read the transcript of Blair’s testimony. If he had, he would have realized that Blair was not talking about how invading Iraq might benefit Israel, but about the conflict then occurring between Israel and the Palestinians. The second intifada had reached a new height with the Passover and Haifa suicide bombings and the beginning of the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Blair was concerned that the Bush administration was not actively pursuing the peace process. Blair wanted the administration to put the Arab-Israeli issue on a par with the threat of Iraq.

Both Judis and Kampeas provide other examples -- from later in the testimony and from the press conference that followed the 2002 Crawford Blair-Bush meeting -- to show that the references to Israel had nothing to do with the Iraq situation but were about the situation in the West Bank at the time.

So I eagerly read Walt's post last week in which he said he was responding to Judis. And it was remarkable -- because, incredibly, he completely ignored the problem Judis and Kampeas identified with Walt's original post. Here's what he writes:

First, I made it clear in my post that Blair's comments were not a "smoking gun" that proved we were right, and I neither suggested nor implied that Blair's testimony demonstrated that Bush went to war at Israel's urging or to accommodate the Israel lobby. I merely noted that Blair had said that concerns about Israel were part of the discussion, and that Israeli officials were consulted as part of the conversation.

He then reproduces the quote from his original post that I mentioned above and states "In short, Judis is attacking me for claims I did not make."

OK, it's true that Walt didn't literally call the Blair remarks a "smoking gun" -- he just called his blog post "I don't mean to say I told you so, but...." and said "yet another piece of evidence surfaced that suggests we were right all along." Sure seems like Walt thought this was pretty important. If the gun wasn't smoking, that kind of trumpeting of this alleged "revelation" certainly leads one to think Walt was at the very least implying the gun was still warm. Walt at least believed the gun was still warm.

Then Walt says, "I neither suggested nor implied that Blair's testimony demonstrated that Bush went to war at Israel's urging or to accommodate the Israel lobby." Fine, he did explicitly deny he was saying that in his original post.

But then he states: "I merely noted that Blair had said that concerns about Israel were part of the discussion, and that Israeli officials were consulted as part of the conversation." But that's exactly what Judis is denying, with convincing evidence on his side. Judis and Kampeas specifically make the case that the discussion Blair was referring to had nothing specifically to do with the Iraq war, but with the completely separate issue of the second Intifada and Israel's operation at the time in the West Bank. And Israeli officials were consulted about this issue, not the Iraq war.

So when Walt claims that Judis is "attacking me for claims I did not make," the irony is that Walt is actually not even acknowledging the most persuasive claim Judis is making that he's wrong. It's the main thrust of Judis' article and Walt acts like it doesn't exist! That's why people get angry at you, Professor Walt -- you just ignore the facts, and it's infuriating.

For more evidence of Walt's dishonesty and willingness to smear his critics, check out this blog post I wrote last month.

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