Mearsheimer picks a winner: Finally, a revealing book jacket blurb

This should have been a good week for John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Few events have better illustrated their well-known assertions about the coordinated power of an Israel lobby in the United States than the effective pressure exerted on President Barack Obama that resulted in his opposition to Palestine's statehood bid in the United Nations.

Unfortunately, as in almost all matters that have to do with the Middle East, all the players -- even academic commentators chattering away at the margins -- end up being undermined by their prejudices, affiliations, old habits and darker impulses.

It happens all the time. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undercut what should have been his most notable hour with comments to supporters that revealed his deep opposition to granting Israel the same rights and recognition he seeks for his own people. Prime Minister Netanyahu scored a diplomatic victory but at a moment that called for magnanimity he offered condescension and then a promise of new settlements.

Meanwhile, on the periphery of this enduring issue, there are those like Mearsheimer and Walt who perhaps with good, sound academic intentions seek to parse the politics of U.S. foreign policy but who regularly undercut their authority with their methods, tenor and alliances. Their book, "The Israel Lobby" is now a landmark, though arguably less one of scholarship than of opportunism. They seized a moment and capitalized on the existence of an audience that they must have known did not share their self-proclaimed objective, unbiased academic interest in the issue. I have written elsewhere about my views on the book and need not go into again here.

Now, during this week when some of the core ideas of their book were at least brought to life by events, they find themselves fending off a new wave of attacks that are linked to the less savory underbelly of their intellectual enterprise. The genesis of the problem has to do with a comment Mearsheimer provided for the cover a jacket of a book called "The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics."

The problem with the blurb was not its contents, but rather with the book and the author Mearsheimer was endorsing. It turns out that author, Gilad Atzmon, is according to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, "a Hitler Apologist and a Holocaust Revisionist." Goldberg makes the assertions based on both the contents of the book that Atzmon wrote and that Mearsheimer alleges he read and on other writings by Atzmon. He has detailed these assertions in a series of his posts which themselves quote from other web commentators who substantiate his position including Walter Russell Mead, Jon Chait, Adam Holland, and a site called Harry's Place.

You can easily go to the links and see for yourself the facts.  It's not a pretty picture. Atzmon has suggested that the Jews were collectively responsible for everything from the death of Jesus to the Holocaust and that today they again need to be saved from themselves by gentiles. He refers to Jews as a "sinister ideological collective." He offers up fictional Jews like Fagin and Shylock as part of an "endless hellish continuum" of Jewish abuse of other members of society. He blames recent financial crises on the Jews. In short, he is nothing more than an old school bigot.

And not only does Mearsheimer endorse his book, link himself to this author and thus give credence to all the critiques of "The Israel Lobby" that suggest that while some of its facts may be right, its authors' biases debase the enterprise and call into question its objectivity or value as anything more than a piece of propaganda. Like most propaganda there's truth in there somewhere-there is after all a pro-Israel lobby-but also like most propaganda it is twisted (other lobbies are downplayed, the influence of this lobby is overplayed, the Jewishness of the lobbying is misrepresented, etc.).  

Mearsheimer was given a chance by Walt on this website to "defend" himself against the "smears" of Goldberg. Walt thus associated himself with Mearsheimer's choice to back Atzmon. He also asserted Goldberg was more inclined to make ad hominem attacks than to address the substance of U.S.-Israel relations. This is of course, absurd as, agree with him or not, no one can deny that Goldberg has written extensively on the subject and, to his credit, comparatively little about the two professors.

Mearsheimer's defense is stunningly lame. He begins with an attack on Goldberg. He then quotes the blurb and edges slightly away from the book by saying he doesn't agree with everything in it. He then repeats his admonition that Jews and non-Jews should read the book ... although I can hardly imagine how many Jews will be moved to buy a book on the recommendation of John Mearsheimer.

That said, he goes on to say that he has taught courses about the Holocaust and is therefore not a Holocaust denier. That said, Goldberg never said he was a Holocaust denier. He said he had endorsed one.  Goldberg's assertion, based on Atzmon's writings, is that Atzmon has sought to both minimize the event and to explain away its origins as something at least in large part provoked by the Jews. What is this if not revisionism and there is no disputing that by blaming the Jews in part for their fate, Atzmon is, in fact, as accused a full-fledged apologist for Hitler.

Mearsheimer suggests Goldberg does not rely on anything in the book to make his assertions. As others have noted this is not true. It is also not really relevant. Mearsheimer seems to think it is ok for him to casually endorse views without understanding who is offering those views. This is clearly a sloppy practice...unless the indifference is caused by something else, we can only speculate as to what. In any event, my guess is that Mearsheimer will not be so casual about scribbling blurbs in the future.

Neither Walt nor Mearsheimer should be blaming Goldberg or any of their other critics. Mearsheimer either showed bad judgment, employed bad practices or knowingly embraced a bad guy. It is no more surprising that his critics are inclined to draw attention to what appears to be the confirmation of their theories about him than it would be for the two professors to tout evidence of their theories about the effectiveness of special interest groups in the United States.

David Rothkopf

Calling Mr. Bond: Putin embraces his inner world-class villain

It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007's next assignment will take him.

Of course, Putin's decision to once again become Russia's president after four years in the less powerful role of prime minister should hardly come as a shock to anyone. That he is likely to swap jobs with current President Dmitry Medvedev only confirms suspicions experts have harbored about Medvedev since he assumed office -- that he was less a genuine political leader and more like one of those inflatable dummies people buy to ride next to them in their cars so they can drive in HOV lanes.

That may be a disappointment given Medvedev's occasional displays of independence that gave rise to the hope that perhaps he might be a counterweight to the oversize influence of Putin in Russian politics. It certainly seemed to be to Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who boldly did what has become an anachronism in Moscow politics and took a dissenting stand by saying he would not serve in the new government, which is slated to take office after "elections" in March. But it seems unlikely that many other notable voices will join those of Mr. Kudrin in protesting Putin's decision to hammer a stake through the hearts of those who still felt democracy had a chance in Russia.

For the United States and the West, the situation presents a problem. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously offered up that reset button in the early days of Barack Obama's administration, she certainly did not expect that when hitting it Putin would reset the relationship back to its Cold War depths. And while we are nowhere near there yet, trashing any remaining illusions of political reform certainly does not improve matters. In fact, given Russia's adventurism with its near neighbors, its regular embrace of international stances in opposition to those of the U.S., and its saber-rattling and strengthening of its military capabilities, it doesn't take someone with the acuity of M to recognize that this is potentially going to be a much more problematic relationship for the United States going forward.

Given Russia's nuclear arsenal, 11 time-zone dimensions, and enormous natural resources (that have resulted in increasing European dependence on Russian energy), it is not a stretch to see Putin solidifying his role as the first really big-league bad guy of the new century, a corrupt, scheming, megalomaniacal, major-power leader to force the demented heads of rogue states and terrorists living in Pakistani suburbs into the background of our geopolitical imaginations. That Putin's eccentricities -- his fondness for going shirtless, ideally while killing large animals with his bare hands -- are so colorful will only serve to make it easier for screenwriters and Tom Clancy to turn him into a full blown on-screen baddy.

In fact, there is only one really major problem that Putin poses for those who see his becoming the Goldfinger of the 21st century as the natural next step for him after coming out of the closet this weekend as Russia's near-dictator. And that is that by far the best actor to play him on-screen is … Daniel Craig.

Then again, there's a twist neither Ian Fleming nor Cubby Broccoli could have imagined. Just the shot of life the old franchise needs. The best Bond ever vs. his greatest adversary, both played by the same guy. Sounds pretty compelling … though it is unlikely to be sufficient to distract us from the really dark doings at the Kremlin and their ominous real life implications.