The Congress of the United States consists of 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives; in effect, just 535 Americans are blocking efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. Why? Forget the pious guff about Israel being the region’s “only democracy” and a “valued friend and ally” of Washington. In the corrupt and dysfunctional US political system, where legislators are outnumbered by special interests, from the gun lobby to Big Pharma, the Israel lobby – specifically, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) that brags on its website about being “the most important organisation affecting America’s relationship with Israel” – has a financial stranglehold on both main parties. According to William Quandt, a former adviser on the Middle East to the Nixon and Carter administrations, “70 per cent to 80 per cent of all members of Congress will go along with whatever they think Aipac wants”.
To put this in context, Lawrence Freedman’s A Choice of Enemies devotes around 550 pages to American foreign policy in the Middle East. It spans five Presidents, from Carter to Bush jnr.; yet AIPAC is listed in the index just three times, and two of those refer to episodes where they failed to influence American policy as they wished. The book’s Dramatis Personae lists 85 American politicians, officials and their advisers, but not a single lobbyist. (I appreciate that some people seem to believe Freedman is part of the same conspiracy as AIPAC, but I don’t accuse Hasan of that). Freedman’s is far from the only book to shed light on the complex, messy and often contradictory processes and interests that go into American policy making in this region (Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars is another). Pro-Israel lobbyists play a role, but nothing like the dominating role Hasan suggests. It reflects very poorly indeed on the New Statesman, and much of the wider left, that this sort of thinking has replaced the kind of proper political analysis on which the magazine built its reputation.