It is doubtful that there has ever been a democratic society-from Periclean Athens to modern America-that lived untroubled by conflict between the preferences and aspirations of groups within the society and the requirements of the general good. If the problem has been more constant and intense in the United States than in other democracies, it is because of the nature of American society-diverse and heterogeneous, a nation of nations, a melting pot in which the constituent groups never fully melted-and because of the American constitutional system with its separated power and numerous points of access thereto.

Whether ethnic diversity and its attendant foreign attachments have been, on the whole, a good or bad thing for the nation has been debated since the birth of the Republic. An obscure Frenchman who came to live in the new nation in the eighteenth century perceived among the "western pilgrims" who had come to America from all over Europe "one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared." "Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men," he wrote, "whose labors and posterity will one day cause great change in the world."1 But a more famous Frenchman of the nineteenth century wrote in his classic study of American democracy that, although democratic liberties applied to the internal affairs of a nation as diverse as the United States bring "blessings greater than the ills," this was assuredly not the case in the conduct of foreign relations. "Almost all the nations that have exercised a powerful influence on the world's destiny by conceiving, following up and carrying to completion great designs," Tocqueville wrote, "from the Romans down to the English, were controlled by an aristocracy. . . ."2

The case for ethnic political activities-or for the play of "factions," in the terminology of earlier times-is usually made in terms of the evils of suppressing free expression rather than any positive benefits accruing from the influence of the special interests. Lobbying, it is pointed out, is the exercise of the right of petition, sanctified in Anglo-American usage since the time of Magna Carta in 1215, and specifically named as one of the rights for which this nation was founded. In the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 it was asserted that "it is the right of the British subject in these colonies to petition the King or either House of Parliament." The principle was reaffirmed by the First Continental Congress and in the Declaration of Independence-"our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury"-and finally codified in the First Amendment to the Constitution, protecting the right of the people "peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The affirmation of a right, and of the dangers of suppressing it, does not, however, in itself assure that the right will be exercised responsibly and for the general good. Without challenging the right of petition, Presidents and political thinkers since the Founding Fathers have warned against the evils of the politics of factions, especially in the conduct of foreign relations. In The Federalist, Paper Number 10, Madison warned against the dangers of "faction," defined as a combination of citizens "who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Madison argued that redress against those who would practice such "vicious arts" would come from representative government itself, which would "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."

Whereas Madison took hope in the rationality and public-spiritedness of representative majorities, Washington in the Farewell Address stressed the power of artful minorities to do mischief. At a time when rival factions within the new nation were pulling, one toward England, the other toward France, Washington warned against the twin evils of excessive animosity and excessive attachment to particular foreign nations, especially the latter, "facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists. . . ."

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the nation had been transformed from a vulnerable fledgling to a world power and, in the wake of the great immigrations, from a predominantly Anglo-Saxon society to a potpourri of diverse, only partially absorbed ethnic groups and cultures. Under these altered conditions Presidents from Wilson to Carter have confronted the dilemma (as will Reagan too, no doubt, soon enough) of citizens who couple loyalty to America with bonds of affection for one foreign country or another.

President Wilson in 1914 proposed as an "infallible test" for the hyphenated American that, although he might retain "ancient affections," "when he votes or when he acts or when he fights his heart and thought are centered nowhere but in the emotions and the purposes and the policies of the United States."3 President Carter, still fresh from the buffetings of office, and concerned apparently with domestic no less than foreign policy pressure groups, stated the problem bluntly in his farewell address: "We are increasingly drawn to single-issue groups and special interest organizations to ensure that whatever else happens, our own personal views and our own private interests are protected. This is a disturbing factor in American political life."4

Lest these pages be read as criticism of our country's ethnic groups, the distinction must be drawn between ethnicity, which enriches American life and culture, and organized ethnic interest groups, which sometimes press causes that derogate from the national interest. From the earliest migrations of West Europeans to the later arrivals from Eastern Europe and Asia, from emancipated blacks to recently arrived Hispanics, from famine-driven Irish to refugees from Hitler's tyranny, America has been repeatedly strengthened and enriched by the infusion of new talents and energies. The tired and poor, the homeless and tempest-tossed, the "wretched refuse" who pass through the "golden door," became within a generation or two, and sometimes less, the scientists and entrepreneurs, the farmers and the skilled laborers, the artists and writers who have made America the model and envy in so many respects of the whole world. It was hardly rhetorical excess when President Wilson said: "We have brought out of the stocks of all the world all the best impulses and have appropriated them and Americanized them and translated them into the glory and majesty of a great country."5


No less critical than the distinction between ethnicity and ethnic interest groups is that between foreign and American-based ethnic lobbies in the field of foreign policy. Although a good deal of attention and publicity are periodically attracted by the activities of foreign lobbyists or agents, a close examination of their activities shows that those lacking strong indigenous support acquire only limited or transient influence on American foreign policy. Influence-peddling by South Korea under the reported direction of Tongsun Park gave rise to extensive investigations in both the House and the Senate in 1978, which exposed important breaches of law and ethics, but whatever improper influence the "Korea-gate" scandal involved, the South Korean government, for all its exertions, was unable to effect major changes in American policy or to acquire a solid base of influence within the Congress.

To state the matter bluntly: foreign bribes and gifts may suborn individual legislators and win specific favors, but they are no substitute for indigenous interest groups capable of aiding or threatening a member's reelection. Similarly (although the issue involved no known illegalities) the once formidable "China lobby," now a Taiwan lobby, failed to mount an effective campaign against the Carter Administration's decision in late 1978 to transfer American recognition from the Republic of China on Taiwan to the People's Republic of China. The efforts of American conservative groups (who complained of Taiwanese acquiescence in the change) were ineffective, although they might have been highly effective if these groups had won the united support of an aroused Chinese-American community.

Other foreign lobbies whose influence, although well publicized, has in fact been limited and transient, have been those of the white minority states of southern Africa. Although the 1971 Byrd Amendment permitting the import of Rhodesian chrome remained on the books for some years, supporters of Rhodesia and South Africa within the United States have been unable to reverse the long-term direction of American policy toward black majority rule in Zimbabwe and Namibia. The dominant influences upon our African policy, I believe, have been the American tradition of support for the self-determination of peoples, along with a commitment to racial justice that is in large part an expression of respect and responsiveness toward our own black population.

As a general proposition it can be said that foreign lobbies that lack significant domestic support exert only limited influence on American foreign policy-more limited perhaps than is generally recognized. Further, those who command such support but then lose it-like the old China lobby-soon run out of steam. Nor are resources, however ample, a substitute for a domestic base. The Arabs are unequal competitors with an aid-dependent Israel for influence on American policy, not for lack of resources but for lack of an Arab-American community comparable in size, unity or motivation to the Jewish community of the United States. The real powerhouses of foreign influence are homegrown.

None of the ethnic groups that have wielded significant influence on American foreign policy acquired political clout on the day its members disembarked, even when they disembarked in considerable numbers. They had first to make the unpleasant discovery that the streets of the fabled land were not, as reported, paved with gold; and then, in the course of a generation or so, to learn the ropes and make their way, to become acculturated if not assimilated to American attitudes and practices. This most of the new arrivals did rapidly and well, first forming themselves into voting blocs to be cultivated by those in the existing power structures, then joining the power structure themselves. One ethnic group after another became assimilated into the American political mainstream, the difference between the later and the earlier immigrants being that, unlike the West Europeans who came in the earlier period and by and large became submerged in the larger American culture, the South and East Europeans who came later retained and often strengthened their ethnic identity while becoming Americans in all other respects, including political attitudes and practices. As the self-aware ethnics acquired know-how and influence and power as Americans, they found they could not only make their way in the new land but that they could bring influence to bear on their countries of origin as well, and on American policies toward those countries.

So far had the process advanced by the mid-1970s-with Jews and Greeks exercising well-proven clout, blacks bringing increasing influence to bear on American policy toward Africa, and Hispanics (including many illegals) looming as the next prospective major ethnic political force-that by 1975 it could be plausibly argued, as it was by Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, that the immigration process could be considered "the single most important determinant of American foreign policy." Foreign policy, they wrote, "responds to other things as well, but probably first of all to the primal facts of ethnicity."6 A leading journalist, less sanguine about the consequences of ethnic politics, wrote in 1979 of "pluralism gone mad,"7 bringing to mind Ambrose Bierce's definition of politics as "a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles."

One of the ironies of American ethnic politics is that, just as immigrant groups acquire power and influence only in the new land, it was here too that many acquired an affection for and awareness of the old country that they probably had not felt when they lived there. Most, after all, came to the United States because they did not like their lives in the countries where they were born. If life had been idyllic at home, they would, presumably, have stayed there. Most of the later immigrants-the great waves of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-came to America because they were poor or oppressed or both. Many too, when they arrived, were unskilled and lacking in education-the strata of societies least likely to be politically aware and active. As the saying went, dukes did not emigrate.

A number of factors fostered ethnic self-awareness in the new land. One was freedom-the opportunity to practice customs and religions and even speak languages that had been restricted or suppressed in the immigrants' homelands. Another was disappointment-the poverty of crowded urban ghettos, exploitation by employers and politicians, the prejudice of natives and the hostility of rival immigrant groups, the difficulties and dangers of life in the "mean streets." Thus beset, the immigrant ethnics sought security and solace in their special neighborhoods-"little Italics," "little Polands," Jewish "ghettos" and "Chinatowns." In these enclaves national consciousness was awakened and myths about native villages were born, if not as lost Edens then as safe and serene havens compared to the strange, vast, confusing, and in many respects inhospitable surroundings of America.8

Seeking votes and power among the strategically concentrated immigrant groups, politicians and party organizations played to and encouraged the ethnic consciousness of the bewildered newcomers and competed to prove their sympathy for it. Thus began the dubious political tradition, which still flourishes, of political appeals to separatism and parochialism, to the frequent neglect of the common aims and interests of all Americans. To a degree and in many ways that belie the cherished philosophy of the "melting pot," ethnic differences have survived and even intensified despite the radically altered conditions of life for the second and third generations of immigrants. The differences have survived in part-perhaps in large part-because politicians have encouraged them. The style, of course, has changed, as have the issues, since the days when the immigrant vote was solicited and sometimes paid for by big city bosses. The machines are mostly gone now and the ethnic groups have spread out and prospered, providing much of their political leadership. The basic appeal to ethnicity, however, has not changed, and the diversity that enriches our domestic life remains a recurrent cause of difficulties in our foreign relations.

There are two basic problems, the lesser being the imbalance between competing groups so that some exert disproportionate influence at the expense of those who are weaker in numbers, unity and resources. The greater problem is the loss of cohesion in our foreign policy and the derogation from the national interest when, as Washington and Madison feared, factions among us lead the nation toward excessive foreign attachments or animosities. Even if the groups were balanced-if Turkish-Americans equaled Greek-Americans or Arab-Americans equaled Jewish-Americans-the result would not necessarily be a sound, cohesive foreign policy because the national interest is not simply the sum of our special interests and attachments. It is not, to be sure, wholly separate from these, nor can the national interest be antithetical to the strong preferences of large segments of the population, but the overall requirements of the United States-strategic, economic, political and moral-constitute a whole larger than the sum of its parts. Ethnic preferences figure in that whole but cannot be permitted to preempt it.

As long as the United States remained largely isolated from the conflicts of Europe, ethnic pressures had limited foreign policy impact. Even when Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson of Chicago, seeking Irish support, threatened in 1918 "to make the King of England keep his snoot out of America," the external consequences were minimal. After World War I, however, and to a far greater extent after World War II, when the United States acquired world responsibility, ethnic politics took on a new significance. It mattered little in world affairs, for example, when Senators heaped denunciation on the Tsar of Russia for his brutal suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1849. It was a more consequential matter when Congress, under pressure from East European nationality groups, in July 1959 unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the President to proclaim an annual "Captive Nations Week." By that time ethnic foreign policy pressures had become, in Walter Lippmann's phrase, a "morbid experience."9


The oldest and most redoubtable of American ethnic interest groups are the Irish, who are credited with major historical exertions, and no little success prior to World War II, in setting the United States at odds with Great Britain. Irish-American as well as German-American opinion strongly resisted and probably delayed American intervention in both world wars.

Speaking of Britain's Irish policy, President Wilson told an adviser before World War I that, "there never can be a real comradeship between America and England until this issue is definitely settled and out of the way."10 Pressed by Congress and by Irish-American groups to secure Irish home rule at the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson finally lost patience when an Irish-American delegation, for which he had secured permission to visit Ireland, traveled about making incendiary speeches and denouncing British "atrocities." "I don't know how long I shall be able to resist telling them what I think of their miserable mischiefmaking," Wilson complained. "They can see nothing except their own small interest."11

In 1940 President Roosevelt referred privately to "wild Irish" isolationist opposition to his policies.12

In more recent times the status of Northern Ireland has continued to stir ethnic repercussions in the United States, and although no royal "snoots" have been menaced, the issue still generates some tension between the transatlantic allies. Since British troops entered Northern Ireland in 1969 to suppress violence, recurrent incidents and the failure of the British to find a solution for the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ulster have aroused the concern and indignation of Irish-Americans, including such highly placed Irish-Americans as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Governor of New York and the senior Senators from New York and Massachusetts.

Proposals by American officeholders to mediate the Ulster dispute, or to suspend arms sales to the police in Northern Ireland, along with warnings of an end to American patience, have been less than warmly received in London. The British were distinctly unenthusiastic about the joint appeal of the "Four Horsemen," Senators Kennedy and Moynihan, Speaker O'Neill and Governor Carey, in 1979 for a united Ireland, all the more as the appeal also charged the British government with "negligence" and "acquiescence" in the face of "gross violations of human rights." Noting that the four American leaders had repeatedly warned Irish-Americans against financing violence in Ulster by contributing to the illegal Provisional Irish Republican Army, The Economist of London declined to join in charges of meddling, observing that "the four leaders have been consistently intelligent and cautious in their suggestions."13

Considerably less cautious have been the activities of a lobbying group known as the Irish National Caucus, which both the Irish and British governments have accused of aiding the Provisional IRA, and of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs consisting, during the 96th Congress, of over 130 members of Congress. The Ad Hoc Committee has periodically pressed for congressional hearings on Northern Ireland and has also tried to play a peacemaking role, but in fact has had less impact than the size of its membership would suggest, partly because of lack of support from the "Four Horsemen," and also because of the opposition of the Irish government. Speaker O'Neill has steadfastly opposed congressional hearings lest they serve as a propaganda forum for the IRA. The then Irish Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, appealed to members of Congress not to join the Ad Hoc Committee and accused the Irish National Caucus of having been "closely associated with violence in Northern Ireland."

Among the American Irish, as among other ethnic groups, nationalism sometimes runs higher and stronger than in the home country. The Dublin government pursues a careful, conciliatory policy toward Northern Ireland and the British government, and deplores the violence of the Provisional IRA. When the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a major Irish-American organization, went to Ireland for its annual meeting in 1978, it was less than eagerly received by the Irish government and responded in kind. An unnamed Irish official said, "If they want to solve the Northern Ireland problem, let them come over here and let them live here."14

The moderation and statesmanship of the Irish government, strongly reinforced by leading Irish-American political leaders, have effectively curbed extremist impulses within some of the Irish-American organizations. Whatever international complications may have been generated by Irish-American political activities in the past, it cannot be said that the Irish lobby today represents a disruptive influence on American foreign policy or a threat to the national interest. Among other reasons for this salutary state of affairs, the restraint and responsibility of Irish-American political leaders, who could probably exploit the issue to their advantage if they chose, is critical, and also exemplary.


When Congress, on July 17, 1959, unanimously adopted the resolution calling for a "Captive Nations Week," it is doubtful that many members considered themselves to have made a major foreign policy enactment. The resolution was "churned out," according to a syndicated columnist of the day, "along with other casual holiday proclamations, such as National Hot Dog Month."15 To members of Congress the resolution (which President Eisenhower promptly implemented) was a more or less routine response to the wishes of Americans whose countries of origin had fallen under Soviet domination. It had been strongly promoted by such groups as the Assembly of Captive European Nations, which had been formed in 1954 to work for the freedom and independence of the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, and was adopted by Congress verbatim from a draft submitted by Professor Lev Dobriansky of Georgetown University, a zealous advocate of East European causes who became well known in the corridors and committees of Congress. Thereafter, each year, Representatives and Senators have been reminded of the annual observance so they could place appropriate statements in the Congressional Record.

The Soviet government, noting that the "captive nations" listed in the 1959 resolution included not only the officially independent communist states of Eastern Europe but also integral units of the Soviet Union such as the Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and Byelo-russia, took the resolution somewhat more seriously, despite the milder tone of President Eisenhower's proclamation, his tactful exclusion of a list of "captives," and the omission of any promise to take action to secure their liberation. As it happened, during the first annual observance of Captive Nations Week in July 1959, then-Vice President Nixon was on a visit to the Soviet Union, and exchanges of visits between President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev were about to be announced. Premier-or at that time First Secretary-Khrushchev took the occasion to express strong displeasure with what he read as blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union. Nixon felt obliged to explain and, in effect, apologize for Congress' action, telling Khrushchev that "actions of this type cannot, as far as their timing is concerned, be controlled even by the President, because when Congress moves, that is its prerogative. Neither the President nor I would have deliberately chosen to have a resolution of this type passed just before we were to visit the U.S.S.R."16

Congress, of course, had not "moved" in the sense of having taken an autonomous policy initiative based on debate and deliberation. Congress had, in fact, been moved by interest groups whose goal, although desirable, was practically unattainable. The Eisenhower Administration had already been compelled by practical circumstances to abandon early, facile statements about "liberating" Eastern Europe from Soviet domination. The inability of the West to challenge the Soviet Union on its borders without incurring unacceptable risks had been convincingly demonstrated by the events in Poland and especially Hungary in 1956. By implicitly threatening the Soviet Union with action that the Soviet leaders must have felt reasonably certain, though perhaps not absolutely certain, the United States would not take, Congress created an unnecessary element of tension with the other superpower, while at the same time casting doubt on its own right to be taken seriously in the foreign policy arena. By encouraging on the part of the suppressed populations of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other East European countries hopes that almost certainly could not be realized, Congress, for no better purpose than to appease an insistent internal domestic pressure group, acted in a capricious manner that could only lead to bitterness, if it did not actually incite the taking of dangerous risks, on the part of people who had looked to America with confidence and hope.

If achievement of stated goals is the measure of a lobby's success, the East European lobby must be accounted generally unsuccessful. The stated goal of such groups as the Assembly of Captive European Nations-freedom and full independence for the peoples of Eastern Europe-is no closer to attainment in 1981 than it was when ACEN was founded in 1954. The failure to achieve the ultimate objective does not, however, demonstrate either incompetence or ineffectiveness on the part of the East European ethnic lobby. Liberation has not been achieved for the simple, compelling reason that it cannot be achieved without incurring the risk of World War III. East European ethnic groups have been successful at times in achieving limited, discrete objectives, such as the delay in the early 1960s in extending most-favored-nation trade treatment to Yugoslavia, the organizing of import boycotts of East European products such as Polish hams, and cancellation of a sizable manufacturing contract in 1964 between the Firestone Rubber Company and the government of Romania. The three examples cited were not random in their effect; collectively, along with other lobbying initiatives, they effectively obstructed President Johnson's policy of "building bridges" to Eastern Europe.

Over the years, as one or another East European nation acquired a measure of autonomy from the Soviet Union, many Americans of ethnic descent from these countries have come to favor American trade, assistance and support for their countries of origin. Feelings of national affiliation came to outweigh dislike of the former homelands' communist governments as these governments acquired some freedom from Soviet control, and as it came to seem possible that the United States could bolster that freedom. There are no apparent pressures upon Congress now-none at least of which I am aware-to thwart possible American efforts to bolster the current Polish government as long as it is attempting to accommodate the Polish workers' demands for greater freedom without provoking Soviet intervention. In the 1950s and 1960s East European ethnic pressures effectively slowed, if they did not thwart, moves toward more normal relations with the countries of Eastern Europe and toward détente with the Soviet Union. As it has become obvious that the original objective of the "captive nations" movement-liberation from communist rule as well as Soviet domination-was unattainable, an accommodation to reality has been made.

Captive Nations Week is still proclaimed in the third week of July every year, and Senators and Representatives, with varying degrees of conviction, still make the required statements. The majority, however, and apparently too the majority of Americans of East European origin, have accepted what seem to be the logical conclusions drawn from accumulated experience: that the United States cannot now or at any time in the foreseeable future bring freedom and self-determination to Eastern Europe; that efforts to do so will jeopardize the chances of limited improvements being achieved while incurring the risk of dangerous confrontation between the superpowers; that the United States, through judicious political and economic initiatives, can strengthen and thus contribute to bettering the lives of their people; and that what can be done, although short of our preferences, is nevertheless well worth doing.


Since the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine on March 12, 1947, the United States has exercised the primary responsibility, previously held by Great Britain, for the strategic support of Greece and Turkey as barriers to the expansion of Soviet influence in the Mediterranean. Together, the two countries, both members of NATO, tie down perhaps 26 Warsaw Pact divisions, although their effectiveness in NATO has been chronically impaired by their quarrel over Cyprus. Turkey, in addition to maintaining an army of half a million, larger than that of any European member of NATO, has made available to the United States military installations from which critical intelligence is obtained regarding Soviet air and naval activities and missiles and weapons tests. By any tangible measure Turkey makes a substantial contribution to the Western alliance and to the national interest of the United States. When they are both active members of NATO, Greece and Turkey contribute substantially to each other's security because, as a Greek Defense Minister once told me, the value of Greece and Turkey acting together is much greater for the alliance than either or both acting separately. Accordingly, the signing in March 1980 of a five-year defense cooperation agreement between Turkey and the United States, after a period of sorely strained relations owing to the arms embargo imposed on Turkey by Congress following its military intervention in Cyprus in 1974, signaled a significant strategic gain for the Western alliance. The reintegration of Greece in October 1980 into the NATO command structure, from which Greece had withdrawn during the crisis of 1974, further strengthened NATO's southern flank, but it is by no means clear that the damage to relations between the United States and its two partners has been or will be completely repaired.

The historic conflict between Greece and Turkey, which erupted once again in 1974 with the Greek-engineered coup in Cyprus and the Turkish military intervention, quickly spilled over into the internal politics of the United States. Whereas the Turks heavily outweighed the Greeks in their own region, the Greeks, with a powerful ethnic lobby mobilized for their cause, held the upper hand in Washington. Armed with the fact that the Turks, in violation of the Foreign Military Sales Act, had used American arms in their invasion of Cyprus, the Greek-American organizations, spearheaded by the newly formed and largely foreign-supported American Hellenic Institute (AHI), worked assiduously and successfully to bring about the congressional vote for the arms embargo, which went into effect on February 5, 1975.

Greek-Americans were supported in their lobbying efforts by Americans of Armenian descent. The lobbying groups continued their campaign thereafter to prevent repeal of the embargo, bombarding Senators and Representatives with letters, telegrams, phone calls, personal visits, and even, in some cases, gifts of wine and cheese. A Senate vote in May 1975 to repeal the arms ban aroused the lobby to renewed efforts in the House of Representatives. In the week preceding the vote in the House, Greek-American rallies were held on the Capital steps and Representatives were flooded with appeals and messages. On July 24, by a vote of 223 to 206, the House voted to uphold the embargo. One member of the House, on whom heavy constituent pressure had been applied, was quoted as saying, "Maybe I wouldn't have lost my seat over this, but who wants the hassle?"17

Failure to repeal the embargo prompted Turkey on the day following the House vote to close 26 U.S. bases and listening posts on its territory. In the domestic arena, however, 45,000 Americans of Turkish origin, most of them recent arrivals and not yet politically acculturated, were heavily outgunned by organizations claiming the support of three million Greek-Americans. The Turks had one domestic windfall: efforts by the Greek lobby to form, or at least create the appearance of, an alliance with the influential Israeli lobby failed. Israel, on the contrary, fearing the consequences to itself of the loss of U.S. listening posts in Turkey, which had proven valuable to Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, signaled its supporters to that effect, whereupon the leading Jewish organizations lent quiet but effective support to the Ford Administration's continuing efforts to secure repeal or modification of the embargo. Intensive efforts by President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger culminated in congressional approval in October 1975 of a partial lifting of the arms embargo against Turkey.

Further relaxation of the embargo occurred over the next two years, but Congress did not finally repeal it until the summer of 1978. In the meantime relations between the United States and Turkey remained strained, and although the Turks gave no indication of wishing to withdraw from the Western alliance, they showed increasing interest in expanding their economic ties with the Soviet Union. Upon returning from Moscow in June 1978, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit commented that "the embargo certainly affects our thinking in many ways and encourages us to be more imaginative regarding solutions to our economic problems and to our defense problems."18

The Senate and House debates of the summer of 1978 were accompanied by intensive lobbying campaigns. President Carter in a news conference on June 14, 1978, said that lifting the embargo was "the most immediate and urgent foreign policy decision" before Congress. A leading supporter of repeal, Representative Paul Findley of Illinois, was quoted at the time as saying that the President was going to have to do a lot more than "make a few phone calls and have some Congressmen over to the White House for breakfast," because "the opposition is dedicated and strong, and it's been gearing up for this fight for a long time."

Opponents of repeal, including respected and influential leaders in both the Senate and the House, argued that they were prepared to have the embargo lifted as soon as Turkey began seriously negotiating a settlement on Cyprus. The Carter Administration and supporters of repeal in Congress pointed out that the embargo, after three and a half years, had failed to spur a large-scale withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus or bring the Turks to the negotiating table, while having the undesired effects of alienating Turkey from the United States, impairing its armed forces, denying the United States intelligence on missile tests and troop movements in the Soviet Union, and thus seriously weakening the southeastern flank of NATO. In my own Senate speech in support of repeal I stressed that the action was needed to uphold NATO and was in no way anti-Greek; I cited the strategic arguments for repeal made by five former supreme allied commanders of NATO; I recommended that the Senate's decision "be based on a perception of American as well as of Greek or Turkish interests"; and I quoted Plato: "There can be no affinity nearer than our country."19

Although the Senate, overwhelmingly, and the House, by a narrow margin, voted to lift the embargo, the issue did not end in the summer of 1978. The following year, abetted by pro-Greek lobbyists, a protracted argument between the Senate and the House over a small item-whether $50 million in military assistance to Turkey was to be a grant or a loan-demonstrated to Turkey, in the words of a Library of Congress study, that "the arms embargo has not ended psychologically, even if it has legislatively."20

The ethnic Greek lobby, which demonstrated its considerable clout in helping bring about and then defending the Turkish arms embargo, has sometimes been compared with the potent Israeli lobby. There are only about three million Greek-Americans, compared to six million Jewish-Americans, but, like the Jews, the Greeks are concentrated in a relatively few urban states where they represent sizable and important voting blocs. In addition, like the American Jewish community, the Greek community in the United States is generally well organized, internally cohesive and motivated, well represented in business and the professions, and politically active in both political parties. The Greeks too, like the Jews, have had a real grievance: the Turks did violate the conditions of American military aid, and, in violation of both equity and international law, have maintained a tight military grip on nearly half of the island of Cyprus since 1974. The point should not be overlooked: for all the technique involved, and despite frequently exaggerated claims and arguments, neither Greek nor Jewish lobbies would command the support they do in Congress and with the American people if their case did not have substantial merit.

This, however, is about as far as the similarity between the two communities and their respective lobbies goes. By any objective measure of power and influence, the Greeks are "Number Two," and a fairly distant second at that.


"Fear undoubtedly is the greatest single factor accounting for Jews' high level of political activity," Steven D. Isaacs wrote in his book, Jews and American Politics.21 The fear, Isaacs writes, antedates the Nazi Holocaust, going back to the Jew-baiting, discrimination and pogroms of Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from which over two million Jews, mostly penniless but with compelling motivation, sought and found refuge in America. Between 1880 and 1924 an estimated two and a half million Jews, representing one-third of East European Jewry, came to the United States, and like other East European immigrants, they came not as individuals but as a society, united in the experience of oppression, united and isolated too in confrontation with the gentler but still unfriendly gentile society surrounding them in the new land.

"The fear," writes Isaacs, "is pandemic among Jews and, whether that fear is at the surface of those Jews who involved themselves in politics, or buried deep within them, it is there and is the prevailing motive for a great part of their activity."22 Carrying the analysis further to account for the extraordinary phenomenon of Jewish generosity in both charity and politics, Isaacs suggests that Jews are "paying to put in power the kind of men who will neither confiscate Jews' assets, wall them into ghettos, nor annihilate them." Or as New York's distinguished former Senator Jacob K. Javits summarized the Jewish ethic, "Give me a just society and I'll give you everything else."23

Jews have not always been active in American politics. Before World War II many American Jews hesitated to awaken the "sleeping giant" of anti-Semitism, but the growing acceptance and rising self-confidence of Jews during the Roosevelt era encouraged an increasingly active role. What galvanized Jewish political energies, however, were the Nazi Holocaust as its enormity became known, and above all, the birth and subsequent tribulations of an embattled, imperiled State of Israel. Determined that never again would the Jewish people be subjected to such unspeakable horrors as the genocide of World War II, the postwar generation of American Jews, by now familiar with the workings of the system, and with the sympathy and support of non-Jewish Americans, mobilized political, economic and intellectual resources to ensure the survival of the Jewish state.

President Truman, who is revered in Israel for his contributions to the creation of the Jewish state, was by no means committed to the Zionist cause when he became President in 1945. He was impressed by arguments made by the State and Defense Departments and by his military advisers that a pro-Zionist policy would militate against the national interest by alienating the Arabs in a period of mounting cold war with the Soviet Union. Dean Acheson, who served as Under Secretary and later as Secretary of State in the Truman Administration, opposed the creation of a Jewish state. Of those who had urged a pro-Zionist policy on the President, Acheson later wrote, "They had allowed, so I thought, their emotion to obscure the totality of American interests."24 General Marshall, Secretary of State at the time of Israel's independence, urged that decisions on Palestine not be based on domestic politics.

Truman, however, came down repeatedly on the side of political advisers who warned of the risk of alienating Jewish voters. He first officially endorsed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine on October 4, 1946, the day of Yom Kippur, and one month before the congressional election. Over the next year and a half, pressures for further commitments mounted, to the President's considerable annoyance. "As the pressure mounted," Truman wrote in his memoirs, "I found it necessary to give instructions that I did not want to be approached by any more spokesmen for the extreme Zionist cause."25 For a time, in early 1948, Truman refused to receive Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was to be Israel's first President, but he relented when his former business partner, Eddie Jacobson of Kansas City, at the request of American Jewish leaders, appealed to the President personally.26 In the spring of 1948 Truman was warned repeatedly of the political risks of delay in recognizing the State of Israel. On May 12, 1948, for example, Jacob Arvey, the Democratic leader in Chicago, wrote Truman, "I fear very much that the Republicans are planning to exploit the present situation to their further advantage. This ought not to be permitted."27 At a White House conference on Palestine on the same day Clark Clifford, then Special Counsel to the President, argued, against the State Department, the electoral advantages of prompt recognition. The State of Israel was proclaimed at 6 p.m., Washington time, on May 14, 1948. At 6:11 p.m. the White House announced the United States' recognition of the new state.

The decision-making as well as the decisions of the Truman Administration leading to the recognition of Israel stand as a paradigm of Middle East policymaking over the three decades following. With the exception of the Eisenhower Administration, which virtually compelled Israel's withdrawal from Sinai after the 1956 war, American Presidents, and to an even greater degree Senators and Representatives, have been subjected to recurrent pressures from what has come to be known as the Israel lobby. For the most part they have been responsive, and for reasons not always related either to personal conviction or careful reflection on the national interest. When, for example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) mounted its 1975 campaign to negate the effect of a Ford-Kissinger "reassessment" of policy toward Israel, initiated following the breakdown of Sinai disengagement talks in March, it chose as its medium a letter from Senators strongly endorsing aid to Israel. Seventy-six of us promptly affixed our signatures although no hearings had been held, no debate conducted, nor had the Administration been invited to present its views. One Senator was reported to have candidly expressed a feeling that in fact was widespread: "The pressure was just too great. I caved." Another was reported to have commented, "It's easier to sign one letter than answer five thousand."28

The "letter of seventy-six" was perhaps the most spectacular, but not necessarily the most important of the operating successes of AIPAC, the group that works most directly for Israeli interests in Congress. More important, in the long run, has been the success of the Jewish organizations in maintaining solid congressional support for a high level of military and economic aid to Israel. This is not to suggest that Congress supports Israel for no better reason than fear of the Israel lobby; on the contrary, I know of few members of either house of Congress who do not believe deeply and strongly that support of Israel is both a moral duty and a national interest of the United States. It is rather to suggest that, as a result of the activities of the lobby, congressional conviction has been measurably reinforced by the knowledge that political sanctions will be applied to any who fail to deliver. When an issue of importance to Israel comes before Congress, AIPAC promptly and unfailingly provides all members with data and documentation, supplemented, as circumstances dictate, with telephone calls and personal visits. Beyond that, signs of hesitation or opposition on the part of a Senator or a Representative can usually be relied on to call forth large numbers of letters and telegrams, or visits and phone calls from influential constituents.

To a lesser degree lobbying has been generated as well in recent years from the relatively small Arab-American community. Before World War II only about a quarter of a million Arabs had come to the United States as immigrants, most of them Christians from Lebanon and Syria. A sizable number of Palestinian refugees and other Arabs-including professionals, technicians and students-found their way to the United States in the years after the 1948 war, and there are now two million Americans of Arab origin. Neither the old nor the new immigrants formed a cohesive ethnic political force until after the 1967 War, which awakened Arab-Americans to a sense of their origins and of their bonds with the Arab world. The National Association of Arab-Americans (NAAA) was founded in 1972 by prominent professional people of Arab descent "to protest and to register their disagreements with American policies of unquestioning support to Israel and total disregard for the security of Arab states in the Middle East."

Both lobbies, with heavy backing from their respective foreign counterparts, participated vigorously in the debate in the spring of 1978 over a Middle East arms sale package including the sale of 60 F-15 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia. While the Saudis relied primarily on professional lobbyists, including a public relations firm with whom they contracted for the express purpose of securing the F-15s, the Israelis relied on their own representatives and officials as well as on AIPAC and other American Jewish organizations to try to thwart the Saudi transaction. AIPAC, for example, in the candidly expressed hope of influencing votes on the arms sale, distributed to every member of Congress complimentary copies of the novel Holocaust, based on the widely viewed television series. On April 27, 1978, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Watergate Hotel to argue against the arms package. In hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Morris J. Amitay of AIPAC warned of a "cycle of blackmail" if Saudi Arabia were permitted to buy warplanes as a "reward" for restraint on oil prices; John P. Richardson, speaking for NAAA, disavowed submission to oil or any other kind of blackmail but urged the Committee to "face up to the fact that interests include continuing access to the one community that makes this whole thing go."29

The Senate debate of May 15, 1978, on the Saudi arms sales was a fundamental one, ranging beyond military technicalities to embrace basic questions of the national interest and where it lay. In my own statement in support of the arms sale I noted that the planes had become symbols of the "American connection" on both sides, affirmed that the American commitment to Israel was "unique and unalterable," emphasized the importance of Middle East oil for ourselves and for our allies, and stated my belief that the range of American interests in the Middle East pointed to a relationship with Israel that was unique but not exclusive.30

I also made a point that seems even clearer today. I said:

The Soviet noose around the Middle East is tightening. This is no time for us to make mistakes. In this area the interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel coincide. Both are anti-Soviet. Both actively promote our interests, as well as their own, by combating radicalism in the region. Both are good friends to the United States. And both need our support.31

The Senate approved the arms package by a vote of 54 to 44. Although it was interpreted at the time as a defeat for the Israel lobby, a more sober and objective interpretation is that the Senate withstood strong countervailing pressures to recognize the variety of American interests in the Middle East and the necessity of a policy aimed at reconciling these interests as distinguished from choosing one and sacrificing others. Something of the emotional, judgmental atmosphere surrounding the arms sale issue was evident in a letter to a Jewish newspaper in New York in which the writer, noting correctly that Senator Mathias had supported the arms package and cited oil as a necessary factor in the Senate's decision, commented: "Mr. Mathias values the importance of oil over the well-being of Jews and the State of Israel. The Jewish people cannot be fooled by such a person, no matter what he said because his act proved who he was."

One of the notable successes of lobbying by Jewish-Americans, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974, appears in retrospect to have been a Pyrrhic victory. A major effort by AIPAC, working in collaboration with Senate aides, had quickly secured over three-quarters of the Senate as sponsors of the amendment. The linkage of nondiscriminatory trade with freedom of emigration so angered the Soviets that, upon adoption of the trade act as amended, they canceled the 1972 Soviet-American trade agreement and stopped payment on World War II lend-lease debts. Jewish emigration, which had reached a peak of 35,000 in 1973, was reduced to 21,000 in 1974, the year Jackson-Vanik was adopted, 13,000 in 1975, 14,000 in 1976 and 17,000 in 1977. With a SALT II arms limitation agreement and expanded trade seemingly in prospect, Jewish emigration rose to 29,000 in 1978 and a record 51,000 in 1979, but then, with the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent American grain embargo, fell to 21,000 in 1980.

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment not only failed of its own purpose but proved highly consequential as well for overall Soviet-American relations. The amendment put a lasting strain on the détente of the early 1970s, although it is unlikely that the congressional majorities who supported Jackson-Vanik had much thought for anything except an affirmation of the human rights of Russian Jews. The larger political consequence, whether in retrospect one welcomes or deplores it, was not intended at the time. In a meeting with Jewish leaders on June 15, 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, "No country could allow its domestic regulations to be dictated as we were pushing the Soviets to do. . . . I think it was a serious mistake that the Jewish community got hung up on it."32 Hyman Bookbinder, a respected and thoughtful leader of the American Jewish Committee, was quoted in 1975: "Logic told us we might lose the gamble, and it seems like we lost it. What we hoped we would get out of the Jackson Amendment did not come to pass."33 A product of ethnic politics, the Jackson Amendment remains on the books, a failure on its own terms, an inadvertency in its larger consequences.


The "secret weapon" of ethnic interest groups is neither money nor technique, which are available to other interest groups as well, but the ability to galvanize for specific political objectives the strong emotional bonds of large numbers of Americans to their cultural or ancestral homes. As stated by a congressional aide with strong sympathies for Israel: "We don't do it for money the way some paid lobbyists do. We do it out of a very, very passionate commitment."34

The effects of these emotional bonds on American foreign policy are in some respects salutary. Ethnic groups awaken their fellow citizens to interests and injustices that might otherwise be overlooked or sacrificed to more tangible interests. But for the activities of Greek-Americans we might have overlooked, for larger strategic reasons, the injustices suffered by the Greek population of Cyprus. It is a plausible proposition too that, if it were not for the fact that over 20 million Americans are black, we would have been less active in efforts to secure racial justice in southern Africa. In the case of the Middle East there seems little doubt that, but for the efforts of American Jews, our military and economic aid to Israel would be less than it is, although I remain convinced that, even if there were no Israel lobby, the American people would remain solidly committed to Israel's survival.

Granting these benefits, ethnic politics, carried as they often have been to excess, have proven harmful to the national interest. Bearing out George Washington's warning, they have generated both unnecessary animosities and illusions of common interest where little or none exists. There are also baneful domestic effects: fueled as they are by passion and strong feelings about justice and rectitude, debates relating to the interplay of the national interest with the specific policies favored by organized ethnic groups generate fractious controversy and bitter recrimination. Public debate becomes charged with accusations of "betrayal" and "sellout," which is to say, of moral turpitude, when in truth the issues that divide us are, with few exceptions, questions of judgment and opinion about what is best for the nation. Ethnic advocacy represents neither a lack of patriotism nor a desire to place foreign interests ahead of American interests; more often it represents a sincere belief that the two coincide. Similarly, resistance to the pressures of a particular group in itself signals neither a sellout nor even a lack of sympathy with a foreign country or cause, but rather a sincere conviction about the national interest of the United States. There is a clear and pressing need for the reintroduction of civility into our public discussions of these matters.

Both the President and the Congress can help to reduce the fractiousness and strengthen our sense of common American purpose. The President, with his national constituency, is in a unique and powerful position not only to resist parochial pressures but to lead and educate the American people in matters of their common bonds and shared purposes. The Congress, although more vulnerable to group pressures, is not without resources to respond to them. Although Senators and Representatives do not usually have a national forum, they have ready access to their own constituents and there is nothing in the book of rules that prevents them from being leaders as well as followers of public opinion.

Sam Rayburn, longtime Speaker of the House, used to say that a legislator's first duty is to get reelected. It is a compelling but insufficient formula. An elected representative has other duties as well-to formulate and explain to the best of his or her ability the general interest, and to be prepared to accept the political consequences of having done so. In Edmund Burke's famous formulation: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

As to the interest groups themselves, beyond the occasional tightening or reform of the lobbying and registration laws, it is difficult to conceive of any legally binding restraints upon them that would not be worse than their occasional excesses. As Madison noted, the only available methods for eliminating the "mischiefs of faction" are by destroying liberty, which is a cure far worse than the disease, or by giving everybody the same interests and opinions, which is altogether impracticable.35 The desirable alternative is the encouragement on the part of ethnic groups of an entirely voluntary appreciation of what Irving Howe has called the "limits of ethnicity" and the "grandeur of the American idea." Ethnicity enriches our life and culture, and for that purpose should be valued and preserved; but the problems of the modern world and their solution have broken past the boundaries of ethnic group, race and nation. Howe summarizes: "The province, the ethnic nest, remains the point from which everything begins and without which, probably, it could not begin; but the province, the ethnic nest, is not enough, it must be transcended."36

1 Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crèvecoeur, "What Is an American?," Letter III of Letters from an American Farmer (1782).

2 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part II, Chapter 5.

4 National Television Address, January 14, 1981.

5 Loc. cit. footnote 3.

7 Meg Greenfield, The Washington Post, August 22, 1979.

9 Ibid., p. 19.

11 Seth Tillman, Anglo-American Relations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961, p. 199.

12 Lawrence H. Fuchs, "Minority Groups and Foreign Policy," in American Ethnic Politics, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968, p. 149.

13 The Economist, March 24, 1979, p. 48.

14 The New York Times, July 6, 1978, p. A5.

15 Quoted by Gerson, op. cit. footnote 8, p. 27.

16 Quoted ibid., p. 27.

17 See Russell Warren Howe and Sarah Hays Trott, The Power Peddlers, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977, p. 444.

18 Congressional Research Service, Issue Brief Number IB79089, Turkey and U.S. Interests, p. 13.

19 Congressional Record-Senate, July 25, 1978, p. S11707.

20 Congressional Research Service, loc. cit., p. 12.

21 Steven D. Isaacs, Jews and American Politics, Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1974, p. 15.

22 Ibid., p. 16.

24 Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969, p. 169.

25 Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 2, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, p. 160.

30 Congressional Record-Senate, May 15, 1978, p. S7396.

31 Ibid.

32 Department of State Memorandum of Conversation.

33 Howe and Trott, op. cit. footnote 17, p. 318.

34 William J. Lanouette, "The Many Faces of the Jewish Lobby in America," National Journal, May 13, 1978, p. 755.

35 James Madison, The Federalist, Paper Number 10.


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  • Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. has been a Senator from Maryland since 1969, and served in the House of Representatives for eight years before that.
  • More By Charles McC. Mathias Jr.