Opinion

In Academia, Neorealism Is Dangerous

Photo of Robert G. Kaufman
Robert G. Kaufman
Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University
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      Robert G. Kaufman

      Robert G. Kaufman is a political scientist specializing in American foreign policy, national security, international relations, and various aspects of American politics. Kaufman received his JD from Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., and his BA, MA, M. Phil., and PhD from Columbia University in the city of New York.

      Kaufman has written frequently for scholarly journals and popular publications, including The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The Washington Times, the Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He is the author of three books. His most recent book In Defense of the Bush Doctrine was published by the University Press of Kentucky in May 2007. In 2000, his biography, Henry M Jackson: A Life in Politics received the Emil and Katherine Sick Award for the best book on the history of the Pacific Northwest. His first book, Arms Control During the Prenuclear Era, which Columbia University Press published, studied the interwar naval treaties and their linkage to the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. Kaufman also assisted President Richard M. Nixon in the research and writing of Nixon's final Book, Beyond Peace. He is currently in the research phase of a biography of President Ronald Reagan, focusing on his presidency and his quest for it.

      Kaufman is a former Bradley Scholar and current adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation. He has taught at Colgate University, The Naval War College, and the University of Vermont.

William F. Buckley, the great conservative author, pundit, and founder of National Review, harbored no illusions about “progressive” intellectuals. As a conservative professor with no illusions about my native Bostonians, I venerate the wisdom of Buckley’s famous dictum: “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard – a prominent author, commentator and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government – exemplifies what Buckley meant.

Start with Walt’s delusions of grandeur. Walt proclaims himself “consistently right” while usually being consistently wrong. Walt propounds a neorealist theory of international relations in dangerous defiance of the historical record. Walt claims that all states behave essentially alike regardless of the internal character of their regime. So the United States need not concern itself whether Germany is democratic, authoritarian or totalitarian, or whether Angela Merkel, the Kaiser or Adolph Hitler lead it.

Walt fatuously defends appeasement during the 1930s as a strategy that nearly succeeded, while bizarrely criticizing a Reagan administration that won the Cold War.

Walt castigates neoconservatives, including George W. Bush, and their enablers for the chaos in Iraq rather than Obama’s precipitous withdrawal that Walt cheered. Walt sees no danger in a nuclear Iran because he believes that a virulently anti-American revolutionary regime in Tehran will calculate cost and risks the same way as the United States or Sweden. Walt advocates American strategic retrenchment, oblivious to the gathering discord and chaos it has already invited.

The neighbors of Russia, China and Iran know better. Yet Walt and his neorealist collaborator, John Mearsheimer, blindly blame democratic Israel exclusively for the absence of peace without mention of the intransigence of Israel’s despotic enemies seeking to eradicate it.

Walt’s fallibility hardly represents his worse shortcoming. Reasonable people disagree. The vitality of American democracy depends on robust, unbridled debate codified in the First Amendment. That mandates welcoming rather than chilling the expressions of alternative points of view.

Most liberals and conservatives honor that principle. Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait – vociferous liberal opponents of the Iraq War – nevertheless defend the legitimacy of their neoconservative critics to actively participate in the debate over Iraq and American foreign policy generally.

Unfortunately, Professor Stephen Walt and politically correct sensibilities reigning on campus exude contempt for the virtues of free speech. Walt has displayed an increasing and alarming propensity to delegitimize, discredit and silence contrary opinion. Take, for example Walt’s execrable book co-authored with John Mearsheimer in which they insinuate that the pernicious machinations of the “Israeli Lobby” rather than honest conviction account for the intensity of American support for Israel. As Walter Russell Mead observes, massive evidence controverts Walt’s and Measheimer’s fevered Oliver Stone-type conspiracy theory with regard to Israel. Most Americans support Israel because of their genuine belief that it serves America’s moral and practical interests.