Freeman affair opens window on intra-elite paleo-neocon wars

The Irish Times notes March 14 that when former ambassador Chas Freeman was picked last month to chair the National Intelligence Council (NIC), few US newspapers reported the appointment. Freeman’s withdrawal last week was front page news, however—because of his blistering parting shot at the “Israel Lobby” he claimed had brought him down. The case opens a window into the intra-elite paleo-neocon wars still playing themselves out in the Barack Obama administration.

Freeman wrote in a message to supporters:

The libels on me and their easily traceable e-mail trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.

The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods and an utter disregard for the truth.

The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

A former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under Bill Clinton, Freeman has long been a critic of US support for Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories. Like many of Obama’s national security advisers, he is a foreign policy “realist” (also often rendered “pragmatist”). The Irish Times says this means he “approaches international relations on the basis that states are essentially self-interested, rational actors.” We prefer to say he believes in accommodating authoritarian regimes rather than risk the chaos und unpredictable consequences of “regime change.” The “pragmatists,” usually old-school paleo-conservatives, are opposed by the “neo-conservatives”—whose hubristic visions of remaking the Middle East have been humbled by the bitter realities of the Iraq war, but still wield considerable influence.

Neocon commentators waged a campaign against Freeman on the blogosphere, denouncing what they described as his anti-Israeli rhetoric—and pointing out that his think tank, the Middle East Policy Council, has received some funding from the Saudi government.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said publicly that it had no position on Freeman’s appointment, but a spokesman admitted this week to briefing journalists on an unattributable basis. The blogger who led the campaign against Freeman was Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC policy director now on trial for allegedly passing classified US government information to Israel. Freeman’s neocon critics cited numerous supposedly anti-Israel comments—most notably a 2006 speech to the 15th Annual US-Arab Policymakers Conference in Washington:

For almost 40 years, Israel has had land beyond its previously established borders to trade for peace. It has been unable to make this exchange except when a deal was crafted for it by the United States, imposed on it by American pressure and sustained at American taxpayer expense. For the past half decade Israel has enjoyed carte blanche from the United States to experiment with any policy it favored to stabilize its relations with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors, including most recently its efforts to bomb Lebanon into peaceful coexistence with it and to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle.

Such rhetoric has predictably won Freeman plenty of applause from the supposed “left.” For instance, Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation has decried the “thunderous, coordinated assault” against Freeman by “the Israel lobby and its neoconservative allies,” and upon his withdrawal ran a marshmallow-soft interview with him on the affair. Since the bloggers on either side of this divide view the world exclusively through the prism of Israel/Palestine, it’s not surprising that Dreyfuss didn’t raise a syllable in his interview about his hero’s fondness for the totalitarian Chinese state. Fortunately, the Irish Times rescues this gem from the Orwellian Memory Hole—a straight-up apologia for the Tiananmen Square massacre, from a 2006 Freeman e-mail:

I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, ie that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than – as would have been both wise and efficacious – to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquillity to Beijing and other major urban centres in China

In this optic, the Politburo’s response to the mob scene at Tiananmen stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action. For myself, I side on this – if not on numerous other issues – with Gen Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.

For what it’s worth, The Hill reported March 12 that Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence denied that the Israel lobby had spurred their opposition to Freeman. Said Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO): “Unfortunately, Ambassador Freeman is suffering from some kind of delusion. I think a lot of people objected to his previous statements regardless of any lobbying.”

We’ve also noted that Freeman has served as semi-official interlocutor for the Chinese and Saudi regimes. Putting aside the question of whether his withdrawal was due to pressure from “The Lobby,” we’d like to know why Freeman is so concerned about Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and not Tibetans or Uighurs in China, or women in Saudi Arabia.

After eight years of neocon rule, progressives have got to beware of becoming pawns of the “pragmatists” in the intra-elite squabble. Because accommodating authoritarian regimes is ultimately just as ugly—and just as much an imperial strategy for maintaining global hegemony—as seeking to overthrow them.

See our last posts on the AIPAC scandals and the pragmatist-neocon wars.

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  1. Chas Freeman continues to shed light on anti-neocon backlash
    A very interesting story in the World Tribune Oct. 31, “Major oil companies, Gulf states underwrite anti-Israel policy conference”…

    Chas Freeman…was the keynote speaker at the 21st Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, or AUSPC, organized by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and held on Oct. 25-26 in Washington, D.C…

    In his address, “Change Without Progress in the Middle East,” Freeman said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has blatantly intervened in the U.S. elections in support of the Republican candidate, who has explicitly committed himself, if elected, to allow Israel to dictate U.S. policy on Iran, Palestine, and other issues in the Middle East.”

    He added, “Mr. Netanyahu wants America to set red lines for Iran. Everyone else in the region wishes the United States would set red lines for Israel.”

    Yeah yeah, the usual wag-the-dog jive—as if Romney was ready to surrendur US sovereignty, rather than using Israel as an excuse to do what he intends to do in his own perceived political interest (which ironically plays to both Jew-haters and Jews). But it gets much, much better…

    Even more controversial than Freeman, however, was Jeffrey Steinberg, who spoke to this year’s gathering during a panel discussion on “The Palestinian Future.” Steinberg, a close associate of convicted felon and political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, advocated an “American Spring” to change U.S. policy toward the Arab world, including by recognizing Palestine as an independent Arab state with full U.N. membership.

    Despite the anti-Israel nature of the event, this year’s AUSPC was sponsored by various American Big Oil companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. corporations such as Boeing. The government of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states were also major sponsors.

    How telling. The anti-neocon backlash brings together the Beltway paleocon right (Freeman), the wingnut radical right (Steinberg, who we are told writes for the LaRouchite Executive Intelligence Review) and Big Oil. Look, we hate the neocons as much as the next guy, but the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

    PS Oh yeah—the light bulb just went on. In Freeman’s above quote, when he invokes Douglas MacArthur in defense of the Tiananmen Square massacre—he is referring to the 1932 repression of the Bonus March in Washington DC! 

    A rather odd hero for the left, eh Robert Dreyfuss?