John Mearsheimer meets Piers Morgan

4 Mar

It’s rare for me to have a good word for Piers Morgan, a combative corporate media interviewer in his way reminiscent of Jeremy Paxman, while I often cite approvingly Professor Mearsheimer. A leading exponent of political realism, his prescient warnings that the eastward expansion of NATO – above all any move to admit Georgia and Ukraine – would have dire consequences, go back two decades or more.

A few days ago Mearsheimer appeared on Piers Morgan Uncensored  to discuss Ukraine in a fifty minute dialogue which also took in Palestine, Assange, and finally the erosion of space – not least by a strident ‘cancellation culture’ some call illiberal liberalism – wherein men and women of differing views may exchange opinions with courtesy and respect.

Their exchanges elicited little of substance to surprise me, or indeed anyone following this blog or similar. And while Morgan voiced trope after tired trope – his specifics subordinated at every turn to generalised allegation – he was courteous throughout.

That courtesy was returned by Mearsheimer. While the professor at times voiced opinions I do not share – most importantly that the situation in China vis a vis  Taiwan in no way mirrors that in Russia vis a vis  Ukraine 1 – he did so in a manner consistent with the political philosophy he has both advanced and in his way popularised.

(Even if that philosophy – with its failure to consider class – does blind him to what Ukraine and Taiwan share; their usefulness as sacrificial pawns to a wounded, insecure and on both counts triply dangerous US empire.)

In a manner, too, which exemplified a truth I heard most clearly voiced by Norman Finkelstein, a man, like other Jews who had entire families liquidated in the Shoah, scathingly critical of Israel. So many progressives flounder when debating adversaries – he meant Zionists but his point is generalisable – because they don’t do their homework. When we can counter widely aired but fallacious arguments with factual evidence, there’s no need to lose our temper.


Watch Mearsheimer breathe life into Finkelstein’s truth. As a matter of fact, even where I fully agree with the professor – which is a good deal of the time here – I say he concedes too much; too often allowing Morgan to reverse burden of proof. Never more so than in his responses to repeated claims, couched in terms I saw as artful flattery, that he, Mearsheimer, was too trustful on Putin having no designs on territory west of the Dnieper, far less west of Ukraine. While the professor did occasionally counter that there is no evidence of a Russia motivated by other than legitimate security concerns, I fear he should have made that point more forcefully.

Or should he? Was he playing verbal judo, and rolling with his interlocutor’s Queensbury Rules punches? Did he let smaller matters pass by, the better to soft-land the greater truth – without ever having to spell it out – that the West is intensely propagandised? 2

Whatever. After agreeing in effect to differ over Ukraine, and to lesser extent over Gaza, the two saw eye to eye on the need to free Julian Assange.

In the final minutes Morgan voices an appreciation I think sincere, of their having had a civilised and mutually respectful discussion. This leads both men to concur on what I call the paradoxes of militant liberalism. In small ways I see it in a cancellation culture now endemic to the West. And in larger ways I see it in the readiness of the US empire, liberal in both social and economic senses of the word, to export that (fast diminishing) liberalism through its forever wars. I don’t see that as a contradiction Morgan is equipped to pursue, for all his belief in honest journalism. That belief may be subjectively sincere but it’s grounded on the one hand in low self awareness, on the other in blindness to the limits – this far and no further – silently drawn by the political economy of the trade he plies.

With an adroitness easily missed the professor, after agreeing with Morgan on the paradox of illiberalism in Western society at large, gently steers the discussion back to the paradox of a West literally belligerent – Yugoslavia at close of the last century is as good a place as any to start the reckoning – in its liberalism.

Neat footwork from the political realist slyly accused of naivete.

What I just pointed to is the reality, and I’m unsure how far even Mearsheimer grasps its extent, that the terrifying acceleration of tension between a Neoliberal West and Eurasia Rising is here finding shape in an opposition much older; between Balance of Power  and Benign Hegemon  recipes for how humanity, with all its Hobbesian tendencies, may effect workable mechanisms for collective security – without which, little else is worth a bean.

One last and smaller point. I’ve seen Morgan too often in rottweiler mode to be taken in by his politeness with a man too deeply grounded in his knowledge and worldview to be hectored. To put it another way, I’m in no doubt as to who takes lion’s share of the credit for so courteous a debate.

* * *

  1. Mearsheimer’s realist understanding of tensions in the China Sea as the playing out of a titanic and inevitable battle between economic superpowers, one established, the other now fully emerged, are sure to find approval in that section of the US ruling class, mainly represented in the Trumpite wing of the Republican Party, which long ago sought to ally with Moscow against Beijing. If that ship seems well and truly sailed, Russia’s decisive victory in Ukraine only emboldens this faction’s insistence – witness that blocked $60bn – that Washington should cut its losses there and step up Obama’s Asia pivot.
  2. At time of writing my masthead quote comes from Glenn Diesen, a man I’ll return to in a future post for reasons not far from those aired here. A measure, Diesen argues, of how completely a populace has been propagandised is its ability to accurately articulate the perspective of a state depicted as an enemy.

3 Replies to “John Mearsheimer meets Piers Morgan


    “In his book, Time to Start Thinking, Edward Luce referred to a 2011 strategy session held at the National Defense University by 16 high-ranking US military officers. They concluded as follows:

    Indeed, that was in 2011, more than 12 years ago. Of course, the warning was ignored and no course correction was allowed. The malignancy consumed America’s prosperity to pursue self-destructive military misadventures around the world. In nature, these types of malignancies deplete and kill their own hosts. It is now becoming clear to an increasing number of people in the West that this is our societies’ trajectory and that our owner classes only know one way to tackle complex challenges: by pressing ever harder on the accelerator pedal.”

  2. For some arcane reason, the quoted text from above was lost from the ‘paste’. It read (after’follows’):

    “The window on America’s hegemony is closing. We are at a point right now where we still have choices. By 2021, we will no longer have choices. … The US is way too dependent on its military and should sharply reduce its ‘global footprint’ by winding up all wars, notably in Afghanistan, and by closing peacetime military bases in Germany, South Korea, the UK and elsewhere… All this is a means to an end, which is to restore America’s economic vitality. … Our #1 goal should be to restore America’s prosperity. As such, we recommend the Pentagon shrink its budget by at least 20% … most of the savings would be spent on civilian priorities such as the infrastructure, education and foreign aid. … Nobody here thinks the politics in this town are going to change overnight; all we’re saying is that we’re in trouble if they don’t. This isn’t about ideology; it is about understanding where we are as a country.”

    • As it happens Jams I’m sitting in my Berlingo, on one of my rubber tramps, this time in the Cambridgeshire fens. Night has fallen and I’m snugly wrapped up, reading Glenn Diesen’s new book. Just as your comment came in I’d been digesting Chapter 6 on Nato Expansion and the Collapse of Pan European Security.


      Well, yeah, probably…

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