Walt and Mearsheimer: Kissinger's disciples?
Kissinger is not a hero in Walt and Mearsheimer's narrative. They mention him only in passing in the first published version of their Israel Lobby text, their Kennedy School of Government working paper or the Middle East Policy journal article based on this, and do not mention him in the LRB version. But they do note in the book version when Kissinger went to Moscow in 1973 to discuss Middle East peace with Leonid Brezhnev, and, according to Walt and Mearsheimer, went against Nixon's instructions to defend Israel to the Soviet Union. Given Walt and Mearsheimer's apparent animus towards Kissinger, how can I claim that they are made from his mould?
First, a little about Kissinger's views on Israel. Then, how he is related to Mearsheimer and Walt. Finally, what this might mean.
Kissinger's general approach to geopolitics was, and remains, a sense of how best to pursue America's interests (understood, really, as the interests of American business) in a world of large and small power rivalries. He was a "realist" in the sense that he sought a good understanding of the "real" dynamics of geopolitics, and that he pursued alliances and conflicts on the basis of that "reality-based" analysis rather than on the basis of high principle.
In this vein, Kissinger pursued a policy of unconditional military and diplomatic assistance to the brutal and corrupt Iranian Pahlavi monarchy, based on the premise that it acted as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the region, despite the fact that this undermined America's moral credibility in the region. Saudi Arabia and Israel and to a lesser extent Jordan were the other states in the region which Kissinger drew America closer to. Kissinger even courted Syria in 1976.
This was the "Nixon Doctrine" of 1969, "developed in reaction to the Vietnam quagmire, the US would project its power abroad through regional proxies rather than American troops". In other words, "realist" geopolitical considerations rather than the Israel lobby forged the US-Israel alliance of the 1970s, and this alliance was balanced by other alliances with Arab and Islamic states that were, formally at least, pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist.
Kissinger frequently acted to put the brakes on Israeli hawkishness too. Such Kissinger's effort to stop Israel striking the first blow in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. "Don't preempt", as the text of his message to Golda Meir. He then put enormous pressure on Israel to spare the Egyptian Third Army, hoping to use his intercession to turn Sadat's Eygpt away from the Soviet sphere of influence as a result of this debt, "even threatening to support a UN resolution to force the Israelis to pull back to their October 22 positions if they did not allow non-military supplies to reach the army. In a phone call with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger told the ambassador that the destruction of the Egyptian Third Army "is an option that does not exist." His analysis of the war at the time was not uncritically pro-Israel:
Our position is that... the conditions that produced this war were clearly intolerable to the Arab nations and that in the process of negotiations it will be necessary to make substantial concessions. The problem will be to relate the Arab concern for the sovereignty over the territories to the Israeli concern for secure boundaries. We believe that the process of negotiations between the parties is an essential component of this.Similarly, later in the decade, under Gerald Ford, when "both [Ford] and Kissinger ordered that weapons shipments to Israel be stopped, hoping to force Israel to accede to Ford’s wishes during a set of peace negotiations", to quote Walt and Mearsheimer supporter James Abourezk. In these incidents, it is clear that Nixon's priority was neither Israel's interests nor satisfying the Israel lobby, but America's geopolitical interests, and he was equally willing to support the other side - e.g. Sadat - to pursue that.
In this, despite Kissinger's Jewish ethnic background and Nixon's Judeophobia, Nixon and Kissinger fit together well because their priorities were the same. As David Verbateen writes, "Nixon, like Eisenhower, was indifferent if not antagonistic to Jewish voters and their causes. As Secretary of State Henry Kissinger noted in his memoirs:
The President was convinced that most leaders of the Jewish community had opposed him throughout his political career. The small percentage of Jews who voted for him, he would joke, had to be so crazy that they would probably stick with him even if he turned on Israel. He delighted in telling associates and visitors that the "Jewish lobby" had no effect on him"Walt and Mearsheimer share Kissinger's fundamentally "realist" foreign policy analysis. They also take their cue from Kissinger in claiming that the Israel lobby skews American policy, a claim Kissinger makes to Arab audiences:
Interestingly, in this period, Kissinger helped to propagate in Arab capitals the notion that Jewish campaign donors were behind US assistance to Israel. During a December 17, 1975 meeting with Saadoun Hammadi, then foreign minister of Iraq, he said: “[Our backing for Israel] originated in American domestic politics…. So it was not an American design to get a bastion of imperialism in the area. It was much less complicated. And I would say that until 1973 the Jewish community had enormous influence.”More fundamentally, Walt and Mearsheimer's argument against the Israel lobby is predicated on the idea that support for Israel is against America's national interest. That is, they do not start from a moral problem with Israel's policies in Palestine, but from a sense of America's national interest which ultimately, like Nixon's, only makes sense when understood as the interests of American business.
This is hardly surprising given Mearsheimer is a graduate of West Point who served as a US Air Force officer, and a member of the foreign policy establishment. As far as I can tell, prior to the London Review of Books in 2006 and one 2004 letter in for the New Republic, he has never published in any outlet to the left of the New York Times; typically, he published in The National Interest which, of course, is published by the Nixon Center.
Basically, as they regularly say, Walt and Mearsheimer are foreign policy realists, and as such are members of the same conservative foreign policy mainstream as Kissinger. The fact that this mainstream is sharply contrasted to another form of conservatism, "neo-conservatism", does not make it any closer to the ideals of the liberal left - in fact, quite the opposite. Thus Walt might be telling the left what it wants to hear when he attacks the likes of William Kristol, but they need to close their ears when he uses the same article to postively evaluate Kissinger.
Given this, why is it that Mearsheimer and Walt are so well-circulated on the left? Do the liberal and socialist bloggers and commentators who quote them approvingly know about their positions on issues other than Israel? Do they know, for example, about Mearsheimer's strong support for Germany, Ukraine and India developing a nuclear arsenal? What do they think about his qualified approval for the late Samuel Huntingdon, bete noir of the anti-Bush left: "although [Mearsheimer and Walt] often disagreed with Huntington, [Meirsheimer has said that] 'some of his own writings contain similar warnings about the distorting influence that ethnic groups could have on US foreign policy'." How many of them would agree with Mearsheimer's (in my view correct) regular insistence that the US needs to act in a more hostile way towards China, which he sees as a major threat to US interests?
Further reading: The Israel Lobby and the "National Interest" by John Spritzler - a left-wing anti-Zionist critique of libertarian and conspirationist Israel lobby analyses; Ami Isseroff on Walt and Mearsheimer and Kissinger; Hitchens on Mearsheimer and Walt; Lee Smith on the Saudi Lobby; Muravchik vs Walt; Hitchens on the case against Kissinger; Hitchens on Kissinger declassified; Nick Cohen on Obama and the Falklands.