Not Talking About Mearsheimer & Walt

Finally someone has done the article I wanted to read long ago: What is Harvard’s reaction to the Mearsheimer-Walt paper on the Israel lobby (which was half-produced on the shores of the Charles, where co-author Walt was a dean).

The LA Times sent the redoubtable Eve Fairbanks to report, and she came back with stunning news:

Instead of a roiling debate, most professors not only agreed to disagree but agreed to pretend publicly that there was no disagreement at all. At Harvard and other schools, the Mearsheimer-Walt paper proved simply too hot to handle — and it revealed an academia deeply split yet lamentably afraid to engage itself on one of the hottest political issues of our time. Most professors I reached wouldn’t speak on the record about the flap because they didn’t want their feelings to become known on campus….

Most fishily, one Kennedy School professor who had previously gone public with his opinions clammed up completely, explaining cryptically to me that even chatting off the record about the paper isn’t “the right thing for me to do at this time.” Another senior Kennedy School professor admitted that he was baffled by the dearth of discussion of the paper. “We debate everything else here,” he said.

This is too bad, and underscores what I wrote the other day about the NYTimes coverage of the paper. Here is one of the most important ideas to come along in years, and people are afraid of it still—the very people who should be doing the hard intellectual labor of exploring Walt-Mearsheimer, and saying what is true and not, and taking their ideas further, as I think they should be taken. That is hard and important work, and it’s not happening.

I think the reason is because actually, and in spite of Eliot Cohen and Jerrold Nadler and Alan Dershowitz’s denunciations, a lot of people agree with the paper. They may be afraid to say so outright, but the paper has greatly empowered leftwingers, and critics of Israel. Made them feel that their voices count, that they can play a role in the debate. Obviously that interpretation reflects my point of view, opposed to the lobby, but I’d point to Col. Larry Wilkerson’s comments at the Middle East Institute. The former chief of staff to Colin Powell said that he had assigned the paper at the two schools at which he teaches, George Washington and the College of William and Mary, and he’d gotten “pushback” at both schools for even bringing the paper up. But he had a sly smile as he said it. The downfall of the neocons that we are all observing now—they appear suddenly to have become outsiders in an Administration that must regret the Iraq adventure—is related to this. Yes, I know: radioactive.

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