The Plank

Stephen Walt Reads My Mind

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Last Saturday, I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the problem with Chas Freeman was no so much his views on Israel but his broader foreign policy worldview. "The Israel Lobby" co-author Stephen Walt then wrote an over-the-top blog post asserting that my objection to Freeman was based on "one thing: Freeman has dared to utter some rather mild public criticisms of Israeli policy."

Walt didn't quote or link to my op-ed, so his readers couldn't see for themselves that this was not my argument at all. I then wrote a web piece pointing out that this wasn't my argument at all. Now Walt replies:

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.

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?

I don't know the answer for sure, and unlike Walt I don't like to make unsupported assertions about people's hidden motives. But I will say that his latest salvo, combined with his unsubstantiated claim that various Freeman critics "coordinated" in secret, and his ugly attack on Jeffrey Goldberg's patriotism, all show that Walt's writing on this topic evince a fairly high degree of paranoia.

--Jonathan Chait

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