THE FORBIDDING RATIONALITY BLUES.

THE FORBIDDING RATIONALITY BLUES. Richard Cohen's column yesterday on Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby is a perfect example of the "kvetch" strategy delineated by Tony Karon (via Ezra) last week. Cohen basically concedes all of Mearsheimer and Walt's main points, but then goes into a plaintive violin solo lamenting the book's "one-sided" and "forbiddingly rational" approach.

"Mearsheimer and Walt are prominent foreign policy realists. Realists bring out the scales for every problem, weighing every element. They are forbiddingly rational -- all mind, no heart. To their credit, they were right about opposing the invasion of Iraq, arguing that Saddam Hussein was no threat to America's national security and that his purported link to al-Qaeda was concocted. And in their fashion they are right, too, about Israel; it is a strategic liability.

[...]

There are factors, though, that move the scale not at all but have an incalculable weight nonetheless. Who and what are we as a nation if we measure everything by self-interest? Who and what are we as a nation if we abandon our friends, blowing empty kisses to them as we cut them loose? Who and what are we as a nation if we don't calculate the incalculable: Values? Principles? For me, the answer is plain. This would be an emotionally arid place. I don't know the national anthem for oil.

In the end, Mearsheimer and Walt disappoint. They had an observation worth making and a position worth debating. But their argument is so dry, so one-sided -- an Israel lobby that leads America around by the nose -- they suggest that not only do they not know Israel, they don't know America, either."

When you don't have an argument, go for the pathos. I don't disagree with Cohen's point that values and principles should have a place in our foreign policy, but, the thing is, neither do Mearsheimer and Walt. The authors clearly recognize, and say so repeatedly in the book, that there are strong moral reasons to support Israel's existence, and that the U.S. should come to Israel's defense if Israel existence were genuinely threatened, which, of course, it is not. It also seems a bit odd to criticize the book for being "one-sided" against Israel when it was written in large part to serve as a corrective to a debate that its authors see as "one-sided" in favor.

--Matthew Duss

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