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The limits of specialization

Winterspeak over at Asymmetrical Information has an interesting post regarding a speech by John Mearsheimer, who has been much discussed in the blogosphere lately for collaborating with Steven Walt on a paper that puts him pretty much in the same corner vis a vis Israel as such notables as David Duke and Louis Farrakhan. That's not what Winterspeak is on about, though; Mearsheimer's speech was on the rise of China, viewed through the lens of his structural realism theory, and Winterspeak proceeds to deliver a rather harsh critique of the theory as being, shall we say, not entirely grounded in reality.

Now, while I think you ought to read the whole thing, I'm coming at this from an entirely different angle. Back when I was studying to finish my BA, I took a lot of courses on the social history of the Army and related topics, and did an independent study on military reform. This was in the late 1980s; the Cold War was rapidly winding down as Yeltsin succeeded Gorbachev as head of what was no longer the USSR. The whole topic of American military reform was very recent history, and one of the major "players" in the field was John Mearsheimer, who had some interesting things to say about what the objectives of the United States should be and how they should be accomplished. He made quite a bit of sense at the time, and when I read about the bizarro theories he's become known for I can't help wondering whether he's just gotten in over his head. I don't understand how you can possibly think that the type of government a nation has is irrelevant to the way it's going to act in the international arena, or that economics has no role to play in international relations. I mean, as a an Air Force officer educated at West Point, surely Mearsheimer must be aware of the main reason Japan decided it was worth going to war with the United States and the British Empire in 1941. (Hint: It's the reason a lot of people think we're in Iraq now.) They were already a local hegemon; what did they have to gain by taking on Uncle Sam and John Bull? So...he's gotten a PhD in international relations without stopping to consider economics or politics in any depth as being related to the subject of his doctorate. Bizarre, but perfectly possible in the humanities as practiced in America these days. As King Banaian says at the head of his blog, "Deleriant, isti magistri - They are mad, these professors!"