U. S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Role of Lobbies and Special Interest Groups

U. S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Role of Lobbies and Special Interest Groups

by Janice Terry



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745322599
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 07/05/2005
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Janice Terry is Professor of Modern Middle East History at Eastern Michigan University. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on the Middle East and has co-authored two volumes of World History: Since 1500 (Wadsworth, 1998 and 2000), both major textbooks. A frequent visitor to the Middle East, she has lectured widely on current crises and developments in the region. She is also the recipient of several awards for teaching excellence.

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The Libretto: Making Foreign Policy

Operas are the harmonious blend of numerous, seemingly disparate, elements (score, libretto, singers, stage sets, orchestra, conductor, stage directors, publicity, ticket sales, rehearsals). So, too, foreign policy evolves out of a complex interplay among a number of government agencies including the President, Department of State, Pentagon, CIA, Congress, and the National Security Council (NSC). Since World War II, Congressional involvement has generally declined while that of the President, his close advisers and, in particular, the NSC has grown. Created during the Truman administration, the NSC began as a small group of senior experts who served in a purely advisory capacity to the president. Since NSC advisers are appointed to office, they report directly to the president and are not constrained by the political considerations that influence politicians – especially presidents who enter the White House already running for a second term. By the 1970s, the power of the NSC was so great that Zbigniew Brzezinski viewed it as responsible for the "architecture," with the State Department performing the "acrobatics" of foreign policy. From the Vietnam war to the 2003 war on Iraq, presidents and their advisers have tried to avoid public scrutiny or involvement in foreign affairs, often operating secretly through closed-door negotiations. Some have even relegated Secretaries of State to stand-in roles, giving the leads to White House officials such as Henry Kissinger under Ford, Brzezinski under Carter and Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld under George W. Bush.

Although Congress exerts enormous power in the key areas of foreign aid and arms appropriations, presidents and their advisers have come to consider foreign policy as their exclusive purview. They also largely determine who has access to the decision making process. In short, a small elite group, acting from the top down, generally makes foreign policy. This elite group prefers having the stage to themselves, with as small a cast of supporting singers as possible.

As the imperial presidency evolved, notably under Johnson and Nixon, the president came to play a crucial role in the development and conduct of foreign policy. Under some administrations, as with Henry Kissinger during Gerald Ford's presidency, the Secretary of State acts as the main architect of foreign policy. At other times, that role is played by the National Security Adviser as with Brzezinski in the Carter administration, or the Vice President and Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. Although this "multiple advocacy" provides diversity of opinion, it also makes determining who actually formulates foreign policy extremely difficult.

In a president's perfect world, decisions would be based on the nation's best interests within the context of economics and geopolitics. Obviously, it is not a "perfect" world. When making foreign policy, presidents, as products of the political system, must consider domestic demands. In practice, politics and domestic pressures may take precedence over cold, hard "realpolitik."

In the 1970s when President Ford was in the midst of negotiations to bring Egypt and Anwar Sadat into the American orbit, he directly addressed this issue during a meeting with the National Security Council. His remarks spotlight two main aspects of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the importance of domestic lobbies.

I will tell you briefly about my record in Congress where Israel is concerned. It was so close that I have a black reputation with the Arabs. I have always liked and respected the Israeli people. They are intelligent and dedicated to the causes in which they believe. They are dedicated to their religion, their country, their family and their high moral standards. I admire and respect them. And I have never been so disappointed as to see people I respect unable to see that we are trying to do something for their interest as well as for our own. But in the final analysis our commitment is to the United States.

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller: "Hear, hear."

In this scenario, Ford clearly enunciates the foundation of foreign policy – self-interest. But his rhetoric also reveals a curious, but not unusual "Orientalist" tendency to generalize, in the most sweeping and positive terms, about the Israelis, while tacitly, if not explicitly, denigrating Arabs and Muslims. This almost visceral pro-Israeli and anti-Arab position will be explored in greater depth in the following chapters.

Newly elected presidents are most likely to consider policy shifts during their first few months in office. New presidents often announce that they are "reassessing" Middle East policy. During this short time frame, lobbyists have a small "window of opportunity" to push their proposed agendas and to offer suggestions for policy changes. Obviously, the groups with well-established linkages, sympathizers in key administrative posts and liaisons directly with the White House have the advantage.

The element of time is an important component of any lobbying effort. A campaign timed in the months just prior to a presidential election may bolster, or in some cases harm, a lobbying effort. Lobbyists and pressure groups must weigh the time factor carefully, gauging the chances for the success or failure of their agendas. No politician wants to be identified with a failed program. An unsuccessful campaign damages the very cause it seeks to promote. The Clinton health care initiative demonstrated that a failed campaign sets back a cause by months or even years.


To encourage ticket sales and large audiences, opera companies publicize new productions and their star artists through mass mailings, stylish brochures and advertising campaigns. To ensure domestic support for their foreign policy, presidents must also communicate and explain the issues to the American public. This may even involve massive public relations campaigns waged through the media in "fireside chats" and radio and television appearances. To gauge public attitudes on specific policy issues, presidential advisers also pay close attention to public opinion polls. They routinely monitor poll results, noting the variations of opinion among different ethnic groups, particularly Jewish Americans. Based on a 1975 poll of Americans on a wide range of Middle East issues, one assessment emphasized that:

The public and the leaders are leary of an outside imposed solution to the Middle East conflict and would prefer that the conflict be settled by and among the antagonists ... In short, most Americans think it will take close to a miracle ... for peace in the Middle East.

Advisers not only follow and summarize polls, they also make policy recommendations based on their assessments of public opinion. Thus on the basis of the aforementioned poll, one insider bluntly recommended that Ford and the Republican party adopt an openly pro-Israeli stance in the forthcoming 1976 election campaign and concluded that:

From the perspective of the coming elections, it is apparent that a policy which hurts or appears to hurt Israel and appeases Arab demands will carry a stiff political price in the United States, and a price which the Republican party should not be asked to pay. But it would also be a lost opportunity to rally the American public behind a country widely perceived as a reliable, democratic ally at a time when we have so few such allies left around the world.

Recognizing the role polls play in politics, especially in election years, Israel and its supporters also closely monitor poll results on the Middle East. Lobbyists and pressure groups study how polls are taken and use them as one measure of the success or failure of their individual lobby campaigns. If a poll indicates public support for a given policy or nation, lobbyists use the findings as leverage to persuade politicians to vote for or against forthcoming legislation, arms deals or financial aid. They may also argue, based on poll results, that voters will support or oppose a candidate based on his or her record on specific policies involving the Middle East.


Although most Americans believe that it takes hundreds of thousands of people to influence foreign policy, it can be demonstrated that only 5,000-10,000 committed activists can have a substantial impact. Two systemic factors make this astoundingly low number a realistic estimate. Just as a very small percentage of the general public attend operatic productions, only a very small percentage of citizens participate in the political system.

First, anti-Castro Cuban Americans and Jewish Americans supporting Israel are the only two ethnic groups in the entire United States that have historically supported consistent, long term, and proactive lobbying efforts on issues of foreign policy. The hundreds of other ethnic or religious groups tend to react to events or issues on a case by case basis. They do not usually maintain or support ongoing lobby efforts. Thus, as will be discussed in Chapter 5, Greek Americans organized in support of Cyprus only after Turkey had invaded and occupied 40 percent of the island in 1974. Similarly, Arab Americans, especially the Lebanese, rallied in support of Lebanon after Israel had invaded in 1982. In both instances, visible and extensive campaigns led by ethnic leaders dissipated or disappeared altogether soon after the invasions and the end of full-scale hostilities. Consequently, in productions involving the Middle East, the Zionist lobby generally has the stage entirely to itself, as does the Cuban lobby with regard to Cuba. Most other Americans pay little or no attention to matters of foreign policy – unless, of course, American lives are at stake.

Secondly, most American citizens do not vote. Thus a very small proportion of highly motivated and mobilized citizens can, and do, have a disproportionate impact. Only about 70 percent of the U.S. population are eligible to vote so out of every 100 Americans 70 people are eligible to vote. Out of those 70 people only 60 percent, or 42 people, actually register. In a best case scenario only 50 percent, or 21 people, actually vote. A candidate needs only 50 percent, plus one, or eleven votes to win. Thus as Table 1.1 demonstrates, out of every 100 people a politician knows that he/she need appeal only to eleven people.

Participatory democracy is even less evident in presidential elections when the electoral college actually casts the votes to determine the president. As the 2000 campaign and victory of George W. Bush demonstrated, this may result in the defeat of the candidate who actually has the most votes. Since votes in the electoral college are heavily weighted in favor of five to seven largely urban states, the popular democratic system is further diminished. As the 2000 presidential election in Florida showed, bureaucratic machinations in maintaining voter registration records, dropping voters from the lists, or mishandling lists further jeopardize voting rights. There is an enormous need for clearer standards and more transparency in voting methods that are overseen by non-partisan agencies, not beholden to a given political party.

The methods used to select presidential candidates in primary elections are also vulnerable to special interest machinations. In selecting the presidential candidates, states may choose from three methods: the caucus system, an election paid for by the specific political party and held at the time and place of its own choosing; the closed primary, paid for by the government and held in regular polling locales, in which voters declare their party affiliation; or the open primary, paid for by the government, held at regular polling locales, in which voters may vote for either of the main parties. States select whatever system they wish and may change from year to year. Voting provisions and methods may even vary from county to county within the same state. Parties and special interest groups constantly seek to select the approach that they deem most advantageous to themselves. Usually this means limiting voter participation, not by becoming more inclusive. The case of Michigan, a "power house state" presidential candidates need to win, is instructive. In 2004, it was estimated that using the caucus option at most 400,000 people, or an astonishingly low 5.8 percent of the registered Michigan voters, would select the Democratic presidential candidate. In the past, voting numbers have been much lower than even these optimistic estimates. In the 2000 election only about 20,000 Michiganders voted in the Democratic party caucus. Special interest groups and lobbyists are among the chief beneficiaries of this bleak reality. Although the popular image, much touted by "get out the vote campaigns" and platitudes from politicians, is that leaders want more popular participation, the simple truth is that the lives of politicians and special interest groups are much easier so long as the public remains largely apathetic and politically passive. Thus attempts to make it far easier to register and to increase voting with Sunday elections and email voting online (especially popular among the young) have met with, at best, tepid responses from most politicians.

There is little motivation to increase public participation in either domestic or international issues. Why should a politician want to curry favor with 30 or more voters, if, at present, only eleven are necessary to be elected? Just as producers heed the demands of the opera-going public by staging well-known, popular choices and acceding to the demands of big donors or "angels," politicians listen to the individuals or groups who give money to their campaigns or who engage in what is popularly called "political philanthropy." Some have even argued that presidents can only govern by working within the constraints of these interest group politics.


In the 1970s two presidential advisers to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter explained these political realities in remarkably similar and prescient memos. Presidential adviser Robert Goldwin, described by Ford as his "resident intellectual," used public opinion polls to provide guidance for the 1976 election campaign. Goldwin's confidential memo directly addressed the issue of numbers/votes. Looking forward to the forthcoming Presidential election, Goldwin wrote:

Of all the ethnic groups in this country, Jews take the most active interest in elections and vote more assiduously than almost any other population group. They also contribute heavily to campaigns and engage actively in work at both the national and state level ...

Though less than 3 percent of the U.S. population, Jews comprise between 4 and 5 percent of the total vote. In contrast, blacks – 11 percent of the population – only account for 5 percent of the total vote.

Moreover, Jews are concentrated in those populous states whose electoral vote is essential for victory in the Presidential election ...

If this Administration chooses to pressure Israel, it will make U.S. policy towards her an election issue. There would be a reaction not only by the American Jewish community, whose electoral clout has been delineated above, but perhaps most important, there would likely be a negative reaction by the American voting public at large.

... From the perspective of the coming elections, it is apparent that a policy which hurts or appears to hurt Israel and appeases Arab demands will carry a stiff political price in the United States.

Listening to this advice, Ford assiduously avoided making the Arab Israeli conflict a campaign issue. Nevertheless, he lost to the Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who received over 60 percent of the Jewish vote.

During Carter's term in office, Hamilton Jordan, a close, long-time friend and adviser, echoed Goldwin's earlier observations on the political realities of the U.S. system in his own confidential, "Eyes only" memo. Because Jordan feared that his memo, with its "highly sensitive subject matter," would be leaked by other high ranking White House officials, he typed it himself. In this highly revealing memo, Jordan referred to other key foreign policy issues – SALT II, Panama, Cuba, Vietnam, Africa – but focused on the Middle East and the "Role of American Jewish Community," Jordan concisely pinpointed the relevant issues, emphasizing that:

There is a limited public understanding of most foreign policy issues.

[emphasis in original] This is certainly the case with SALT II and the Middle East. This is not altogether bad as it provides us an opportunity to present these issues to the public in an politically advantageous way ...

PUBLIC EDUCATION. Public understanding of most of these issues is very limited. To the extent these issues are understood and/or perceived by the general public, they are viewed in very simplistic terms. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it becomes necessary to explain complex issues to the American people. On the other hand, because these issues are not well understood, a tremendous opportunity exists to educate the public to a certain point of view. In the final analysis, I suspect that we could demonstrate a direct correlation between the trust the American people have for their President and the degree to which they are willing to trust that President's judgement on complex issues of foreign policy.


Excerpted from "U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Janice J. Terry.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The Libretto: Making Foreign Policy
2. The Score: Media and Popular Culture
3. The Stage Set: Images and Attitudes
4. Production Aspects: Lobby Techniques and Finances
5. An Overture: The Case of Cyprus
6. The Cast: Pro-Arab Lobbyists and Interest Groups
7. The Cast: Jewish Americans and Pro-Zionist Lobbies
8. Act One: The Ford Administration
9. A Major Production: The Anti-Arab Boycott Campaign
10. Act Two: The Carter Administration
11. Curtain Calls: The Present and Future
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