Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A guy named Chas

Chas Freeman will not be the next chair of the National Intelligence Council -- the body responsible for putting together things like the ’07 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran -- as he has withdrawn his nomination, blaming the so-called “Israel Lobby” for waging a campaign against his appointment. Juan Cole has his personal letter to friends and supporters on the news, in which he writes:
“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 believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.”
Though Freeman may have unfortunate views on the role of the state, and the Tiananmen Square massacre in particular (as I wrote about here), plenty of officials in the State Department and the Pentagon have deplorable views -- they are conducting foreign policy for the largest empire in world history, after all -- so the vocal opposition to his appointment was clearly about more than just his views on China.

What I found particularly interesting about the Freeman controversy was the sudden interest in foreign policy over at Reason -- to libertarianism what Commentary is to pacifism -- where writer Michael Moynihan criticized Freeman for stating (over a decade ago) that Iraq was “not a flimsy construction.” This calls into question Freeman’s “understanding of the history of the Middle East,” writes Moynihan, who apparently had no qualms with the appointment of numerous other Obama officials like Hillary Clinton who -- like him -- backed the invasion of the Iraq war and cast the occupation in the rosiest of terms.

How Moynihan can muster up the temerity to criticize someone else over predictions on Iraq proved wrong by events is a stunning example of a compete lack of awareness on the part of Reason’s b-list neo-con. Here’s just a bit of Moynihan’s “humiliatingly error-plagued 2003 column“, in the words of Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, for “Capitalism Magazine”, a loony, objectivist (or do I repeat myself?), total war-advocating webzine:
As the fiercest fighting draws to close, I am sifting through the debris of Europe's anti-war movement. The ideological revolution was contingent upon a great humanitarian disaster. Neither have happened. So what can they say in their defense? The ones who marched through democratic Sweden waving Iraqi flags? How do those opposed to war on a set of vague, lop-sided moral principals react when seeing cheering Iraqis swarm American Humvees, shouting that they, the wretched of the Earth, love Booooosh?
I believe the Iraqi “love” for George Bush was best expressed by this guy, last seen throwing his shoes at the leader of the free world to the applause of, well, everyone.

Meanwhile, Reason editor Matt Welch -- who courageously declined to take a stance on the Iraq war (while spending the lead up to the invasion attacking “the goofy anti-war Left”, which presumably presented the greatest threat to the peace and freedom cherished by libertarians at the time) -- attacked Freeman for being too close to the Saudis. Exhibit A? Freeman, a lifelong diplomat, once said he was a “friend” of Saudi Arabia. Shocking.

Yet while he appears to have developed a sudden interest in Obama's foreign policy appointees, Welch has been conspicuously silent on the appointment of Dennis Ross, who served on the board of the Israeli government-funded Jewish Policy Planning Committee (and more notably, seemingly has no in-depth knowledge of Iran justifying his status as a “special advisor” on and rumored envoy to the country). Odd, that.

Meanwhile, in a dazzlingly ignorant update to a post heralding Freeman's withdrawal, Welch implies Freeman is a tinfoil hat-wearing loon for blaming the “Israel Lobby" for his downfall. “You stay classy, Chas,” writes Welch, seemingly unaware of Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) remark that Freeman’s “statements against Israel” -- not, say, his views on China or Mao Zedong (sorry Matt!) -- disqualified him from chairing the National Intelligence Council. Man, is that Freeman guy a crackpot or what?

But one shouldn’t be surprised by the inanity from Reason, as Welch is the same guy who co-wrote a piece for The Washington Post last year arguing -- apparently in all seriousness -- that the 80s TV show Dallas and its portrayal of materialistic, capitalist excess brought down the Soviet Union. I remain undecided as to which is worse: that the Post published the piece, or that Welch needed a co-author to write it.

In the future, I suggest Welch sticks to what he’s good out -- publishing clueless defenses of the use of corporate jets and further marginalizing libertarianism -- and leave the foreign policy analysis to those more capable (like interesting and actually thoughtful Reason writers Brian Doherty and Jesse Walker).

In related news: In a post last week defending the appointment of Freeman, Juan Cole appeared to recognize the inherent ludicrousness of the claims of governments everywhere that they exist "to protect you” in offering this critique of Zionism:
Zionism is a form of nationalism centered on the necessity of turning Judaism into a base for a nation-state. Probably a majority of Jews, and virtually all American Jews, were offended by this notion before WW II. And although Zionists think they were vindicated by the events of the 1930s and 1940s, it is not at all clear in the 21st century that having a state makes you safe (my state has nuclear missiles aimed at it), or, just as important, adds to your wellbeing.
Though I doubt Professor Cole meant to undermine the case for government in general, the idea that centralized, militaristic states are incompatible with peace and tranquility is something that Independent Institute economist and historian Robert Higgs has written about extensively. If Cole grows a beard, he might just yet be the next Spooner.

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