More Freeman links: Freeman was too pro-Saudi for Jim Baker, Walt-Chait Round 2


Chas Freeman was too pro-Saudi even for Jim Baker. Mark Hemingway at the National Review has a couple of excerpts from Baker’s book "The Politics of Diplomacy." Here’s one:

Our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, suggested to me that perhaps we shouldn’t ask quite so much of the Saudis. As a result of their previous commitments to Desert Shield, he said, they had a liquidity shortage that Saud hadn’t wanted to admit to me. It seemed to me to be a classic case of clientitis from one of our best diplomats. "I’m going in front of the Congress and I’m asking them to go ahead and fund this effort," I said, "and I’ve got to explain that American blood will be spilled. If you think we’re not going to ask the Saudis to pay for this, you’ve got another thing coming." It was the last I ever heard from him about going easy on the Saudis in terms of the costs of the operation. (p. 373).

Rich Lowry, in the New York Post, rips the appointment:

Never let it be said that America isn’t a country of remarkable openness. You can go directly from effectively working for the Saudis and Chinese to the country’s top intelligence analyst. This is the career trajectory of Chas Freeman.

Lowry gets to the heart of the argument made by some of Freeman’s critics — although he puts his own partisan slant on it:

Freeman is a committed partisan in the war over US foreign policy – exactly the wrong profile for a job requiring dispassionate analysis.

At the National Intelligence Council, Freeman would supervise the crafting of the National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Whoever controls the extremely influential NIE has a large say in determining US policy.

For years now, Democrats have brayed about the "politicization" of intelligence. Their only real evidence for this charge was that Dick Cheney asked the CIA a few questions. Now, they are about to put a blinkered ideologue in the most important intelligence-analysis job in the US government, and congratulate themselves on their commitment to even- handedness and neutrality.

Stephen Walt says he doesn’t care what Freeman’s critics say their argument is — he knows what it is really about:

Jonathan Chait says I’m "paranoid," that I "went bonkers" in a recent blog post, and that my scholarship is "wildly hyperbolic." He says his real objection to Charles Freeman’s appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council is that Freeman is an "ideological fanatic" (isn’t it odd that this quality went undetected during Freeman’s lengthy career as a public servant?) and that Freeman’s other critics were mostly worried about his relations with Saudi Arabia (as if this had nothing to do with their views on other aspects of our Middle East policy). Nice try, but it is abundantly clear to almost everyone that the assault on Freeman has been conducted by individuals — Chait included — who are motivated by their commitment to Israel and who are upset that Freeman has criticized some of its past behavior. Of course Chait doesn’t broadcast this openly, as it would immediately undermine the case he’s trying to make.

Then, apparently unironically, Walt complains that his critics aren’t representing his arguments fairly:

What explains the false claims and overheated rhetoric these pundits employ? Why can’t Chait and his allies represent their opponents’ views accurately, and deploy facts and logic instead of invective and character assassination?

Answer: because the case they are defending is so weak. Not the case for Israel’s existence, which virtually everyone engaged in these debates supports (including Freeman himself), but the case for continuing to give Israel nearly unconditional backing, even when it continues to build settlements in the Occupied Territories and when its newly-elected leaders openly declare their opposition to a two-state solution, which was the preferred outcome of the Clinton and Bush administrations and is now the stated goal of the Obama administration. Because the case for never criticizing Israel and backing it no matter what it does makes little strategic or moral sense, advocates of that approach have no choice but to misrepresent their opponent’s arguments, and to try to portray them as wild-eyed extremists (i.e., "ideological fanatics" or "paranoid"), in an attempt to marginalize them. It never seems to occur to them that what we really have here is a straightforward policy disagreement, and that the policies they prefer might actually be harmful to Israel and the United States. 

Jonathan Chait, at The New Republic, responds with a blog post entitled "Stephen Walt Reads My Mind":

Let’s examine his argument here. First, Walt argues that it’s preposterous to assert that Freeman is an ideological extremist, because he has had a long career as a public servant. Can Walt really not think of anybody who has had a long career as a public servant who has extreme ideological views? I can think of a lot of them. Some had very, very high positions in the previous administration.

Moreover, Walt is arguing not only that I’m obviously wrong about Freeman, but that I’m so obviously wrong that there’s no way I could actually believe what I wrote. Thus he proceeds to assert that it’s "abundantly clear" that my real objection is Freeman’s view on Israel. Whatever arguments I make can be ignored because my true motive lies with Israel. It’s true, I am pro-Israel in the mainstream Democratic, Labor Party, two-state solution, anti-settlement way. But isn’t it possible that a moderate liberal with my views on Israel could also be concerned about a nominee who both adores and has strong financial ties to Saudi Arabia and whose only problem with the Tiananmen Square Massacre was its timidity? How can Walt look into my soul and be so certain that I am strategically hiding my true, tribal motivations.

Richard Just, also at TNR, asks why none of Freeman’s supporters are addressing some of the actual arguments of the Freeman critics:

I already know where Walt–and others who have been attacking the Freeman attackers–stand on Israel. But I am genuinely curious to know what they think of Freeman’s views on how authoritarian governments should treat their own people–a topic they don’t seem to want to engage. For my part, I am horrified by the idea that someone with such a dim view of those who essentially risked their lives for liberalism (i.e. the Tiananmen protesters) would now serve in a liberal administration. (Imagine if an appointee had made similar comments about 1960s civil rights protesters in the south; we liberals would be justly enraged.) I don’t know whether Walt identifies as a liberal, but many of the people who are currently criticizing the anti-Freeman crowd do. … Instead, why don’t we liberals just stop and answer the question: Are Freeman’s views on Tiananmen acceptable to us or not? And if not, shouldn’t we all be equally appalled by his selection?

James Fallows, at The Atlantic, says he doesn’t agree with Freeman’s views, but likes contrarians — so he backs Freeman:

 I do know something about the role of contrarians in organizational life. I have hired such people, have worked alongside them, have often been annoyed at them, but ultimately have viewed them as indispensable. Sometimes the annoying people, who will occasionally say "irresponsible" things, are the only ones who will point out problems that everyone else is trying to ignore. A president needs as many such inconvenient boat-rockers as he can find — as long as they’re not in the main operational jobs. Seriously: anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.

So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.



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