Janice J. Terry. U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Role of Lobbies and Special Interest Groups.
It is commonly acknowledged that lobbies play a large role in shaping policy and that the pro-Israel lobby enjoys a near-monopoly on U.S. foreign policy formulations. The issue of lobbies per se has been a subject of debate as of late since they enjoy an inordinate degree of eminence in this country. This contrasts sharply with the minimal role that political lobbies play in other Western democracies. Only in this presidential democracy are lobbies able to marshal votes and monetary resources in the game of influencing policy makers. No one, for instance, questions the power of the pro-Israel lobby in this country, which has been described as the most potent influence on foreign policy since the demise of that of the Nationalist Republic of China. The subject of several studies in the past, such as Edward N. Tivnan's The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy (1987), the pro-Israel lobby has an established reputation for being an effective king-maker. It has also been credited with the making and unmaking of several political careers.
American lobbies are, more importantly, significantly superior to voter behavior and opinion polls in their impact on foreign policy decision-making. That is why Janice Terry has chosen to focus on this informal input into foreign policy, which, in the case of the pro-Israel lobby, has been very successful in tilting U.S. policy overwhelmingly towards Israel. Her intent is to investigate how domestic and international inputs shape foreign policy decisions by using the Ford and Carter administrations as two contrasting case studies of the limitations on presidential powers. Terry also examines the context in which American foreign policy is shaped, from the impact of popular culture to the power of certain ethnic special interest groups such as Jewish American organizations. She takes a stab at the contrasting effectiveness of the Greek and Turkish lobbies as well, particularly as they impact U.S. policy towards Cyprus. Underlying all of this is the overriding question: where are the Arab lobbies, and if they do exist, what issues do they normally champion?
The plan of the book is to begin at the top by examining the role of presidential advisors as they facilitate the pro-Israel lobby's access to the presidential office. These are the ones who transmit and translate the significance of Jewish voting numbers and advise on policy matters during election campaigns in such a way as to marginalize Arab-American voting power. But Terry asserts that the media and popular culture also play a role in shaping U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The media, in particular, stand accused of often adopting an uncritical view of presidential and White House policy statements. By defining what is "newsworthy" in this manner, the greatest democratic check on policy matters is effectively neutralized. The media's role in directly or indirectly reinforcing pro-Israel policies illustrates the basic shortcomings of the "fourth estate" in this country. Terry lays the blame on the limited number of American corporate and international groups who own and control the media. This state of elite ownership has practically eliminated any possibility of safeguarding the national interest in most matters pertaining to foreign policy-making. The conservative media, moreover, confine their choice of news and foreign experts to pro-Israel think-tanks. Although there are over 6,000 Middle East academic experts in the U.S., only the partisan few are ever invited to debate major foreign policy issues. This problem is compounded by the paucity of international coverage in the American media which insulate the average American reader against learning about current foreign policy stories.
Under the heading, "Production Aspects: Lobby Techniques and Finances," Terry presents a thoroughly professional assessment of lobbies in the U.S., particularly those which bear on Middle East policies. She describes and analyzes the seminal role played by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in influencing Mid-East policy. From its publications, such as Facts and Myths, and Near East Report, which are regularly fed to influential policy-makers, to its mobilization of the Jewish American voter at election time, to its saturation campaigns targeting legislators via letter, telephone and fax machine, AIPAC stands out among the rest of the lobbies as the most effective special interest groups around. This picture is contrasted with the weakness or sheer absence of Arab lobbies. Pro-Israel views, she observes, are often transmitted to American presidents through direct contact by personal friends or prominent figures. Here she cites Truman's friend Eddie Jacobson and Ford's warm relationship with Max Fisher, a Michigan businessman and effective fund-raiser for the Republican Party. Terry observes that no Arab American personality has ever risen to such a rank in recent American history. Neither has there ever been such Arab-American interest in pushing the Palestinian cause on elected officials. She also describes "political philanthropy" as an old Zionist practice in this country and a relatively recent endeavor for Arabs and Arab-American groups.
Terry devotes a chapter to what currently exists in the way of pro-Arab lobbies and interest groups. She reports wryly that many Arab officials, including Nasser of Egypt, either did not understand what a lobby was or considered lobbying to be an illegal activity. Special attention is paid to the role of ARAMCO as a pro-Saudi lobby and to the occasional practice of hiring professional lobbyists as in Kuwait's contracting of the firm of Hill and Knowlton to disseminate Iraqi abuses during the invasion of Kuwait. The description of the Saudi royal family's efforts to impact U.S. Middle East policy remains contained and balanced. She attributes the White House open access enjoyed by Saudi ambassador Bandar ibn Sultan to his long years in office, and the royal family's influence to its long association with the Bush family. None of these factors, however, succeeded in shaping U.S. policy towards the Palestinians. The author refrains from indulging in the kinds of exaggeration seen in several recent studies on this subject. Witness, for instance, Steven Emerson's The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection (1985) and the more recent Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud (2004). In most of these, the evidence, based on sensational news reporting, does not match the outcomes. Terry also refers to the PLO's belated and weak efforts in this regard, as well as, the Arab League of States' consummate lack of understanding of the dynamics of U.S. policy-making. The League's effectiveness, furthermore, is seriously hobbled by its inter-state rivalries and policy differences.
The author's discussion of the Mid-East policies of two administrations centers around two cases. One revolves around the manipulation of the Ford presidency by Jewish American organizations in favor of penalizing any American compliance with the Arab boycott against Israel, the other describes pressures brought against the Carter presidency's intent to offer a better deal to the Palestinians during the Camp David negotiations.
In summary, this is a well-rounded and factual treatment of a very crucial aspect of U.S. foreign policy making. To claim that it is a timely treatment would simply belabor the point. Indeed, one could make the claim that no understanding of American foreign-policy decision making is possible without understanding the role of lobbies and interest groups. This book goes beyond these bounds by also examining the culture which spawns such anti-Muslim and anti-Arab views and facilitates the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. The success of the pro-Israel lobby can also be the result of the general ignorance of the American public regarding Middle Eastern people and their legitimate aspirations.
The author is very candid about the failures of any Arab lobbying effort and the sheer absence of credible Arab voices in Washington. By juxtaposing the description of the pro-Israel lobby and its effective power with the visible weakness of Arab lobbying efforts and influence, Terry has succeeded in driving home a very important point, namely that the absence of one kind of influence opens room for manipulation by the other.
The book also breaks fresh ground by tracing the role of special interest groups through presidential papers and official documents. Here is a very successful mix of archival and secondary research and an admirable ability to pose the right questions. In the process, not only is the nature of Zionist near-monopoly over foreign policy decision-making demystified, but also the failures of Arab influence are critically analyzed. This is a must reading for students and scholars of U.S. Middle East policy and for the study of special interest groups in general. The study is also an unbiased treatment of the successes and failures of American presidents in managing their country's foreign policy.
Reviewed by Ghada Hashem Talhami
Ghada Hashem Talhami is D. K. Pearsons Professor of Politics at Lake Forest College, Illinois.
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|Author:||Talhami, Ghada Hashem|
|Publication:||Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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