When the great David Rothkopf comes to Chas Freeman's defense, I pay attention. Writing on his Foreign Policy blog, Rothkopf argues that Freeman, whose organization, the Middle East Policy Council, has taken Saudi money, and who has sometimes been rather aggressively critical of Israel, is precisely the sort of person who should be analyzing intelligence for the President:
The head of the NIC is, in some respect, the analyst-in-chief of the U.S. government. He or she must have a great mind, must reject cant, must have a nose for political agendas (and the willingness to filter them out... including first and foremost his own biases), and must be genuinely intellectually daring, willing to explore unpopular or unlikely ideas to consider their implications... Few people would be better for these tasks than Chas Freeman. Part of the reason he is so controversial is that he has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power. You can't cow him and you can't find someone with a more relentlessly questioning worldview.
I take David's views very seriously, but in rereading one of Freeman's more vituperatively anti-Israel speeches last night, I became stuck on this line: "Demonstrably, Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace."
Is this an example of Freeman's analytical abilities, or his polemical gifts? Let me grant that he might have been doing a bit of sucking up to his audience when he made this assertion, but even so, where's the analysis? I argue constantly that Israel shares the Palestinian talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, but really, has Israel never shown any talent for peace? Even Benny Morris and the new historians would argue that this is, at best, inconsistently the case. Israel, after all, ceded the entire Sinai peninsula to Egypt in exchange for peace; it made a durable peace with the Hashemites; it pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, only to be rewarded by Hezbollah rocket fire and ground attacks; it went to Camp David that same year and offered what President Clinton considered to be a credible set of concessions to the Palestinians, only to have Yasser Arafat reject them without making a counter-offer; and in 2005, one of Israel's great warriors, Ariel Sharon, unilaterally conceded the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. Did he do that in the interest of furthering war with the Palestinians?
Quite often it's been the case that both sides in the conflict have shown no talent for making peace; an "analyst-in-chief" would acknowledge that complex truth. Chas Freeman doesn't.