Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Lot Like the AARP

My old professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, was on Stephen Colbert last night. It's a good interview, and shows off Colbert at his most willfully dense ("What I'm hearing is... Jews control our foreign policy") and supremely sharp ("How does the Israel Lobby turn the U.S. into the largest supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia? How does that help them?")

Most of you are probably aware of some of the buzz around this book, but there are two points that I think help put it (and the Colbert interview) in context. (Note: I've read excerpts of the book when they appeared earlier, but not the entire book itself.)

1) Mearsheimer is totally restrained in this interview, but in a graduate seminar, he acts exactly like Stephen Colbert. Loud, belligerent, funny, smart, willing to go anywhere and say anything as long as he can continue to argue. It's fantastic.

2) Mearsheimer is only a public intellectual north-northwest. When the wind is southerly he's a hard-bitten neorealist theorist and military historian. His point of view is that all states do and should pursue their own security interests, independent of ideology. His take is much more methodologically sophisticated, but it's not at all far off from the old game-theory toting, conventional deterrence cold war crowd.

From this point of view, the argument in The Israel Lobby is totally natural. Israel and its friends want to promote the safety, security, and stability of the state of Israel. But if this leads the United States or other states into conflict with their self-interest, that's a problem, and one that's difficult to resolve within the narrow confines of neorealist theory. So, it requires a different kind of explanation, and some clarifying analysis to show where the conflicts might be. And if it gets a lot of attention and makes people argue with him, so much the better for Mearsheimer.

That's all. I don't doubt Mearsheimer's intentions or goals in the slightest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on things, its hard to tell how Mearsheimer really is because I've only seen him in the context of the "Israel Lobby" debates and he is always being so careful because it is such a touchy subject.