A Freeman Time-Line

Jon Chait argues that the opposition to Chas Freeman is largely about the rigidity of his realism, his connections with Saudi Arabia, and his brutal realpolitik with respect to China. And he has argued against the notion that this contretemps was initiated and pursued by advocates who are concerned primarily with Israel. I think this is self-evidently ludicrous. And it is not "bad faith" to say so. Yglesias makes the somewhat obvious point:

The habit of turning around and acting indignant when people point out that what’s motivating this fight is Freeman’s views on Israel is really pretty silly.

The great thing about the internet is that you can actually go back and track how this controversy began, and how it evolved. This is not about secret motives or any crap like that. And it's not about anything illegitimate or somehow disturbing. It's simply a record of who wrote about Freeman and what they wrote. The story was broken by Laura Rozen and her report on February 19 at 10.36 am is very dry and factual. In fact, it doesn't seem to presage any controversy.

Then came the three fire alarm from Steve Rosen, who has since been a clearing house for any and all attacks. Rosen is very candid about the reasons for his believing this appointment is "alarming":

This is a profoundly disturbing appointment, if the report is correct. Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born. His views of the region are what you would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship, not the top CIA position for analytic products going to the President of the United States.

Rosen followed up with a second post a day later focusing entirely on the Israel question - and arguing simply that someone with Freeman's views must be barred from a high-level job in the US government. Ben Smith wrote a piece the next day, "A Test For The Israeli Lobby", in which the entire controversy was about Israel:

A well-placed pro-Israel source says there's "no amount of good will" that would soften reaction to that appointment because "they might as well have appointed Bandar."

My colleague Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on February 23 that Freeman was "well-known for his hostility toward Israel," but argued that the Saudi connections were more "substantively" problematic. The evidence Jeffrey provided for "hostility to Israel" is this essay. Read it yourself.

It is primarily concerned with the debacle of Iraq and how to address the threat of Iran. It ends with a discussion of Israel. Money quote:

Tragically, despite all the advantages and opportunities Israel has had over the fifty-nine years of its existence, it has failed to achieve concord and reconciliation with anyone in its region, still less to gain their admiration or affection. Instead, with each decade, Israel's behavior has deviated farther from the humane ideals of its founders and the high ethical standards of the religion that most of its inhabitants profess. Israel and the Palestinians, in particular, are caught up in an endless cycle of reprisal and retaliation that guarantees the perpetuation of conflict in which levels of mutual atrocities continue to escalate. As a result, each generation of Israelis and Palestinians has accumulated new reasons to loathe the behavior of the other, and each generation of Arabs has detested Israel with more passion than its predecessor. This is not how peace is made. Here, too, a break with the past and a change in course are clearly in order.

This is Freeman's cardinal sin among his critics: to blame Israel, even in part, for the plight it finds itself in, and to ask that US foreign policy be more neutral with respect to the parties in the Middle East. This is the third rail no one is allowed to touch and have access to real power in Washington. Even when the horrifying Gaza assault was going on, it became evidence of anti-Semitism to find the civilian casualties morally repellent and the siege itself counter-productive. This kind of intimidation must end. And again: it is not as if Freeman is being given the job that, say Dennis Ross has. It is that a man with these views has any right to be in any American government at all. Of course he does. Obama was not elected to continue the policies toward Israel of George W. Bush.

I repeat: if there are serious financial conflicts of interest, Freeman should withdraw. I also find some of Freeman's realist statements, even as contrarian, a little too brutal for my taste. But I also believe that someone whose views push the envelope against recent US policy in the Middle East is an important asset for the United States right now. And I find the hysterical bullying of this man to be repulsive.