Fallows on Freeman: An Antidote to Groupthink?

Fallows writes in support of Charles Freeman:

A president's Secretary of State had to represent the country's policies soberly and predictably around the world. His National Security Advisor had to coordinate and evenhandedly present the views of the various agencies. His White House press secretary had to take great care in expressing the official line to the world's media each day. His Director of National Intelligence had to give him the most sober and responsible precis of what was known and unknown about potential threats.

For any of those roles, a man like Freeman might not be the prudent choice. But as head of the National Intelligence Council, my friend said, he would be exactly right. While he would have no line-operational responsibilities or powers, he would be able to raise provocative questions, to ask "What if everybody's wrong?", to force attention to the doubts, possibilities, and alternatives that normally get sanded out of the deliberative process through the magic known as "groupthink."

I absolutely see Jim's point: Freeman is not making policy, nor representing the President's views in foreign capitals. But on the other hand, I ask myself each time I read something outlandish or offensive Freeman has said, at what point does contrariness bleed into wing-nuttery? Put another way, what would Freeman's defenders say if the President were appointing another generally well-regarded foreign policy mandarin for this position who had only one flaw: A deeply emotional and irrational attachment to, say, the Jewish settlers, or to Serbian nationalism, or to some other unhelpful cause? I don't lump Jim in this category, because I think he's a fair person (and we agree on so much else), but I get the sense that some of Freeman's defenders want to see him in government not because he's a professional contrarian but precisely because he's viscerally anti-Israel.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.