Is Chas Freeman, who has withdrawn his nomination to chair the National Intelligence Council, a victim of “the Israel Lobby”?
Freeman himself certainly thinks so. Andrew Sullivan concurs.
I find Freeman’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as summed up in the “money quote” in this post from Andrew, to be quite lacking in the “balance” that many argue the U.S. needs in its approach. This isn’t balance so much as one-sided Israel-blaming, for everything including the failure to “gain [the] admiration and affection” of any of its neighbors. (How many of them were prepared to extend it?) That aside, though, there really are other reasons to not want Freeman in a high-level foreign policy position. Jonathan Chait gives examples of people who have nothing to do with the Israeli lobby who have opposed the appointment because of Freeman’s very cavalier attitude toward human rights, particularly his record as an apologist for the Chinese regime. For more analysis, see this great post by Ron Radosh. No, Freeman’s comments were not taken out of context, and Ron demonstrates that in his defense of the Tiananmen Square crackdown (or rather, his criticism of that crackdown for not being resolute enough), Freeman also defends brutal actions against peaceful protesters right here in the U.S. in 1932.
The counterargument is that even if there are other issues involved, most of the energy behind the anti-Freeman push came from defenders of Israel who oppose Freeman because of his “contrarian” views on those issues. But so what, if those other issues are valid? Let’s say, arguendo, that Freeman’s “contrarian” views on Israel can be a useful addition to Obama’s foreign policy team. And let’s say that those who want to “get him” because of those views have used other charges as a prtext/red herring. Does it matter, if those other charges are fair? Isn’t it ad hominem to focus on those making the charges?
Let’s say that feminist groups mount a furious opposition to a nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services who has made controversial statements about domestic violence being a two-way street between men and women — a contrarian viewpoint that I, personally, happen to believe needs more representation in our government. And let’s say that, in the process of whipping up opposition to this nominee, her feminist foes discover that she has also made vile statements equating gay men with child molesters. So what if her main critics are feminists whose real concern is with her unorthodox views of domestic violence? Should the homophobic comments be any less disqualifying?
Meanwhile, Sullivan actually writes that he finds some of Freeman’s “realist” defenses of authoritarian regimes “a little too brutal,” but is willing to overlook that because “someone whose views push the envelope against recent US policy in the Middle East is an important asset for the United States right now.” So which side is making it all about Israel?
As for realism: dose of realism in foreign policy is, of course, desirable. In an imperfect world, foreign cannot be conducted without some compromises of basic moral principles. But it helps to at least be aware of what those principles are, and it sounds to me like Freeman’s brand of realism loses sight of that. (More on this from Chait.)
(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics.com)