The Buzz

A Crude Caricature of Mearsheimer

On a recent episode of Charlie Rose, a bizarre exchange ensued between the PBS interviewer and Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose. Charlie Rose quoted Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter and a leading foreign policy analyst, as saying America’s “central challenge over the next several decades is to revitalize itself while buttressing a complex balance in the East and accommodating China’s rising global status.”

Charlie Rose paused. “Don’t we all want to accommodate China’s rising global status?”

Gideon Rose, with a wry smile: “Most do. John Mearsheimer doesn’t, but just about everybody else does.”

Charlie Rose: “But most everybody does. (pause) I thought most of what John Mearsheimer wrote about was Israel.”

Gideon Rose (nodding): “Before Israel he was on China.”

Questions for Gideon Rose: Is President Obama’s “pivot” to the East all about accommodating China’s rise? Or is it designed in part to forge a diplomatic strategy that counters China’s increasing tendency to leverage its growing power to make territorial and areas-of-influence claims rattling other Asian nations? What does “accommodating China’s rising global status” mean anyway? If China wants to push America back from its current dominance over sea-lanes in Asia, as it has suggested, should the United States accommodate that alteration in the regional balance of power? Or is a less accommodative approach justified?

Such questions reflect a seriousness in the matter that goes beyond Charlie Rose’s question and Gideon Rose’s flip answer. John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago political scientist and one of the country’s leading exponents of foreign policy realism, has probed these questions with analytical acumen. But he is not alone. Aaron Friedberg’s 2011 book, A Contest for Supremacy, takes a hardline view beyond Mearsheimer’s. And Henry Kissinger’s On China, a carefully crafted blueprint for handling China’s rise, reflects the inherent dangers ahead in the U.S.-China relationship.

It’s difficult, in off-the-cuff broadcast interviews, to hit just the right note on all topics that might arise. Hence we won’t seek to characterize this particular exchange. But Gideon Rose’s dig at Mearsheimer was the kind of misfire we don’t normally get from Mearsheimer himself.