THE PLANK MARCH 5, 2009
Jon hardly needs my help in his debate with Stephen Walt and company over Chas Freeman. But I have a proposition: Instead of endlessly speculating about the underlying motivations of Freeman's critics--which is a somewhat silly game since those motivations probably vary wildly--why don't Walt and others answer a very simple question: Do they or do they not find Freeman's views on Tiananmen Square alarming? Look, I strongly disagree with Freeman's views on Israel (for the record, I would describe myself as a liberal Zionist), but, given the wide range of views about Israel on the left these days, I'm not particularly surprised that someone whose opinions on the subject clash with my own has found his way into the Obama administration. What does surprise me is that someone with Freeman's views on human rights has ended up with a fairly prominent post. 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. Let's leave aside the Michael Goldfarbs of the world; they aren't interested in the fate of liberalism, and I don't particularly care what they think. 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?