Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Mitchell Bard, an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written or edited more than twenty books, including 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust; Will Israel Survive?; and The Water's Edge and Beyond: Defining the Limits to Domestic Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy. He has a doctorate from UCLA, with a specialty in American politics and international relations. His new book is The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East.
FP: Mitchell Bard, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Bard: It's always a pleasure to speak to Frontpage.
FP: What inspired you to write this book?
Bard: I've spent more than 20 years researching and writing about the influences on U.S. Middle East policy but it became especially disturbing in recent years to read the work of people with no knowledge of the region asserting that there is all-powerful Israel lobby that controls U.S. policy. The obsessive scrutinization, demonization and mischaracterization of the Israeli lobby has led to a growing acceptance of this canard and helped those seeking to delegitimize Israel. At the same time, few people acknowledge that an Arab lobby exists and seeks to exert its own influence on U.S. policy and that it often works against American values and interests.
FP: How is your book original and what is the main argument?
Bard: This is the first comprehensive examination of the Arab lobby. I argue that the lobby has a legitimate role in the debate, but that most people have no idea a) the lobby exists, b) how it operates or c) the implications for American interests of its efforts. The main argument is that the most powerful part of the Arab lobby, driven by our interest in oil and led by the Saudi government with the assistance of Arabists in the bureaucracy and companies with commercial interests in the region, often persuades decision makers to adopt policies that undermine our values, threaten our interests in the region and directly endanger our citizens and way of life through the support of terrorism and the spread of radical Islamic views through some mosques and schools.
FP: What is the Arab lobby's main goals?
Bard: The Arab lobby has two main components. The first, mentioned above, focuses on oil. The goal is to do whatever is necessary to guarantee that Saudi oil continues to flow and this sometimes means ignoring or subverting other U.S. interests.
The other part of the lobby is the domestic Arab lobby comprised of Arab and Muslim Americans, academics, non-evangelical Christians and Arabists. Their goal is to promote the Palestinian agenda, though, more often than not, they lobby primarily against Israel rather than for any positive pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab agenda.
The Americans in this component of the lobby are interested in ensuring the supply of oil and believe this can best be done by keeping the Saudis happy by trying to weaken U.S. support for Israel, selling the Saudis weapons.
FP: How do Arab states influence American policy?
Bard: Other than the Saudis, the Arab states have very limited influence. Syria doesn't even bother with a lobby and the strongest advocates for Egypt and Jordan tend to be the pro-Israel lobby.
FP: What is Obama’s relationship with the Arab lobby?
Bard: A number of individuals associated with Arab lobby views are either advisers, consultants or friends. The Saudis have had a bipartisan hold over American presidents that continues under Obama as reflected by his recent decision to sell the Saudis a reported $40-60 billion worth of arms. The policy he adopted in his first year in office was essentially taken from the Arabist playbook and was focused on appeasing the Saudis, the belief that Israel is the root of all of America's troubles in the region, and the conviction that playing hardball with the Israelis would improve the U.S. position and hasten peace with the Palestinians. He found out, of course, why this Arabist conception has failed for more than six decades, namely, Israel isn't the problem in the Middle East, the Saudis can't be placated and pressuring Israel only makes Israelis distrust the United States so it is more reluctant to take risks for peace while, simultaneously, hardening the position of the Arabs.
For example, the Palestinians never demanded a settlement freeze as a condition for negotiations until Obama made it an issue so the president undermined his own objective of bringing the parties together. I'm not even saying whether I approve or disapprove of Obama's policy, the point is that it was a failure because it undermined his own stated goals. There are now signs that he is recalibrating his policy after bringing in a non-Arabist, Dennis Ross, to take greater control over U.S. policy.
FP: Tell us about Saudi Arabia’s role in the Arab lobby.
Bard: Essentially, the lobby has succeeded in making a grand bargain with the Saudis. The royal family needs American military support to survive. We want oil. They sell oil in exchange for us keeping the royal heads on their necks. At the same time, the Saudis act like pushers, selling us oil at a price just high enough to keep us addicted and to discourage alternatives. The Saudis use the oil profits to buy arms they don't need and can't use , which the Pentagon is happy to sell to get some of our oil money back and to keep their unit costs down and production lines open. More dangerously the Saudis use the profits to undermine our interests by, for example, sabotaging peace efforts; undermining our values by abusing the human rights of their citizens and Americans and threatening our security by sponsoring terrorism and Islamic extremism.
FP: In terms of how to deal with the Arab lobby, what advice would you give the Obama administration if it sought your advice?
Bard: Here's my suggestions for how to deal with the Arab lobby:
1) We need a determined commitment to energy independence. As long as we depend on Saudi oil, the Arab lobby will continue to insist on supporting the regime that uses our petrodollars to fund terror against us, to perpetuate a society that abuses human rights and that obstructs peace in the Middle East.
2) The President and Congress need to stand up to the Saudis and insist they change policies that are contrary to our interests before they get additional political, military or economic support. American companies doing business in Saudi Arabia should adopt policies similar to the Sullivan Principles used to fight apartheid in South Africa.
3) The United States should insist that Saudi textbooks remove references that promote hatred and jihadism and be sure they are not imported into schools or mosques in the U.S.
4) State Department assignments should be closely scrutinized and diplomats who become afflicted with clientitis should be reassigned or fired.
5) We must distinguish between friends who share our values and interests and countries with whom we have only limited interests.
6) There needs to be greater transparency regarding Arab investments in U.S. commercial and educational enterprises so the American people can see what, if any, efforts are being made to exert influence on American policy.
7) There should also be greater disclosure of foreign funding for universities, think tanks, presidential libraries and other institutions in which former government officials are employed or have interests.
FP: Mitchell Bard, Thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.