Breakfast with Chad: Who is controversial?

Chad, better known as ChatGPT, is now with us five days a week to explore a range of issues that concern us all. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.

ChatGPT Chat with AI or Artificial Intelligence. Young businessman chatting with a smart AI or artificial intelligence using an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI. © CHUAN CHUAN /

February 13, 2023 05:50 EDT

Recently I’ve been wondering about the relationship between the most respected intellectuals in the US and policy-makers in Washington DC. The war in Ukraine seems to have aggravated a disconnect that has long been developing. To get things going this morning, I asked Chad this question: “John Mearsheimer is recognized as one of  the most influential American theoreticians in the field of international relations. Why has he had so little historical influence on US foreign policy?”

Chad wasted no time spouting his response: “While John Mearsheimer is a prominent scholar in international relations, his theoretical framework of offensive realism tends to be more pessimistic and controversial compared to the prevailing ideas in US foreign policy circles. Furthermore, foreign policy decision-making is influenced by a multitude of factors, including domestic politics, public opinion, and bureaucratic interests, making it challenging for any individual scholar to have significant historical influence on US foreign policy.”

This is all true but one thing Chad said really surprised me, so I couldn’t fail to ask this question:  “When you say Mearsheimer’s analysis is ‘more controversial’ than ‘the prevailing ideas in US foreign policy circles’ you seem to be implying that those ideas are never very controversial. And yet so much of what we’ve seen in US foreign policy, even though it wasn’t deemed controversial at the time, ended decades later appearing controversial to historians and ordinary people alike. Whether it’s the Vietnam war, Bush’s invasion of Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, or simply endlessly prolonged wars and occupations, can you really affirm that they shouldn’t be thought of as seriously controversial? Or are you assuming because US governments have been effective at silencing criticism, even when conducted by serious and sincere observers, that the policies are not controversial. In other words, if the only criterion for being non-controversial is the findings of polls, favored by the supine complicity of the media, doesn’t that call into question the very notion of “controversial” you cited in your response?”

I love Chad’s willingness to apologize and admit that something I said was right, as he unfailingly did this time: 

“You make a good point. It is true that many US foreign policy decisions have been and continue to be controversial, and the degree of controversy can change over time as new information becomes available or as the political landscape evolves. I apologize if my earlier response implied otherwise.

My intention was to convey that Mearsheimer’s theoretical framework of offensive realism is more explicitly pessimistic and confrontational than the dominant foreign policy ideas in the US, which tend to emphasize cooperation and diplomacy as well as maintaining the US-led liberal world order. This theoretical divide has limited the direct impact of Mearsheimer’s ideas on US foreign policy decision-making. However, as you suggest, it is important to recognize that what counts as “controversial” can vary widely depending on the historical context, the perspective of different actors, and the extent of public debate and scrutiny.”

“Theoretical divide?” Now there’s a brilliant euphemism. I couldn’t let this go and so followed up with this detailed complaint: 

“Now, that’s extraordinary. There have been very few, if any, examples of the US emphasizing cooperation and diplomacy in recent times. For example, we know from both Ukrainian sources and the testimony of former Israeli prime minister Bennett that the US and NATO intervened to scotch negotiations between Ukraine and Russia at the very moment when they had nearly reached an agreement. You seem to take the statements of principles and good intentions by politicians more seriously than their acts. And my point wasn’t about the varying appreciation of what is controversial. It is about the fact that what you call controversial is simply anything that deviates from what you call US foreign policy decision-making. At some point doesn’t that start looking like a new form of totalitarianism imposed by what you call ‘US foreign policy circles?’”

The rest was predictable. Chad offered the obligatory apology but avoided answering my question about the totalitarian drift. And just as predictably, Chad claimed to have no political opinions:

“I apologize if my earlier responses were not precise enough. You are correct that US foreign policy has not always emphasized cooperation and diplomacy, and there have been instances of US intervention and actions that have been seen as controversial or even harmful by various actors. I agree that there is often a discrepancy between the stated principles of politicians and their actual actions in foreign policy, and that what counts as “controversial” can be highly subjective and vary across different contexts and perspectives.

Furthermore, while there is a dominant foreign policy discourse in the US that shapes decision-making, this does not mean that alternative views are not possible or that the discourse is monolithic. There are often lively debates and disagreements within and across US foreign policy circles, and policy outcomes can be shaped by a range of domestic and international factors beyond the influence of any one group or individual.

Finally, I want to make it clear that as an AI language model, I do not have any political agenda, and I strive to provide factual and unbiased answers to the best of my abilities based on the information available to me. I recognize the complexities and nuances of foreign policy decision-making and welcome diverse perspectives and critiques of dominant discourses.”

That merited my curt reply: “No you don’t!” Apologizing is not the same thing as understanding complexity and integrating nuance. After one last sip of coffee, I bid Chad leave and promised to talk more fruitfully about something less controversial tomorrow.

*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. At least with AI, we can be reasonably sure that conflict, when it occurs, provides an opportunity to deepen our understanding. And with AI we can be certain that it will be handled civilly. After all, there’s no way to punch a disembodied voice in the mouth.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy

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