Jennifer Palmieri has a really bad day in the blogosphere

Matt Yglesias got into a little bit of trouble over the weekend by posting an Yglesias-like swipe at the Third Way.  This would be unremakable, were it not for the fact that acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund Jennifer Palmieri comandeered authored a guest-post on Matt's blog and wrote the following
Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.
This action has provoked a fair amount of blog reaction/rebuke -- check out William Beutler, Brad DeLong, Belle Waring, Ann Althouse, James Joyner, Brendan Nyhan, Julian Sanchez, and many more -- as well as follow-up posts from Yglesias himself and CAP's Faiz Shakir.  Yglesias gets the understatement of the day:  "I wish the guest post from Jennifer Palmieri that I put up Sunday evening had been handled differently in a variety of ways since just sticking it on the blog and then going to bed seems to have given people a lot of misleading notions about the site being somehow 'hijacked.'” As near as I can figure it, bloggers are very annoyed at the Center for American Progress, but they're angry for two very different reasons:
  1. What Palmieri did appears to infringe on Yglesias' independence as a blogger.  To quote Nyhan: "There's no way that this sort of reaction won't create a chilling effect on Yglesias. How could he not think twice about criticizing Third Way or other CAP partners in the future?" 
  2. What Palmieri did was politically ham-handed.  It would have been much better if she had taken Yglesias aside and leaned on him in a much more quiet but politically effective manner.  [Where's Karl Rove when you need him?--ed.  Quiet, you.] 
On the first point... meh.  Way too many bloggers are giving Yglesias a pass on this.  He is the one who chose to move from the Atlantic to CAP, and he did so because he wanted to advance a political agenda rather than continue to be an observer on the sidelines.  Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but this is clearly an example of one of the downsides that come with that move.  Regardless of how many follow-up posts he writes on the Third Way, the scar ain't going away anytime soon.  He claims that, "all [Palmieri] was doing was reiterating what’s always been the case — I’m posting un-screened posts on an un-edited blog and covering every issue under the sun."  Similarly, Shakir writes that, "Palmieri’s post was meant to clarify that ThinkProgress blogs don’t speak for the entire institution all the time — as has always been the policy."  Well, since this was so manifestly clear to anyone inside the Beltway who knows what the word "blog" means, then why did Palmieri feel like her little post was even necessary?  Will Palmieri be posting "clarifications" like this every time Yglesias deviates from the official CAP line?  Politico's Ben Smith gets at this point clearly: 
The reason an online jab gets elevated like this is that CAP is no longer just a think tank: It's interwoven with the transition, and expected to be close to the Obama White House. The perception that it was hostile to Third Way could have damaged Third Way's ability to raise money, among other things. It's an early sign of how the new Democratic infrastructure faces a new set of challenges with Democrats controlling the government.
Glenn Reynolds has a point here:  "Sorry, if you can’t stand what bloggers blog, don’t pretend you’re cool enough to hire bloggers."  Or, if you allow "clarifications" on posts that deviate from your parent institutions' views, don't pretend that you're a cool blogger any more.  UPDATE:  I see that Palmieri is being considered for assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.  While Palmieri is getting a little too much blame for an act that Yglesias was complicit in, I have to think that this whole brouhaha is not a point in her favor.  For sheer theater value, however, I would love for this to come up in a confirmation hearing:  "Ms. Palmieri, I'd like to bring up the CAPping incident with Mr. Yglesias...." ANOTHER UPDATE:  Uh-oh... it's spreading.

Daniel W. Drezner

Trying for the full Huntington

As I've said before, I've greatly admired Samuel Huntington's career. Huntington's gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn't always mean he is right -- but it does mean he's usually interesting. I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, "The Israel Lobby" for the London Review of Books: Here's how it starts:

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides.

Instead, the thrust of U.S. policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the Israel Lobby. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. interests and those of the other country  in this case, Israel are essentially identical.

Well, that argument certainly won't rub anyone the wrong way. Interested readers should be sure to check out the longer, footnoted paper which is archived at the Kennedy School of Government. So do Mearsheimer and Walt achieve the full Huntington? No, not really. "The Israel Lobby" is the academic equivalent of waving a big red cape at one's ideological opponents, hoping they'll foam at the mouth and act stark raving mad because the authors cited Chomsky or CommonDreams, or because, "the Fatah office in Washington distributed the article to an extensive mailing list." [Or maybe they're pissed that they didn't crack the 100 Most Dangerous Professors in America!!--ed.] So let's avoid that bait. Reading the essay, I can conclude the following:

1) Mearsheimer and Walt make a decent case of arguing that interest group lobbying is responsible for some aspects of U.S. policy towards the Greater Middle East. Now this asssertion alone is enough to make people very uncomfortable at cocktail parties and other venues. Whenever I bring up ethnic lobbying in my American foreign policy class and mention Israel, everyone in the room tenses up. So kudos to Mearsheimer and Walt for speaking the taboo thought.

2) Shot through these papers are an awful lot of casual assertions that don't hold up to close scrutiny [Which makes it eerily similar to some of your blog posts!!--ed. True that.]. The authors assert that, "If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran." I'm pretty sure that there's more to U.S. opposition to Iran possessing nuclear weapons than the protection of Israel.

From the longer Kennedy paper, Mearsheimer and Walt make a fascinating logical assertion: "[T]he 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. But because Israel is a strategic and moral liability, it takes relentless political pressure to keep U.S. support intact." What's fascinating about this quote are the implicit assumptions contained within it: i) the only interest group in existence is the Lobby, and; ii) in the absence of the Lobby, a well-defined sense of national interest will always guide American foreign policy. It would be very problematic for good realists like Mearsheimer and Walt to allow for other interest groups -- oil companies, for example -- to exist. This would allow for a much greater role for domestic politics than realists ever care to admit.

Finally, they argue that the U.S. invaded Iraq only primarily because Israel and the Lobby -- in the form of neoconservatives -- wanted it. I wrote my take on this argument three years ago:

The notion that such a conspiracy exists rests on the belief that the administration's foreign policy principals -- Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Bush himself -- have somehow been duped by the neoconservatives into acting in a manner contrary to their beliefs. But while critics have never lacked for accusations against these officials, being weak-willed is not among them. In the end, it's far more likely that Bush is exploiting the neoconservatives' ideological arsenal to advance his preferred set of policies than vice versa.

3) There are sins of omission as well as commission. Walt and Mearsheimer assert that Israel has been a "strategic burden." They do a good job of cataloging why that's the case -- but omit important examples of Israel being useful, such as the 1981 Osirik bombing. They also go into depth on the Bush administration's policy towards the Palestinian Authority, but never mention the arms shipment that Arafat lied to Bush about as a causal factor behind Bush's decision to freeze out Arafat.

4) The evidence is pretty thin in some sections. To demonstrate the current political power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, they cite a 1984 election where AIPAC was allegedly curcial. They argue that the Israeli-Palestine problem is at the root of Al Qaeda's beef with the United States -- which is funny, because I was pretty sure it was the presence of U.S. forces near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina. They claim the Lobby is responsible for U.S. policy towards Syria, but that policy amounts to little more than some empty sabre-rattling.

After finishing the article, I began to wonder whether the paper is simple a massive exercise in explaining away a data point that realism can't cover. Most realists opposed the Iraq War, and Mearsheimer and Walt were no exception. They can and should take some normative satisfaction in being proven right by what happened after the invasion. However, I suspect as positive social scientists they are bothered by the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq anyway when realism would have predicted otherwise. When realists are confronted with contradictory data, they tend to fall back on auxiliary hypotheses -- the cult of the offensive, the myth of empire -- that have very little to do with realism. Explaining away Iraq on The Lobby might have a whiff of the Paranoid Style, but it's certainly consistent with the literature.

In the end, I think Mearsheimer and Walt get to the full Huntington -- but alas, it's the Huntington of Who We Are? rather than The Soldier and the State. There's more I could write about, but I'm eager to hear what others think.

UPDATE: OK, I should have said, "I'm eager to hear what others think... after they read the article." Two final thoughts. First, I'm surprised and disappointed that the article has gotten zero coverage from the mainstream media in the United States. I completely agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that this is a topic that needs more open debate. Second, there's one non-event that keeps gnawing at me after reading the piece. If "The Lobby" is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn't there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like? After all, the only strategic resource that Israel's enemies possess is large quantities of oil. If "The Lobby" is so powerful and goal-directed, wouldn't they have an incentive to reduce the strategic value of their advesaries?

ANOTHER UPDATE: See this follow-up post on the Walt/Mearsheimer paper as well.