'Fighting Bob' La Follette Still Gets Imperialists Worked Up

On 11 January 2014, Lewis Gould reviewed my book, The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion, in The Wall Street Journal.

One of the chapters in particular, “La Follette Discovers the Middle East,” inspired claims and charges by the reviewer that I answered in a letter published by the newspaper on Wednesday, 29 January. You can find the letter here. [Editor’s note: Drake’s full rebuttal to Gould’s review also follows, below.]

There is much more to be said about the neoconservative fervor and historical inaccuracies in this review. The newspaper’s 300-word limit for letters to the editor, however, limited the range of my rebuttal.

Gould’s comments about the Middle East reflect a cast of mind that sees anti-Semitism, or—in my case—a tolerance of it, in questioning attitudes about the status quo there and the historical process leading to it. It is easy to see why Gould became so upset with my critical interpretation of the Middle East decisions made by the victors after the First World War: the status quo in the region has been such a brilliant success down to our time. What did tyros of that distant and yet completely contemporary era, such as T. E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, know in warning of the disasters for the world certain to ensue from a peace that made perpetual war a certainty?

I can't list all the points of disagreement that I have with Lewis Gould about my book, "The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion.”

To pick one example of Mr. Gould's imprecision, he presents Charles Richard Crane, a key figure in La Follette's career, as a man fit only to be remembered as an anti-Zionist and hater of Jews. Mr. Gould admonishes me for failing to point out these grievous faults in my analysis of the 1919 King-Crane Commission report about the state of Middle East public opinion after World War I.

In fact, Crane's thoughts and actions at the time of the report didn't reflect the prejudices that Mr. Gould makes his defining character flaws. It is true, as I write in the book, that Crane became increasingly critical of Zionists for what he perceived to be their partisan manipulation of American policy in the Middle East and their heartlessness toward Arabs, whose interests he resolutely defended.

Yet Crane's correspondence, right up to the time of the famous report, is filled with references to his Jewish friends and, in particular, to Louis D. Brandeis, whose candidacy for the Supreme Court he ardently promoted in 1916. Ordinarily, anti-Semites don't lobby to make Jews Supreme Court justices.

Mr. Gould dismisses the King-Crane report as if it were nothing more than a monument to anti-Semitism. The report's debatable flaws aside, it remains the best historical source available for understanding Arab concerns about the Middle East in 1919. We live today with the consequences of having ignored the Arabs at that fateful moment.