Monday, December 10, 2012

Self-Interest And The Israeli-Arab Conflict

Last week's post concerned the strategy and decision-making process behind Hasbara.  it argued that the pro-Israel community as an institution ultimately was not meeting its goals of "supporting" Israel, a controversial point sure to raise debate...and raise debate it did.  @EliasAriel responded that "support" is not a monolithic concept, an important point which future iterations of this argument will need to address head-on.  That is, the argument will need to demonstrate the accuracy of what it treats as the "intended outcome." 

On such a polarized issue as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is often difficult to distinguish the objective self-interests of states from the subjective preferences of American policy analysts, or at the least to acknowledge that a debate exists.  Analysts make a mistake by overlooking these debates, and I am grateful to have been nudged in the right direction early on in the process of crafting my own argument.  Even if the goal of highlighting the debate is to take a side in it, acknowledging the difficulty of defining its terms is important to a strong and persuasive argument.

One of the most egregious examples of a failure to acknowledge this difference is The Israel Lobby, a text by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer that argues the American "Israel Lobby" causes the U.S. to support Israel in certain ways that are against its self-interest.  Walt and Mearsheimer's book suffers from many shortcomings, but one of the biggest is the failure to acknowledge the debate around U.S. self interest.  Ask a liberal and a conservative what U.S. self-interest is regarding foreign policy and one is likely to get different answers.  While at the moment both parties are aligned on some foreign policy issues, this has not historically been the case and is not at all guaranteed to persist in the long term.  Walt and Mearsheimer are concerned about U.S. interests, but interests as they subjectively define them.  The outcome is an argument about the "Israel Lobby" which is less than convincing, to say the least.

Analysts must be careful to note their own subjective biases in framing their research.  While such preferences are the sign of a deep investment in the subject matter, they also can lead us astray.  Most importantly, no analyst should consider him or herself above the subjective perceptions which all people bring to their understanding of politics.

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