Robert Kaplan on John Mearsheimer (With a Fallows Guest Appearance)

James Fallows has an interesting post about Robert Kaplan's sympathetic Atlantic profile of John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago academic whose interests include advancing  "realist" foreign policy theories; making lists of bad Jews; and endorsing books by neo-Nazis.

Much of the profile concerns Mearsheimer's belief that the U.S. is heading toward confrontation with China. Kaplan endorses the view; Fallows calls it nonsense (politely, of course):

"(Kaplan)  also explains why Mearsheimer believes a strategic/military confrontation between the US and China truly is inevitable -- and why he, Kaplan, mainly shares this view. I mainly disagree with both of them, and the basis of our disagreement touches on another important theme of the article.

In an article of my own in next month's issue, and in my forthcoming book, I argue that China has too many things going on, and going wrong, within its own borders to have the time, energy, skill, or ambition for much of an "expansionist" world effort. From the outside, it looks like an unstoppable juggernaut. From inside, especially from the perspective of those trying to run it, it looks like a rambling wreck that narrowly avoids one disaster after another. The thrust of Mearsheimer's argument is that such internal complications simply don't matter: the sheer increase in China's power will bring disruption with it. I am saying: if you knew more about China, you would be less worried, especially about military confrontations. He is saying: "knowing" about China is a distraction. What matters are the implacable forces.

You can read the whole of Fallows' post here. I don't know enough about China to weigh in on one side or another, but I do trust Fallows on these matters.

On the matter of the main cause of Mearsheimer's international celebrity, the book he co-wrote with Harvard's Stephen Walt, "The Israel Lobby,"  I think Jim's approach is overly benign. Here is what he has to say about Kaplan's treatment of this tendentious, Jew-baiting book:

Kaplan engages the merits of the Mearsheimer-Walt argument more deeply, and in a fairer and calmer frame of mind, than most other treatments of the book. He doesn't agree with all of it, but he comes down thus:

[Mearsheimer and Walt argue that] the reason the Israelis are not more cooperative is that in the final analysis, they don't have to be--which, in turn, is because of the pro-Israel lobby.... I see nothing wrong or illegitimate about this core argument. And no amount of nitpicking by their critics of The Israel Lobby's 100 pages of endnotes can detract from it. I say this as someone who is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and who supported the Iraq War (a position I have come to deeply regret).

To write that Kaplan engages the "merits" of the Mearsheimer-Walt argument is to suggest that it has merit. Kaplan whitewashes the content of the book, and its message; Mearsheimer and Walt advance the Mel Gibson theory of foreign affairs, which is to say, the Jews cause all wars. They blame Jews for bringing anti-Semitism on themselves; they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of lobbying; they hold Israel to an absurd double-standard, and so on. I'm not going to rehearse the litany of their sins at length; for more in-depth (and devastating) critiques of their thesis (not of their "footnotes," as Kaplan would have it), please go here, or here, or here, or here, or here or here, or here , or here, or here, or here, or here or here. Or why not visit them all?

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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