If you wonder what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like, take a glimpse at Tom Cotton, one of the US senators from Arkansas (where I live). Cotton has waged a relentless campaign for war against Iran and has supported every horror produced by the US foreign-policy establishment for the last 20 years. He makes other American hawks look like pacifists. Cotton once said that his only criticism of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial, is that too many beds are empty.
Typical of take-no-prisoners warmongers, Cotton savages critics of the prowar policy that has characterized US foreign policy in the 21st century. No baseless charge is beneath him. He recently attacked the Quincy Institute in the course of remarks about anti-Semitism. (You can see what’s coming.) According to Jewish Insider, Cotton said that anti-Semitism “festers in Washington think tanks like the Quincy Institute, an isolationist blame America first money pit for so-called ‘scholars’ who’ve written that American foreign policy could be fixed if only it were rid of the malign influence of Jewish money.”
This is worse than a series of malicious lies — every word is false. In fact, it’s an attempt to incite hostility toward and even disruption of one of the bright spots on the mostly desolate foreign-policy-analysis landscape.
The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) started last year with money from, among others, the Charles Koch Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Its officers and staff include respected and sober foreign-policy analysts and journalists such as Andrew Bacevich, Trita Parsi, Jim Lobe, and Eli Clifton. Also associated with the institute are the well-credentialed foreign-policy authorities John Mearsheimer, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Stephen Walt, and Lawrence Wilkerson. This is indeed a distinguished team of foreign-policy “realists” who are heroically resisting America’s endless-war-as-first-resort policy.
Named for John Quincy Adams — who as secretary of state famously declared that “America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” — QI “promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.” The QI website goes on to state:
The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.
It then goes on to indict the current foreign-policy establishment:
The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.
Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.
This may not be pure libertarian foreign policy (“U.S. interests” is too slippery a term for my taste), but compared to what passes for foreign-policy thinking these days, it’s pretty damn good.
So why is Tom Cotton so upset? It should be obvious. QI opposes the easy-war policy of the last 20 years. Of course Cotton is upset. Take away war, and he’s got nothing in his toolbox. He certainly doesn’t want to see the public turn antiwar before he’s had a shot at high office, say, secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, or even the presidency.
Cotton’s charges against QI are wrong on every count.
QI is not isolationist as long as it supports trade with the world and diplomacy as the preferred method of resolving conflicts.
It’s not a blame-America-first outfit because the object of its critique is not America or Americans, but the imperial war-loving elite of the American political establishment. Cotton is part of that elite, but that does not entitle him to identify the mass of Americans with his lethal policy preferences.
It’s not a money pit. As you can see, QI boasts an eminent lineup thinkers and writers. So the money is obviously well-spent on badly needed analysis. QI should have been set up long ago. Cotton shows his pettiness by putting the word scholars in sarcasm quotes. He should aspire to such scholarship as Bacevich, Parsi, et al. have produced.
But where Cotton really shows his agenda is his absurd claim that anti-Semitism “festers” in QI (and other think tanks — which ones?).
Cotton here is performing that worn-out trick that, alas, still has some life in it: conflating criticism of Israel and its American lobby with people who are Jewish (and who may well oppose how the Israeli state mistreats the Palestinians). I’m sure he knows better: this is demagogy and not ignorance.
On its face, the proposition that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians and its Arab and Iranian neighbors probably hates Jews as Jews is patently ridiculous. Any clear-thinking person dismisses that claim out of hand.
Undoubtedly Cotton has in mind primarily Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, published in 2008. (It began as an essay in The London Review of Books.) In that work, Walt and Mearsheimer reasonably attribute the lion’s share of influence on US policy in the Middle East to the Israel lobby, “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They add, “[I]t is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state.”
This is hardly controversial stuff, although reasonable people can disagree over whether the lobby was decisive in any given case.
But does anyone doubt that American champions of Israel work overtime and spend a lot of money to advance what they see as Israel’s interests? If so, see this and my book Coming to Palestine. (Many non-Zionist Jews disagree with them about those interests.) Organizations like AIPAC often boast about their influence. That they sincerely believe Israel’s interests coincide with America’s interests is beside the point. (I won’t address that dubious contention here.) That influence, which supports massive annual military aid to Israel, has helped to facilitate the oppression of the Palestinians, wars against Lebanon, and attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has also provoked hostility to America and vengeful terrorism against Americans. (For example, the 9/11 attacks as acknowledged by the government’s commission.) Pro-Israel American political and military officials acknowledge this.
Cotton need not wonder why the lobby has succeeded so often since he himself is using the anti-Semitism canard to inhibit Israel’s critics. No one wants to be condemned as anti-Semite (or as any other kind of bigot), so we can easily imagine prominent people in the past withholding criticism of Israel for fear of being thought anti-Jewish. (It’s Israel and its champions, not Israel’s critics, who insist that Israel is the state of all Jews, no matter where else they may be citizens.) Thankfully, despite the efforts of Cotton, Kenneth Marcus, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and others, the invidious conflation has lost much of its force. More than ever, people understand that to oppose the entangling alliance with Israel and to express solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians do not constitute bigotry against Jews.
Can Cotton produce any evidence that anyone at QI believes that pro-Israel Jewish Americans should be barred from lobbying and making political donations or that such an obvious violation of liberty would fix American foreign policy? Of course not. There is no evidence. Moreover, I’m sure the QI realists understand that other interests also propel the prowar US foreign policy, including glory-seeking politicians and generals and the profit-craving military-industrial complex.
Those who reflexively and slanderously tar Israel’s critics as anti-Semites seem not to realize that the worthy effort to eliminate real anti-Semitism is undermined by their efforts to immunize Israel and its American champions from good-faith criticism.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.