Making Lemonade in the Middle East

Smart statecraft is sometimes opportunistic. No government can anticipate every twist and turn in global politics; the question is whether it can seize the moment when one arrives and advance the national interest in new, unexpected circumstances.

So it is with the recent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is an opportunity for the United States to do something it should have done a long time ago -- namely, end its unjustified military aid packages to Egypt and Israel. Robert Wright and Andrew Sullivan have raised this issue in different ways over the past week; here I want to explore the connection between the two aid programs.

In essence, the current level of U.S. aid to Egypt and Israel is a bribe dating back to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Israel demanded a long-term aid commitment in exchange for withdrawing from the Sinai, which it had occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. Egypt got the money as a reward for making peace and realigning with the West. The United States made a bunch of other commitments as part of this deal, and it has been locked in ever since, which is why recent events provide a tempting opportunity to restore U.S. freedom of action.

Let's start with Egypt. U.S. law prohibits the U.S. government from providing aid to any government that has taken power as the result of a military coup. Unless you torture the English language to the breaking point, this is precisely what has just happened in Egypt. So if you believe in the rule of law, the United States ought to be terminating its aid program.

But as Robert Wright tweeted on July 8, it would make a lot more sense to convert the current military aid program into something more useful, such as food aid. The last thing Egypt needs is more high-priced toys for its generals, like F-22s or tanks or even armored personnel carriers. Nobody is threatening to invade Egypt, and most of these weapons aren't all that useful for keeping public order. What Egypt needs is more-effective government, less corruption, economic growth, lower food prices, more reliable water and energy supplies, etc., etc. -- not more sophisticated or well-armed conventional military forces. The coup is an opportunity to end an aid program that outlived its usefulness a long time ago, and the United States ought to seize it.

Now for Israel. At this point there's no valid strategic reason for Israel to receive $3 billion to $4 billion in U.S. aid each year (most of it in various forms of military assistance). Israel isn't a poor country; its per capita income is nearly $30,000 per year, and it ranks in the world's top 30 countries on that indicator. Israel is far and away the dominant military power in the region, and its regional superiority would only increase if the United States stopped subsidizing Egypt's armed forces. Remember that Israel won the 1948, 1956, and 1967 Middle East wars, and each of these took place before the U.S. government was providing it with lots of military assistance. Egypt and Syria launched a stunningly successful surprise attack in October 1973, yet Israel eventually won that war too. And this was back in the bad old days when Israel's Arab adversaries were getting lots of help from the Soviet Union. Israel's various neighbors are much weaker today than they used to be (just look at the condition that Syria and Iraq are now in), and Israel also has the ultimate deterrent in the form of more than a hundred nuclear weapons. And as President Barack Obama learned during his first term, it's not like the United States gets any diplomatic leverage from giving Israel all that money. Bottom line: The case for continued U.S. military assistance is laughably weak.

So instead of military aid that Israel doesn't need and that serves only as an indirect subsidy for the settlements the United States opposes, the United States should offer Israel an equivalent amount of aid, provided it agrees to use the money to begin dismantling settlements in the West Bank and allowing the Palestinians to create a viable state of their own on these lands. That would be consistent with the stated U.S. objective of "two states for two peoples," and this shift in policy might actually get Netanyahu & Co. to pay serious attention to Secretary of State John Kerry the next time he pops in for a visit. (I don't think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take the money and do this, by the way, but that's another issue).

In short, the events in Cairo are a perfect opportunity to wean these two dependencies off the U.S. dole or to convert U.S. assistance into something from which these two societies could actually benefit. This shift would also do wonders for the America's image in the region, which has taken a beating over the years for being too supportive of an expansionist Israel and too supportive of unpopular Arab dictatorships.

But we all know that a sensible response like this is about as likely as snow on the pyramids. The United States' Middle East policy isn't driven by rational calculations of the national interest or by a desire to make the United States stronger, more secure, or more prosperous. It's not even driven by moral considerations, given that the United States still provides generous support to governments that routinely commit serious human rights abuses or deny political rights to millions of people. Instead, it's driven mostly by domestic politics, especially the political power of AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby. And that's why the phrase "sensible U.S. Middle East policy" has become an oxymoron. The results, both for the United States and for the various peoples in the region, speak for themselves.


Stephen M. Walt

The Difference Between Realists and Liberals

We tend to think that scholars embrace particular theoretical orientations simply because they conclude that certain theories fit the empirical evidence better than others do. But if we're honest, we have to admit that almost all social science theories aren't especially powerful and that the available evidence for assessing them is often ambiguous or mixed. If that is the case, other factors are likely to play a role in determining which theories we believe.

In particular, is it possible that theoretical affinities reflect at least in part each individual's basic personality traits or worldview? Consider that the most prominent realist scholars are all intellectual loners, in the sense that the overwhelming majority of their scholarship is sole-authored. I am thinking here of scholars such as E.H. Carr, Hans J. Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, Robert Gilpin, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Krasner (and myself, for that matter). One might add George Kennan or Henry Kissinger to that list, as both are normally thought of as "realists" and virtually all their published work appears with a single byline. Although some of these scholars occasionally wrote with others and were important providers of various collective goods, they generally worked alone. (My joint work with Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby is an exception that does not disprove the rule, as it was not a work of IR theory and working together was essential for withstanding the firestorm of vituperation we knew we would and did receive). In short, realists appear to view the academic enterprise as a "self-help" system, where each scholar toils on his or her own and where scholarly standing is mostly the result of individual achievement. You know: kind of the way realists think about international politics.

By contrast, many of the most prominent liberal scholars have been enthusiastic collaborators. Think of Robert Keohane, who first came to prominence through his joint work with Joseph Nye, but who has subsequently co-authored or co-edited books and articles with a wide array of other scholars. The same is also true of Nye: Although he has written a number of books on his own, he has also collaborated with Keohane and many others over a long, prolific career. Ditto Bruce Russett, Michael Doyle, Martha Finnemore, John Ikenberry, Richard Rosecrance, Thomas Risse, and Kathryn Sikkink. Each has done important solo work, but their CVs are also full of joint publications and collaborative projects.

I can think of a few exceptions to this pattern, but it is striking how few card-carrying realists are prolific collaborators and how few liberal IR scholars are consistent lone wolves.

Let me emphasize that I am not suggesting one way of doing scholarship is superior to the other; rather, my question is whether there is a connection between one's scholarly affinities and one's personality or Weltanschauung. Scholars who emphasize interdependence and institutions in their publications also seem to be more likely to work in interdependent ways, while those who tend to emphasize anarchy, insecurity, and competition approach their own scholarly work in more zero-sum terms, wary of entangling alliances.

I am also not suggesting that personality is the only thing -- or even the main factor -- that shapes someone's theoretical preferences. Our beliefs about how the world works are also shaped by our life experiences, by whom we happened to meet in college or graduate school, by important real-world events, and even by purely instrumental incentives such as the availability of research funding. And yes: Evidence plays an important role; indeed, it can sometimes force us to rethink even our most fundamental theoretical assumptions.

Lastly, I'm not arguing that scholars who work in the liberal tradition are less ambitious, less driven, or less competitive than their realist counterparts. When it comes to professional standing, status, career advancement, etc., everyone seems to be sensitive to relative gains.