Freeman Forever!

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THE PLANK MARCH 9, 2009

Freeman Forever!

My Washington Post op-ed tried to make the case against Chas Freeman that's much broader than his views on Israel. Reason's Matt Welch makes a similar case but, frankly, does it a lot better than I did, unearthing plenty of damning details I hadn't seen. You should really read Welch's entire piece. Here's a chunk:

Speaking as neither neocon nor right-winger nor someone who spends much
time even thinking about the state of Israel (sorry!), I can testify
that my distaste for Freeman is neither "coordinated" nor emanating out
of some secret Elliot Abrams man-love.
I just don't fancy the kind of mind that, when asked in 2003 to name
factors in the deterioriation of U.S.-Saudi relations, pinpoints as
reason numero uno "changes in U.S. visa policy and entry procedures."
Who, in the same interview, says this:

I
should also say I've been very impressed by the extent to which Saudi
Arabia, in the wake of 9/11, has engaged in introspection and taken on
some tough problems that it had avoided addressing for many decades.
[...]I'm sorry to say that I do not see the same level of
introspection and consideration by Americans of what it is we might do
to reduce friction with countries and peoples in the Middle East. [...]
Actually, I think we could learn a lot from the Saudis in terms of
facing up to the need to take a good hard look at ourselves and our
behavior.

It is possible to believe fervently that
America should not exert its will onto the rest of the world, without
crossing into a fantasy land wherein a country with no real press freedom, no elections, and no legal culture even allowing for anything resembling "introspection" is held up as an intellectual example from which the United States needs to learn. This is the definition of clientitis;
it exhibits not a "startling propensity to speak truth to power" but
rather a startling propensity to lob bouquets at dictators.

The basic strategy of Freeman's defenders, with a few thoughtful exceptions, has been to paint the entirety of the criticism against Freeman as relating to his views on Israel, and even to insist that Freeman critics who raise non-Israel-related concerns are secretly acting in Israel's interests. For various reasons, that's a harder trick to play against Welch than against somebody like me. Therefore you can probably expect Freeman's defenders to ignore Welch, along with, say, Human Rights Watch and the 87 Chinese dissidents and Chinese Americans who wrote to protest Freeman's selection.

It's certainly true that some of Freeman's critics are motivated mostly or entirely by his views on Israel (just as others are motivated mostly or entirely by his views on China.) It's also true that the Israel angle has given the criticism more sway in Congress. But while it's obvious that Freeman would have fewer critics if he had never spoken on Israel, it's equally obvious that he would have no defenders, except perhaps his unhinged son. There just aren't many liberals out there who want to defend a man who
sees regimes like China and Saudi Arabia as something close to the beau ideal of a modern nation-state. It's only the fact that Freeman is also controversial
for things like praising the hyperbolic book "The Israel Lobby" and
blaming Israel for the 9/11 attacks that has endeared him to the left.

Freeman defenders like Andrew Sullivan are using the fact that the first criticism of him came from staunch Israel defenders to paint all criticism of him as secretly motivated by support for Israel, and thus to refuse to engage it. Isn't it possible that some people first came out against Freeman because of his views on Israel and that others -- even Jewish people who are pro-Israel! -- indepedently decided the broader evidence weighed against Freeman, and weren't merely conspiring to concoct arguments about China and the like in order to secretly advance the Israeli agenda?

--Jonathan Chait

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