Argh, Chas Freeman.
I’ve met the guy. Back around 2002, I heard the fellow speak in a forum I’m not repeating here. I will say the guy sounded normal and had good information; he passed some sound facts to military officers and experts who appreciated hearing what the people in the Saudi government were thinking about current affairs. That’s the extent of my interaction with Freeman. At the time I thought he was smart, more D than R but more insider than either.
John over at Crossroads Arabia worries about the reaction to Freeman’s aborted appointment to an intelligence position in the government. I share the concern he mentions here, particularly since such jobs sometimes come up in the careers of guys like me, regardless of politics.
Let me repeat and be clear, however: I’m not at all bothered that Freeman will not be holding the position of Director of the National Intelligence Committee. I don’t care for his politics and I think he has a badly distorted view of the Middle East. I am bothered that it is now considered ‘fair game’ to tar anyone with any connection to Saudi Arabia. I guess I’d best not look for a government job in the future. I also have concern about anyone now working for the US government in Saudi Arabia who might have had any sort of political aspirations in his future. The message seems to be, ‘Forget it: you’re tainted.’
Where I disagree is with the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby did it” tone of Freeman’s letter withdrawing himself from consideration, which I think is disingenuous. John says
There is joy in the world of certain Zionists (e.g. The Chutzpah of Chas. Freeman, which closed comments with a baloney excuse), which continue the calumny that working for a think-tank that has received money from Saudi Arabia equals ‘working for Saudi Arabia’ or being its ‘agent’. But for some people, truth hardly matters when there are other principals at stake, apparently.
(Don’t know about the comment-closing excuse–it does sound a little off–but I’ve seen that complaint on other blogs. WordPress doesn’t have that problem all that much.)
Here’s my problem with the Freeman explanation of events. If you read only his letter, or the comments at Crossroads Arabia, then Israel or closeness to the Saudis are the only issues with Freeman. Newsweek reports that the Democratic congressional leadership helped kill the nomination…for different reasons, including one reason Human Rights Watch opposed the nomination: emails from Freeman supporting the Chinese government in the Tiananmen massacre. Here’s an op-ed from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA):
Freeman’s charges of an elaborate conspiracy to derail his nomination are disingenuous. The “Israel lobby” never contacted me. For me, the warning flags about Charles Freeman went up when I learned of his questionable associations and inflammatory statements about China and Tibet.
CNOOC’s investment in Sudan’s oil sector is part of the lifeline that has sustained the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court this month on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2004, Sen. Sam Brownback and I were the first two members of Congress to travel to Darfur, where we saw the suffering and destruction that have taken place under the Bashir regime.
Congress voted unanimously in December 2007 to authorize state and local governments to divest assets in companies that do business in Sudan. President Bush signed this legislation into law on Dec. 31, 2007. Yet Freeman’s appointment to this high-level post would have undermined the policy of U.S. divestment from the genocidal regime of Sudan.
On top of all this, Freeman gave a speech at the National War College Alumni Association last April 25 in which he described the uprisings in Tibet the previous month as “race riots.” A year after those uprisings, 1,200 Tibetan protesters remain missing.
Equally disturbing to me was Freeman’s take on the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989, as he wrote in an e-mail that has been reported by the media. While the Obama administration claimed that Freeman’s comments were taken out of context, I had the opportunity to read the entire conversation, and I strongly disagree.
Freeman said, “I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government. . . . Such folk, whether they represent a veterans’ ‘Bonus Army’ or a ‘student uprising’ on behalf of ‘the goddess of democracy’ should expect to be displaced.” I was in China in 1991 and visited Beijing Prison No. 1, where Tiananmen protesters were enslaved, forced to make socks for export to the West, simply for seeking their freedom.
While the reports of Freeman’s public statements first raised my concern about his suitability to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, his words after his withdrawal crystallized exactly why Freeman was the wrong choice for the job.
That’s a big piece of his op-ed, but it summarizes many of the arguments against Freeman’s nomination I saw that had nothing at all to do with Israel or Walt/Mearsheimer’s vaunted Israel Lobby. The Bonus Army is an odd analogy; I know Army people on active duty today who bitterly critique MacArthur and Patton for their role in the protest’s suppression.
Nominations are going to bring objections out of the woodwork, some relevant, some rational, some neither. Admiral Blair himself got some criticism because he was PACOM, he followed administration direction in engaging with Indonesia despite human rights violations by their military, and some people saw this as unacceptable. Well, that’s sometimes a tough call, isn’t it? A few years later we had innocents dying in large numbers in the few days immediately after the tsunami…how to prioritize human rights and who to talk to in the first few hours, eh? Long term, tough calls have to be made, and some of them will engender opposition no matter what you do. I can easily see how someone who hasn’t followed Saudi politics, or who is thinking more of King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, would look at the Valentine’s Day reforms initiated by the Saudi king versus Freeman’s characterization of it and conclude something much different. John Burgess is right; working around the Saudis as an American can label you, and enough money has been thrown around to ends not in keeping with US interests that the taint can follow even when it shouldn’t. Got it; this is complex; maturity and good analysis rules apply. Freeman’s withdrawal, like Zinni’s withdrawal when he got shafted, was a personal trial and a real expense to him. It costs money to stop working on what you’re working on and take the government salary–Freeman describes some of the difficult process in an interview with the Nation. It sucks to get put on hold, or to be torpedoed, or to be borked out of the job after going through the insane work of putting your whole life in the disclosure forms and asking ‘mother may I’ from flacks and congressmen to do a lousy job for less pay than you’re making.
But Freeman’s letter angrily denounces the Israel Lobby for torpedoing his nomination, and not the other issues. And that criticism frames the narrative at Crossroads Arabia. Good people can disagree–James Fallows thinks that Freeman’s contrarian attitude would be a plus in that job, for instance–but to accept the frame that it’s the Joooos means you’ve been suckered by Freeman’s letter.