I enjoyed Becca Solnit’s presentation of her progress for her honors thesis on the “India Lobby” during World War II (the blog for her project can be found here). While she opened and closed her talk with the question of public opinion’s effect on foreign policy, her focus so far seemed to be on the actions and goals of the lobby itself, and less on its influence on policymakers. I was still surprised, however, by how successful the lobby was in gaining support from prominent individuals in US society. Its apparent involvement in leaking a US government document criticizing Britain to the media was also surprising. In fact, all of this is probably most striking in light of the fact that I had never heard that an India lobby even existed during the WWII years, despite having taken three classes during high school and college on US history and foreign policy. Part of this is likely due to the fact that this group was so small – Becca mentioned that the census found fewer than 3,000 Indians living in the US during the early 1940s, and mentioned that of these, even those involved in lobbying efforts by no means formed a unified organization. Given this, the fact that this group might have influenced public opinion – and that this opinion might then have had a sway in policymaking – is unsettling . . . especially in light of the fact that a multitude of other, more prominent (and, arguably, influential) lobbies have existed through US history. If these all hold power to influence policymaking, whose interests, in the end, is theUS representing?
Lobbies of virtually any kind have long been warned against in the US. An article on foreignaffairs.com listing resources on lobbying aptly links to perhaps the oldest indictment of this pattern: James Madison’s Federalist #10. But while Madison was most concerned with this issue in terms of domestic governance, what does it mean for foreign policy? There are in fact many cases in which it can be argued that a foreign lobby caused the US to act against its own national interests. A particularly good example this might be the Israel Lobby, described in the article The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. If foreign lobbies can have as great an impact as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, and if even so tiny a lobby as the India Lobby during the WWII era was able, potentially, to impact US policymaking (and I’m interested to eventually hear Becca’s verdict on this point), it seems to beg the question: to what extent is US foreign policy deliberately conducted in the interests of the American public as a whole?