The end for Freeman

As I mentioned originally, I had no intention of getting into the Chas Freeman matter. It has ended in an ugly way -- Freeman's departure statement is intemperate, but even calmer people might sound testy if they had been accused of "hostility toward Jews generally" without, to my knowledge, any evidence for that claim.

I want to think carefully before saying much more about this episode. For the moment my sentiments are closest to those expressed by David Rothkopf, friend and stalwart supporter of Freeman, in this post at the Foreign Policy blog:

The genesis of that crisis is that we have lost perspective on what the criteria for selecting and approving government officials ought to be. Financial trivia, minutiae from people's personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside. Ridiculous threshold obstacles stand alongside obscene ones and when taken with the relentless personal attacks associated with high level jobs in Washington -- the low pay, and the extreme difficulty of getting anything done -- we are seeing even those selected for senior jobs turn away in droves. We are at a moment of not one but an extraordinary array of great crises and challenges for America and we are effectively keeping the people we need most out of the positions we most need filled. 

Emphasis mine. The friend I quoted when I first raised this topic said that, in his view, the controversy over Freeman's appointment amounted to the "self-lobotomization" of the US policy-making apparatus. He was talking just about Freeman, but the problem is clearly broader, as Rothkopf points out. Thought experiment: Steven Chu, our new Secretary of Energy, was previously director of the UC-run Lawrence-Berkeley Lab. The Lab receives a tremendous amount of funding from the US government, largely through the DOE. Chu himself is recused from being involved in such deals for a ceratin period. Suppose instead that this background had been considered a "conflict" that would bar him from office. You could imagine people making the argument, if Chu's reputation were less bullet-proof or if he had offended some interest group.

One other point. Rothkopf ends his post this way:

The result [of problems described above] is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman. But for the record, the most compelling reason I found for believing Chas Freeman would have been a superb Chairman of the National Intelligence Council was one that seldom came up in all the articles I read. I actually know him.

As I initially pointed out, I do not know Freeman and had never paid attention to him before this controversy. But it turns out that nearly twenty people I know well enough to respect and trust have themselves known and worked with Freeman. Every one of them supported his nomination. And -- as it is unfortunately relevant to point out in these circumstances  -- most of them are Jewish.

We'll all think about this episode for a while.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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