March 12, 2009

Two freeman myths busted

With a summary like

Washington's lobbying machine deprived Barack Obama of a valuable adviser.

I'm not going to bother with David Broder's Chas Freeman's withdrawal is a loss for the country.

However on the op op-ed page the editors of the Washington Post weigh in on Chas Freeman failed nomination with a fantastic editorial. (via memeorandum) I'm often critical of Hiatt and co. but today they were right on.

It wasn't until Mr. Freeman withdrew from consideration for the job, however, that it became clear just how bad a selection Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair had made. Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister "Lobby" whose "tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency" and which is "intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government." Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel -- and his statement was a grotesque libel.

While the editors of the Post seem now to have been bothered by the appointment, they found Freeman's statement on his withdrawal confirmation of his unfitness. This is an important point. That statement was vicious and as Jake Tapper noted, it was in response to a pretty standard debate over a candidates fitness. Is there any Freeman supporter who read that statement and said, "Gee, this guy really is extreme?" If there were any, I haven't read them yet. This gives further credence to the thought that Freeman's supporters were driven more by his anti-Israel stands than for his "contrarian" views.

The Post scores another hit:

For the record, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee says that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman's appointment and undertook no lobbying against him. If there was a campaign, its leaders didn't bother to contact the Post editorial board. According to a report by Newsweek, Mr. Freeman's most formidable critic -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- was incensed by his position on dissent in China.

Damn that Chinese democracy lobby! (The Post's reporter, Walter Pincus reported that an AIPAC official gave reporters negative information about Freeman when asked for background on the appointee.)

And this:

But let's consider the ambassador's broader charge: He describes "an inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics." That will certainly be news to Israel's "ruling faction," which in the past few years alone has seen the U.S. government promote a Palestinian election that it opposed; refuse it weapons it might have used for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities; and adopt a policy of direct negotiations with a regime that denies the Holocaust and that promises to wipe Israel off the map. Two Israeli governments have been forced from office since the early 1990s after open clashes with Washington over matters such as settlement construction in the occupied territories.

The editors conclude:

But several of his allies have made themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such charges -- and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always had an eager audience here and around the world. The real question is why an administration that says it aims to depoliticize U.S. intelligence estimates would have chosen such a man to oversee them.

Yes, they did become famous, didn't they?

And Jennifer Rubin adds:

And that is where the story now leads us, they correctly note. How was it that Blair placed him in this role? And why should we now have confidence in his judgment?

And as far as Freeman's famous contrariness, consider what James Fallows wrote:

For any of those roles, a man like Freeman might not be the prudent choice. But as head of the National Intelligence Council, my friend said, he would be exactly right. While he would have no line-operational responsibilities or powers, he would be able to raise provocative questions, to ask "What if everybody's wrong?", to force attention to the doubts, possibilities, and alternatives that normally get sanded out of the deliberative process through the magic known as "groupthink." As Dan Froomkin of NiemanWatch wrote in an item that called Freeman "A One-Man Destroyer of Groupthink,"

He has... spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered -- or even asked -- because they're too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult.
For him to be put in charge of what [Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy] calls "the intelligence community's primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates" is about the most emphatic statement the Obama Administration could possibly make that it won't succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq.

Actually the website is called Nieman Watchdog. But I read Froomkin's interview with Freeman there and his description of Freeman. I saw nothing to distinguish Freeman's views there. I saw one Bush critic, Froomkin, admiring another Bush critic, Freeman. Their views were pretty standard anti-Bush views. I'm not sure what impressed Fallows so much.

On the Post's electronic op-ed page, Charles Lane makes the same point in the Real Chas Freeman.

Now, you can agree or disagree with Freeman's take -- I think it's rubbish. But one thing it definitely is not is original. Susan Sontag said more or less the same thing just after September 11, 2001. You can get some version of this "analysis" any day of the week in the blogosphere or the Middle East Studies programs of our major universities.

As best I can tell, what distinguishes Freeman from other retailers of these clich├ęs is attitude. It's not just that he believes what he believes, he insists on sneering at or questioning the intelligence and good faith of those who disagree -- while trumpeting his own supposed intellectual bravery. This has its ugliest manifestation, of course, in his embrace of conspiracy theories about the "Israel Lobby."

So while the MSM today seems to be missing the point about the Freeman controversy, the editorial pages of the Washington Post are home to some good points.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at March 12, 2009 5:58 AM
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