‘Liberal Dreams & International Realities’

John J. Mearsheimer has a new book containing eight chapters coming out next year with this working title.

Three weeks ago, he gave three lectures at Yale based on material from his new book.

“The United States has pursued liberal hegemony since the Cold War ended. It’s the foreign policy that the American elite loves. It includes both Republicans and Democrats. There’s this myth in the land, mainly purveyed by Republicans, that Republicans and Democrats have very different views on foreign policy. This is poppycock. Donald Trump is an exception. He ran against liberal hegemony.”

As a consequence of the liberal worldview, you come to view non-liberal states as being engaged in a war of aggression with their own people (prominent IR liberal Michael Doyle of Colombia University).

Mearsheimer notes that his fellow realists have been against almost every American armed intervention overseas since 1989. He says that rejection of international liberal hegemony was a factor in Trump’s 2016 victory though a bigger factor was domestic affairs (resentment about losing jobs overseas, trade, etc).

Mearsheimer says that if he was the national security advisor in North Korea or Iran, he would urge his country to get nuclear weapons as soon as possible to prevent the United States from knocking it over.

He says that the U.S. defines a rogue state as anyone who’s not willing to follow American direction.

For understanding how the world works, nationalism is far more important than religion, he says. “A lot of people believe that religion transcends boundaries and matters in very important ways. In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington wrote that religion was of great importance. I don’t think that theory of his explains how the world works hardly at all. I view the world as based on nation states.”

Mearsheimer says NATO expansion caused Russian “aggression” in Georgia in 2008 and in Crimea and the Ukraine since 2014. “If you look at the deployment of Russian forces in the Western districts of Russia, there are hardly any. The Russians do not want an arms race with the West. They understand what got the Soviet Union in trouble was that it spent too much money on defense and not enough on the economy. Russia is a giant gas station. They need to modernize the economy. The Russians, especially Putin, are sophisticated strategies. They understand that the last thing they want to do is to invade a country in Eastern Europe. If you really want to wreck Russia, encourage them to invade countries in Eastern Europe.

“This is the power of nationalism. The two principle blogs against military aggression are nuclear weapons and nationalism.”

“Russia is a declining great power, primarily because of demographic reasons.”

“States care greatly about their own sovereignty but great powers especially violate the sovereignty of others all the time. If you want to pursue a policy of liberal hegemony and invade other countries, you’re going to bump up against nationalism.”

Mearsheimer says that the more America intervenes militarily overseas, the more militaristic it becomes, and the fewer liberties it can allow at home. He says that a liberal America requires restraint in overseas operation.

He says that Russian intervention in the 2016 election was minor compared to what America does overseas.

The reason he never took a job in the State Department is that he hates authority.

“You can’t go back to balance of power politics because we never let them behind. This is what we forgot when we moved NATO eastward. Balance of power politics was alive, not in the United States, but in Russia. The American view is that we have transcended spheres of influence. I don’t believe that for a second.”

“You often hear this argument — Ukrainians are free to choose their own foreign policy. They’re a sovereign state. My view is that a dangerous way of thinking about international politics. The Ukraine is not a sovereign state in this issue. The Russians won’t tolerate them forming an alliance with NATO. If Ukraine acts like it is a sovereign state, it will get itself into a lot of trouble. Castro thought it had the right to ally itself with any state and we went to great lengths to kill Castro and to strangle Cuba. Great powers are ruthless. The United States is one of the most ruthless great powers in modern history. This is all covered up in the textbooks we studied growing up. That’s part of nationalism. Nationalism is all about creating myths about how wonderful your country is.”

“If your Ukraine or Cuba and living next to a powerful state, you must be very careful because you are sleeping next to an elephant.”

“There is little public support for liberal hegemony. It’s elite driven.”

“George W. Bush ran against the interventionist foreign policy of the Clinton administration and then he became a liberal hegemonist par excellence. Barack Obama ran on a platform of restraint and he admitted he failed in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.”

“The public has no problem electing people who are against liberal hegemony, but once they take office…”


On November 3, professor John Mearsheimer made a short and stunning presentation at “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Trump Era: Can Realism and Restraint Prevail?” conference held at George Washington University in Washington, DC. In the unipolar world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he claimed, realists urged nonintervention and staying out of conflicts and countries that “really don’t matter much.”

Unfortunately, American “crusaders” prevailed and pushed the US into a series of unnecessary quagmires across the greater Middle East…

In a fascinating exchange, Saudi dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi asked Mearsheimer why the US wasn’t doing more in the Arab world, especially Syria, Libya and Yemen to stem the “chaos.” Mearsheimer responded sharply:

I think you have this all wrong. We helped create that chaos. You’re asking us to go stop it? This is crazy. This is crazy. Who tore Iraq apart? We’ve paid a key role, hardly reported in the mainstream media, in wrecking Syria. Libya? Yemen? We’re involved with the Saudis in Yemen. We’re refueling their aircraft, giving them bombs. Supporting them diplomatically. The United States has been the principal source of this murder and mayhem in the Middle East.”

The Saudi regime has many levers to exert influence over the US as a top buyer of US weapons systems, merchandise imports, treasury securities, willingness to trade petroleum in dollars, and swing OPEC producer status.

The Israeli government also expects the US can be compelled to continue supporting Israel’s military hegemony in the Middle East, and perhaps even attacking Iran to advance the strategic interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Unlike Saudi Arabia’s economic impact, Israel’s influence is entirely a product of its US lobby which is felt in every relevant US institution, most importantly in the offices of politicians tapping the lobby’s deep campaign contribution network. But Israel’s interests also drive key activities within federal government agencies, such as the US Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which functions as a quasi-Israeli office of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Public opinion has little relevance to “crusaders” shaping US Middle East policy since 9/11 who are empowered by foreign interests. This should deeply trouble American taxpayers tapped to pay for all the “murder and mayhem” who would compel their representatives in Congress to reduce it all to zero, but lack the power to do so.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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