Chas Freeman exits

I wrote a long post last night about why it would be wrong if Chas Freeman were forced to back out of his nomination for head of the NIC. It wasn’t finished and I didn’t post it and I now see the point is moot. One point I made in my draft was in regard to the third-rail of Israel, which will incinerate anyone who even hints at looking at issues from any perspective but Israel’s. (By my simply writing those words, I lean up against the third-rail myself.) And I am speaking as a Jew and as a supporter of Israel. Supporter – not a blanket endorser.

I know the LGF and Michelle Malkin crowd will be crowing for a while, and some will point to Freeman’s parting words as proof of his “anti-Semitism.” What he says about the smothering Israeli lobby is accurate. It is not in any sense anti-Semitic.

Still, I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.

I went back to some of the lines the sharks were tossing around, making Freeman look like he spends his days plotting the death of Israel, but only when he’s not actively encouraging PLA soldiers to shoot more students. I went back and looked at the context of one of his most sensationalized remarks and saw how easy it is to take words from a panel discussion wildly out of context and use them to destroy someone’s career. This was the Wurlitzer at its best, repeating ad nauseum the “gotcha” line with zero context and just lots of faux outrage and indignation. And it worked.

The intelligent arguments of intelligent people were ignored, unsurprisingly.

Again, I think in the course of his career Freeman said some ill-advised things. But nothing to merit the tidal wave of fury and slander that followed. His nomination gave me hope that “Change We Need” was a serious mantra – and no, I’m not referring to Freeman’s individual policy ideas on China or Tibet or Saudi Arabia. The “Change We Need” was that demonstrated by Obama in daring to nominate someone who thought outside the status quo and refused to be intimidated by political correctness and sacred cows. I admired Obama for having the courage to nominate such a person who, along with his willingness to reject myths, would have brought “truly independent intelligence analysis” to the table.

As former US ambassadors wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal recently:

A number of statements have appeared objecting to the appointment of Ambassador Charles “Chas” Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council based on his political views (”Obama’s Intelligence Choice,” by Gabriel Schoenfeld, op-ed, Feb. 25). We, the undersigned former U.S. ambassadors, have known Chas Freeman for many years during his service to the nation in war and peace and in some of our most difficult posts. We recognize that Chas has controversial political views, not all of which we share. Many individuals with strong and well-known views have, and are being asked, to serve in positions of high responsibility.

The free exchange of political views is one of the strengths of our nation. We know Chas to be a man of integrity and high intelligence who would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments. We categorically reject the implication that the holding of personal opinions with which some disagree should be a reason to deny to the nation the service of this extremely qualified individual. We commend President Obama and Admiral Dennis C. Blair for appointing Ambassador Freeman to such an important position.

But this is politics, and there’s little room for dispassionate analysis and logic. So the calm, clear-headed voices of our best and brightest were drowned out by the hysterical and cynical roar of the self-righteous right.

We have suffered a complete and total defeat. If we only appoint people who suck up to the status quo and rubber-stamp anything put in front of them by lobbyists from a single country, the change we need won’t be coming anytime soon. We’ve allowed fear-inducing innuendo to triumph over reason. A sad day for America, a country that needs fresh perspectives now more than ever.

Update: See what one our smartest bloggers/thinkers said about Freeman some years ago. I know, some of us feel that any intimation that the CCP might actually succeed amounts to treason and commie-loving, as well as a tacit endorsement of the shooting of unarmed students. And that’s exactly the kind of sacred cow Freeman is willing to take on and challenge. Time to emerge from the Cold War with a new mindset, and to remove the shackles of black/white thinking and stereotypes.

Update 2: Let me give Sully the last word on this.

Obama may bring change in many areas, but there is no possibility of change on the Israel-Palestine question. Having the kind of debate in America that they have in Israel, let alone Europe, on the way ahead in the Middle East is simply forbidden. Even if a president wants to have differing sources of advice on many questions, the Congress will prevent any actual, genuinely open debate on Israel. More to the point: the Obama peeps never defended Freeman. They were too scared. The fact that Obama blinked means no one else in Washington will ever dare to go through the hazing that Freeman endured. And so the chilling effect is as real as it is deliberate.

When Obama told us that the resistance to change would not end at the election but continue every day after, he was right. But he never fought this one. He’s shrewder than I am.

How did we get here? How did we collectively become so stupid?

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Well, our respective positions aside, I think the Freeman debate offered two interesting aspects. As Sully noted, it was conducted almost entirely in Web 2.0, minimal MSM commentary and reporting. They never discovered it. Could be a dissertation topic here.

The other thing is that Freeman’s 35 years as a China expert never became an issue. The battleground was Israel, and his China connections and views were ignored, until AIPAC tools Kirk and Israel threatened to heighten scrutiny of them as ammunition in the struggle to move him out (then he backed out. Funny coincidence, that). The extent to which Israel dominated both sides of the debate is frightening. Honest individuals can disagree on Freeman’s business connections to China and his right-wing realist views, but there was no debate on either. It was all Israel, all the time. But isn’t China far more important?

Scary and unhealthy.

On the other hand – imagine, the President’s NIC appointee became the subject of public debate. How often does that happen? Web 2.0 meets Washington.


March 11, 2009 @ 2:15 pm | Comment

The Administration’s and America’s loss. “The truth, you can’t handle the truth, son,” I hope Mr. Freemen truly enjoys his retirement. Godspeed, sir! Thank you.

March 11, 2009 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

Brilliant post Richard. One of the best I have read. Unfortunately intolerance has taken over many facets of life.

March 11, 2009 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

As much as I disagree with you , I agree with you about this completely. These think tank organizations should have people who has dissenting views of why people who ‘against’ us would think like that. Instead, we have these think tanks who are just oblivious and say that people who are ‘against’ us are our enemies.

March 11, 2009 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

It’s a real shame that this pretty exclusively concerned his views on Israel. Regardless of whether one thinks he’s right or wrong, why is one’s view on that single matter some sort of vetting procedure that decides if someone reaches the minimum grade? It’s not like he’s said anything especially hateful, is it?

I’m not anti or pro-Israel – in some respects I despair of the entire matter. I’ve just found it ridiculous that it is so important in Washington to be on the “right side” of the argument/be associated with the right position/whatever it specifically is that means it has such a disproportionate effect on US affairs.

March 12, 2009 @ 7:01 am | Comment

Hopefully this thing over Freeman will make people see sense on the dominance of Israel in our national political life.

March 12, 2009 @ 9:06 am | Comment

“Hopefully this thing over Freeman will make people see sense on the dominance of Israel in our national political life.”

That would be a first step to make the people start seeing what’s past beyond 5 feet in front of their nose.

But I don’t think that will happen. What’s behind all this is way too much non mainstream (and I’m pretty sure that’s not what you are referring too anyways).

March 12, 2009 @ 10:08 am | Comment


First: great post and I very much share your views in this matter.

That said, I object to your insult directed at D Lim. His declaration “I am sure Muslims around the world and non-Jews now truly believe USA is ruled by the Jews! I personally do too!” is something I would not have thought of on my own. It offers some plausible insights to how Muslims could have reacted. Ironically, it is almost Freeman like in its effect of forcing one to think in others’ shoes.

March 13, 2009 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

DJ, I just find it offensive when someone tells me they believe “the Jews” rule the world. I may find it interesting and revealing, but offensive nonetheless. Just as I object when people make blanket accusations against the Chinese and other groups. So it’s okay if you want to thank him for his insight, but also understand why I take such offense at the remark, as a Jew and as a believer that anti-ethnic stereotypes are intolerable.

March 13, 2009 @ 4:19 pm | Comment


I empathize with you in the sense that you feel offended as a Jew against certain claims. As a Chinese living in the U.S., I feel offended way too often, and particularly since almost exactly one year ago. My emotion was extremely high a year ago. I have, however, calmed down since then and started reasoning and debating with people in a sensible manner (at least I feel that I have). So my suggestion is, take a deep breath, and hopefully you could at least acknowledge that D Lim said what he did in good faith.

March 13, 2009 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

By the way, Richard, and I hope you don’t get offended by my saying this. I can understand, but not necessarily agree with, the fact that some people would claim that “the Jews” rule the U.S. (but not necessarily the world). It does seem that way in this Freeman mess, doesn’t it?

I probably should refrain from getting further into a discussion of Rupert Murdoch.

March 13, 2009 @ 4:45 pm | Comment

On a further note, Murdoch’s wife is a Chinese, isn’t she? So maybe the Chinese will rule the U.S. in the end. 🙂

My personal view of Phoenix TV is fairly positive, BTW.

March 13, 2009 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

No DJ, I don’t think it looks like the Jews rule the world. The Israeli lobby does not represent Jews across the board. Most intelligent Jewish people I know have serious issues with this cabal.

And while the remark that “the Jews rule the world” may have been made in good faith, it’s no excuse. He’s free to say it, but if he says it here he has to face the consequences.

March 13, 2009 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

This ‘jewish conspiracy’ thing is one reason I think the term Israeli lobby is probably unhelpful, especially given that some large proportion (50%?) of Israelis would politically disagree with this lobby.

I don’t know Israeli politics enough to suggest a better alternative, but perhaps something like “Revisionist Zionist Lobby” or “Neo Zionist Lobby”. (apologies if I inadvertently said something offensive) I think that would also tend to take some wind out of the sails of the constant charges of anti-semitism.

March 14, 2009 @ 12:51 am | Comment

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