THE BLOG
10/19/2007 12:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Parochialism: Armenia, the Dalai Lama and the Jewish Question

John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, the authors of the ever controversial Israeli Lobby, continue to insist that the U.S. government is in the pocket of the American Jewish lobby. No, they are not anti-Semites. But yes, they are wrong - not because the Israeli lobby isn't powerful, but because Middle Eastern policy is only one among a legion of others that are made on the basis of a stunted American parochialism that filters all foreign policy through a self-indulgent domestic lens.

Two new controversies from today's headlines make this ever so clear: the Israeli-leaning U.S. Congress turns out to be the Armenian-leaning and the Tibet-leaning U.S. Congress, even when these "for domestic consumption only" inclinations reflect a disastrously parochial disdain for realism and jeopardize relations with Turkey and China. One hundred years ago, a predecessor regime to the modern Turkish regime (the Ottoman Empire), committed genocide. The Congress has decided that precisely now - as we depend more than ever on Turkish assistance in the war in Iraq and are trying to dissuade the Turkish government from incursions in Kurdish Iraq - is the perfect time to condemn a regime five generations away from the original events for this horrendous but ancient tragedy.

Likewise, the Congress has decided that this is the ideal moment - as we try to win Chinese cooperation on keeping Iran nuclear free and ask the Chinese government to show more tolerance on human rights - to honor the Dalai Lama with its highest medal, though the exercise is bound to infuriate China. Tibet and Taiwan are China's two great bugaboos, holding out the specter of national disintegration, China's most ancient and profound anxiety.

So, no Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, the United States is not in hoc to Israel, it is in hoc to parochialism. It doesn't make foreign policy according to the Jewish lobby's wishes, it makes foreign policy to indulge a host of domestic concerns and self-celebratory varieties of hide-bound insularity. The United States remains a hegemonic global superpower sporting the narrow outlook of mini-states like Monaco and Lichtenstein.

It is not just Middle Eastern policy that is skewed, it is American relations with China, Turkey, France (remember "freedom fries?") and many other states vital to the pursuit of U.S. interests in an interdependent world.

The bad news is that when it comes to international affairs, America remains trapped in self-righteous and self-defeating provincialism. The good news is that this means the power of the Israeli lobby is merely a subordinate clause in the greater story of endless American parochialism. It is the latter and not the former we need to overcome.