L’Affaire Freeman

Is Chas Freeman, who has withdrawn his nomination to chair the National Intelligence Council, a victim of “the Israel Lobby”?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)


Filed under Israel, Middle East

6 responses to “L’Affaire Freeman

  1. Revenant

    I find it mildly amusing that Freeman’s views on Israel are described as “contrarian”. Another way of describing them would be “the official United Nations position”.

    On a side note, I have a vague recollection from back when Sullivan was still trying to out-jingo Little Green Footballs in his support of the war on terror, of him bemoaning the fact that so many of our diplomats were bought and paid for by the Saudis. Now he’s blaming a Jewish conspiracy for the defeat of just such a Saudi employee. How time flies!

  2. David T

    Here I would like to repeat a comment someone else made on Megan McCardle’s blog:

    “What Freeman actually said is that the Chinese should not have allowed things to escalate in Tiananmen Square to the point that they lost control of the capital. This view is actually pretty common among China watchers: Henry Kissinger was widely criticized for expressing a similar view just after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. I tend to agree that that view is too sympathetic to the Chinese Communists, but you don’t hear Freeman’s critics urging that Kissinger is beyond the bounds of polite society.”

    No doubt “realists” including Freeman do sometimes go too far in defending close US ties with dictatorial regimes. I would not want Freeman to be *the* formulator of US foriegn policy. But that is not the issue here–the chairman of the NIC has no such powerful job. Freeman would just be one moderately important voice at the table,and I think that one such voice is needed.

  3. jerry

    For the sake of argument, what’s the advantage of using arguendo instead of say, “for the sake of argument”, or “all else being equal?” I’d say there are perfectly suitable and much more commonly used and understood phrases, and that there is no need to give lawyers any more of an elevation and separation.

    As for the rest of your post, I agree with it 100%.

  4. Revenant

    but you don’t hear Freeman’s critics urging that Kissinger is beyond the bounds of polite society

    Kissinger has been shut out from any significant role in shaping American intelligence or foreign policy since the Carter administration.

    So why would anyone urge that he be excluded? He already is.

  5. jerry

    Amy Alkon pointed me to your column in Reason, “What Happened to Equality for All?” Excellent column and thank you for writing that.

    Robert Franklin, a Glenn Sacks blogger thinks this will be a long four years. I think this is only partly true, and that the Commission on Women and Girls could actually be a terrific opportunity to bring attention to differing opinions, making this a very productive four years. And so I am curious about Valerie Jarrett, chair of the Commission on Women and Girls. Her wikipedia entry doesn’t shed too much light on her background, but she doesn’t seem to have a history of “typical modern feminist activist.” This could be a good thing and indicate she might be willing to listen to Reason. How best does one go about getting heard by such a commission? What would the issues to discuss in such a meeting be and what is the best way to frame them?

    And in grass roots efforts, do the chairs of such commissions have semi-frequent speaking engagements that could support “free speech” activists picketing across the street? If men and women wanted to do something besides just gripe, perhaps a productive use of the four years would start with a constant picketing of her speeches with posters containing one or two of the most pertinent issues, properly framed and requesting a hearing.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  6. Thanks, Jerry! I’ll be back to blogging this week (urgent deadlines…) and will post something on this topic. 🙂

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