Stephen Walt on the Lobby, and Occupation

Commenter Miriam Reik points out a significant hole in my reporting from Newport yesterday:

I wish Weiss had reported the answer given to the Lt. Commander’s question about “how the Palestinians can combat the Israelis’ foreign influence in the United States.” Maybe it wasn’t answered, but it is a key question that needs to be engaged if US foreign policy is to return to normal and a healthy relationship with the Arab/Muslim world.

The answer given at the War College by Harvard professor Stephen Walt:

I’ll just say that our article on the Israel lobby emphasized that this is a group or coalition of groups and individuals that operates in the standard interest group traditions of the United States. They organize, they mobilize, they lobby. They do all the things that all interest groups do. So if Palestinians or Arab-Americans want to reduce that influence, they’re going to have to essentially follow the same practices…As we see lots of other groups doing in the United States. Whether it’s corporate groups or other ethnic groups. Last week there was a front page article in the New York Times on the Indian-American diaspora, and how they have started to organize political action groups of various kinds, which are currently lobbying very hard to get the Indian-American nuclear deal through congress. Again, this is the way that American politics works and I think that’s the only domestic political strategy available.

I’m not sure I agree entirely. Some of the process, from my standpoint, involves a showdown in the wake of Iraq within the left-liberal American Democratic community over the hijacking of policymaking. When Democratic congressmen like Tom Lantos of California—with great political effectiveness—justified the invasion of Iraq because the United States failed to take action against Hitler when it had a chance to save millions, and when this argument was essentially echoed by Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, a book that absolutely refused to condemn the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, it is a sign of just how misguided the thinking has been within “liberal” ranks over Middle East policy. And why, lo and behold, we are now occupying Arab land with a very similar experience to Israel’s in its catastrophic occupation.

Speaking of which, here is the erudite Walt again, on the perils of occupation for powerful nations:

I want to underscore the importance of nationalism. One of the limits of power is that people are usually willing to fight with great tenacity to defend what they see as their own homeland, their territory. Even when they are materially outgunned, they turn out to be very very difficult adversaries, as tthe Austro-Hungarians learned, the Russians learned, the Ottomans learned, the British learned, the French learned. And as we are now learning [in Iraq]. The basic soundbite I always use here is that nobody—nobody likes taking orders from a well-armed foreigner in their neighborhood, speaking a different language. It just generates enormous amounts of resentment.