Sunday, October 2nd, 2022
The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People
Walter Russell Mead
Mearsheimer and Walt — three words that do not appear once in this 1045-page book but are clearly its raison d’etre. John Mearsheimer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; Stephen Walt is Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School; together they are the respectable face of American anti-Semitism, reputable enough that Walter Russell Mead seems unwilling to criticize them by name, despicable enough that their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy infuriated our southern-born dean of foreign relations to work on this book for a dozen years or so.
The Wikipedia article on the Lobby book illustrates Mead’s Southern Gentleman approach; whereas Israeli historian Benny Morris says “their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity,” Mead applauds the authors for “admirably and courageously” initiating a conversation on a difficult subject, but more in sorrow than in anger laments that while their intentions are surely strictly honorable, they commit “easily avoidable lapses in judgment and expression.”
Making multiple approaches from multiple angles, Mead demolishes their central notion, giving it the withering moniker of Vulcanist thinking. (Actually I take issue a little with this label, because since the book is so long I forgot the elegant historical anecdote that originates it — a theory of astronomy that attempted to explain celestial workings by means of an undetected planet that doesn’t actually exis. Instead I mentally defaulted to popular culture, where Star Trek’s Vulcan is a stand-in for excessive logic — a characterization quite antithetical to his notion of Vulcanist thinking. This is a shame because the term therefore probably won’t catch on, which it could have perhaps as a shorthand for tendentious yet respectable and therefore ultimately even more ridiculous thinking.)
Especially enriching are his fleshing out of the geopolitical maneouverings among the US, Britain and Russia at the time of Israel’s founding. Important here for Mead’s thesis is that the legend of Truman’s Jewish friend from back in Missouri inveighing on the flummoxed President to recognize Israel be relegated to Queen Esther-echoing myth. For it is WRM’s contention in his chapter “Cyrus Agonistes” that American support for Israel is endemic to the United States, rather than due to the influence of the American Jewish lobby qua Walt and Mearsheimer — moreover it’s despite American Jews, whose leaders have for most of Israel’s history been actively working against a Jewish state, their energies only turning once America as a whole pursued full-throated support for Israel after it became the Middle East’s unambiguous Six Day War strong horse.
It’s also a helpful historical insight that WRM groups 19th century American support for Jewish return to Israel with support for the birth of the Italian and Greek nationstates:
In the ancient world, as Americans saw it, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews had been much like Americans of the nineteenth century. They were mostly agrarian people, nations of family-owned farms. They had free institutions and their societies were grounded in virtue. But corruption, urbanization, and monarchy had wreaked their ugly work; in time, all three of the ancient peoples fell from their virtue and freedom into slavery, superstition, and oppression.
As the nineteenth century progressed, and the Greek and Italian independence movements advanced, the possibility of a restored Jewish commonwealth also began to gleam on the horizon.
In fact the discussion of nationalism’s birth pangs from the empires of eastern Europe, the chapter entitled “Maelstrom”, is perhaps the richest part of the book.
As a columnist I have been irritated by what I perceive as WRM’s intellectual mealy-mouthedness. But as a full-throated podcast guest I realize this is merely his print persona, a tic I suppose similar to what he probably views as his Straussian icy politeness regarding Mearsheimer and Walt. That said, I took umbrage when in the book he referred to the Second Intifada, a wave of despicable terror attacks against Israel in the wake of the Oslo Agreements, using the BBC-like passive even-handed term: “violence flared”. I instantly recalled eyewitnessing the shellshock in the hours after the Dolphinarium suicide bombing that killed and maimed dozens of partying teenagers. I was only somewhat mollified later in the book when he mentioned this particular bombing by name, without mentioning that the victims were teenagers.
This is a book about America not Israel, and as well as constituting a scathing retort to Mearsheimer and Walt, is a continuation by other means of his 2001 book Special Providence that classifies the various streams of America’s foreign policy; in portraying America’s relationship with Israel, Arc explicates the fullest expression of the Jacksonian stream, a Meadian classification that, unlike Vulcanism, does seem to be sticking.
Sunday, September 25th, 2022
If “the Jews” ran America, immigration would not have been restricted and Israel would likely not exist.
Walter Russell Mead, The Arc of a Covenant (p. 251)
Tuesday, May 17th, 2022
Hispanics: the new world-historic anchor whilst America’s Whites flounder.
Religious liberty, always. Parental rights, always. Right to life, always. Free markets, always. Compassionate but firm on immigration, always.
Friday, February 11th, 2022
Radical Protestantism leads the pilgrim from the “howling wilderness” and the “enchanted ground” of the Old World and leads him to the Canaan of the spirit. The question is addressed to, and answered by, the individual pilgrim. The Jew is born into the people of Israel; the Christian seeks adoption into the Israel of the Spirit. American Christianity retains the radical individualism of its Protestant forebears, who chose as individuals to become Americans. We have become Americans by adoption, and we have adopted the history of Israel as our national common memory. A profound parallelism is involved. The biblical Election of Israel was not a prize that God awarded to an unlikely nation of shepherds, but rather the outcome of Israel’s free choice to accept the Torah and the responsibility of election. It is our free choice to become Americans that is the cornerstone of our culture.
Wednesday, January 12th, 2022
Nice to see David Goldman finally with a simple plan to save the world. I mean, I’ve been thinking this for years, and Matt Yglasias got a book out of it, One Billion Americans. So here’s Goldman the Wise in one sentence on the USA in “Import Americans”:
Our capacity to integrate human capital is our only natural advantage and it may prove to be our decisive strength.
I’m not sure about only natural advantage — the USA has probably the most natural advantages among all the world’s nation-states, but still.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2021
I’m pleased to see this — Fathom, the organ of BICOM, the British-Israeli thinktank, has a series of articles under the rubric UK-Israel 2021. They are:
- Ambivalent Allies? Zionism, Israel and the Conservative Party from Balfour to Boris by James Vaughan, Lecturer in International History at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University
- Mandate: The Palestine Crucible 1919-1939 by Colin Shindler, Emeritus Professor at SOAS, University of London and founding chairman of the European Association of Israel Studies
- The Flourishing of UK-Israel Academic Networks by John Levy, Director of The Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East
- When Britain almost declared war on Israel by Ronnie Fraser, an independent scholar and Director of the Academic Friends of Israel
- How Israel military tech (and doctrine) will make the UK better at fighting the hybrid warfare of the future by Seth Frantzman, op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post and Research Associate at the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at IDC Herzliya
- The Roots of the ‘Al Aqsa is in Danger’ Myth: Alfred Mond and a Speech Distorted by Yisrael Medad, media column for the Jerusalem Post and foreign press spokesperson for the Yesha Council of Jewish communities
I want bilateral histories.
Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
Nusseibeh’s central thesis (well, secondary thesis, the primary implicit one being that the Palestinian people should all along have appointed both his Dad and then him their oh-so-reluctant leaders) I too have felt almost in my bones: that Israelis and Palestinians are natural allies. Or, more accurately, that there’s a natural affinity which will enable us to be powerful allies if and when we ever get over our admittedly fundamental conflict.
Monday, October 7th, 2019
“Guidelines for Israel’s National Security Strategy” by Gadi Eisenkot and Gabi Siboni [PDF] published October 2019 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Sunday, May 26th, 2019
Goodbye, Judith Kerr, goodbye!
Monday, May 13th, 2019
A manifesto for the remaining sensible: “Tucker’s Right” by Michael Anton.
Monday, March 5th, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, hidalgos and Iagos, may it please you to join Andrew Klavan on this sharp essay through racism and religion via Shakespeare.
Thursday, January 18th, 2018
Next step in the Trump strategy for wrapping up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: US cuts payments to UNRWA by about half.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU during David Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister, speaks to the events leading up to the Brexit referendum. There’s so much detail, and we see where Cameron was succeeding, but nonetheless a failure happened here.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
Ian Buruma on Brussels. I found it a pretty exciting city so when I saw this article I jumped on it (plus I vaguely remember being impressed by something else this fellow wrote) and it’s pretty sweeping and fun.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
Witty, prescient pre-mortem by the mendacious documentarian Michael Moore on 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win.
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
On “the Weimar aspect of our current moment”: I haven’t read Andrew Sullivan for a long time, but he seems to be hitting it here, Democracies end when they are too democratic, in New York magazine.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
Possibly the world’s most important story at the moment? American middle-class impoverishment, or as the author—himself afflicted—calls it, financial impotence.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
Quite the sentence, this, from Walter Russell Mead: “Products of meritocratic selection who hold key positions in the social machine, the bien-pensant custodians of post-historical ideology—editorial writers at the NY Times, staffers in cultural and educational bureaucracies, Eurocratic functionaries, much of the professoriat, the human rights priesthood and so on—are utterly convinced that they see farther and deeper than the less credentialed, less educated, less tolerant and less sophisticated knuckle-dragging also-rans outside the magic circle of post-historical groupthink.”
Sunday, September 13th, 2015
A week in Berlin, where all anyone can talk about is refugees, and the author observes: “All this moral unction reminds me of the reality-challenged 1920s in Europe, which gave rise to the very ugly 1930s.”
Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, talks to Die Zeit about Germany’s own debt relief and the proper way forward now.
Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
In case anyone needed reminding, European immigrants are better educated than native Britons.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
Andrew C. McCarthy in National Review: The challenge is Sharia.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
On the touchy (for me) topic of Anglo accentim (or is that accentiot?) in Hebrew. Huge comments section to a short (follow-up) piece.
Monday, May 23rd, 2011
If current fertility rates continue, Israel will have more 18-24-year-olds than either Iran or Turkey by 2085.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Palestinians in Lebanon gain right to work.
Next up, property rights.
Sunday, May 16th, 2010
Chomsky denied entry into Israel. Personally I hope his ticket was non-refundable.
Monday, April 19th, 2010
The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations
A rich mixture of travelogue, history and policy pamphlet that is ultimately more of the former than the latter, it casts itself as a critique of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but isn’t really. Rather, it’s a diving in. A lively and exciting diving in. I did want it to be longer than it is.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
The Cameron Way: What American conservatives should learn from the British Tory leader, by Joseph Loconte in National Review.
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
Saturday, March 21st, 2009
Condi Rice, for the hour, on Charlie Rose. What a babe at 54. “The United States is too big a country, too important a country, too gracious a country to have permanent enemies.”
Sunday, March 8th, 2009