Comments: Charles Freeman

I think the significance of Freeman is two-fold:

one, he gives the Obama-Clinton foreign policy group a chance to demonstrate to Israel that they folded as was expected of them, and

two, a chance to demonstrate they at least thought about appointing somebody who would displease Israel, which in its own twisted way, is designed to show a plucky independent spirit. ("You don't understand-- we came close to defying the status quo. Came close!")

And of course, if you're going to almost defy the status quo, it helps to do so with somebody who almost counts.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at March 15, 2009 08:40 PM

Nell's right. It was guaranteed that we were going to have an authoritarian conservative in that post. That's what the job's all about.

But having authoritarians who disagree with each other is important! The 2007 NIE could very well have delayed a strike on Iran, and with the current Wall St meltdown, probably nixed it altogether. Thousands -- perhaps millions -- of lives have been saved because the emperor's servants had a falling out.

Jon has talked elsewhere about sane and insane billionaires. Chas Freeman is a sh!t, but he's a sane sh!t, and sometimes that makes a big difference. AIPAC certainly thought so.

Posted by Carl at March 16, 2009 05:12 AM

I guess it is better Freeman did not get this job. Who really wants the empire to be run by smart people? Did the enemies of Roman Empire wish the empire to be run intelligent people or dumb nitwits who sooner than later would overreach and screw up their own standing.

With this state of affairs where Israel Lobby calls the shots the credibility of Empire will decline and decline. The empire will make plenty of mistakes. Soon it would reach the point of no return. It can't come back even if Intelligent , sane,capable people were put in charge of it.

Posted by Ajit at March 16, 2009 06:45 AM

The west mostly remembers the man-standing-in-front of tanks picture from Tian An Men, but the reality of the event was not JUST that:
Tian An Men was not just a student protest for democracy, but a protest by workers against the inequalities created by Privatization.
The latter was far fron peaceful: A correspondent from the time remembers 3 workers hanged from the street in a working-class area of Beijing
( http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/08/china.olympics2008 ).
Of course the massacre that followed was inexcusable, but Freeman is correct that no western (certainly not the US) government would permit something like this in its capital.

Posted by lunogled at March 16, 2009 11:26 AM

Of course the massacre that followed was inexcusable, but Freeman is correct that no western (certainly not the US) government would permit something like this in its capital.

Two words: Kent State...which wasn't even CLOSE to the Capital.

The advantage of a highly mediated society is that the Govt doesn't really have to kill that many people to make its point: just show the video over and over and over and over and...

Posted by woody at March 16, 2009 01:22 PM

lunogled: ...Freeman is correct that no western (certainly not the US) government would permit something like this in its capital.

Yes, definitely agreed. But the point is that Freeman supports the repression of dissent generally (not just in the case of Tiananmen), both in China and the United States.

Carl: While I agree somewhat with your overall point, the 2007 NIE was produced by Bush appointees, and we're unlikely to do any worse with Obama appointees (whether Freeman or anyone else).

Posted by John Caruso at March 16, 2009 02:57 PM

Why progressives care about the appointment - because we like seeing realists in charge of intelligence assessments instead of holdovers from the 1970s who still think that poor Israel needs us to protect it against kids that throw stones.

I think you distort Freeman's position on Chinese suppression of dissent. If you read his papers, what he was saying was, given the regime's philosophy, it missed several opportunities to deal with the dissenters in earlier clashes, which ultimately led to a much more bloody finale at Tiananmen. He was not suggesting that the US govt adopt same tactics against dissent.

Posted by Jason at March 16, 2009 04:18 PM

Jason, I think you need to re-read the portions of Freeman's comments that I highlighted. These are clearly his own views. It's true that he's saying that the failure to "strike hard and strike fast" led to the need for greater force, but I never said he endorsed the massacre of protesters—just the suppression of dissent by the Chinese government. I don't see any reading of his remarks that contradicts that conclusion.

As for whether or not he suggested that the U.S. suppress dissent as well, consider:

The only surprise to me (and other realists, including, I gather, you) was that the Chinese leadership did not act earlier to restore order. We would have done so, judging by the precedents set by MacArthur and our National Guard over the decades from 1920 - 1950.

And:

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.

And just to be clear, by "progressives" I meant actual progressives, not liberal Democrats fleeing the Republican demonization of their label.

Posted by John Caruso at March 16, 2009 05:40 PM

Why has my comment, the one Carl mentioned, been deleted?

Posted by Nell at March 16, 2009 08:40 PM

That is weird--I saw Nell's comment earlier. I'm 100 percent sure it wasn't deliberately deleted, but in that case, what went wrong?

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 16, 2009 10:10 PM

"That is weird--I saw Nell's comment earlier. I'm 100 percent sure it wasn't deliberately deleted, but in that case, what went wrong?"

If Freeman had been appointed, the comment would not have disappeared.

;>)`

Posted by Tony C. at March 17, 2009 09:35 AM

"That is weird--I saw Nell's comment earlier. I'm 100 percent sure it wasn't deliberately deleted, but in that case, what went wrong?"

If Freeman had been appointed, the comment would not have disappeared.

;>)`

Posted by Tony C. at March 17, 2009 09:35 AM

>Yes, definitely agreed. But the point is that >Freeman supports the repression of dissent >generally (not just in the case of Tiananmen),

1st of all, what I meant was not "workers hanged", but SOLDIERS (Chinese army soldiers) hanged by (working class) demonstrators in the suburbs of Beijing.

Events such as this are not usually associated with the "collective image we have" of Tian An Men as a pro-democracy peaceful student protest (rather than a pretty violent workers revolt with mostly economic grievances), but they happened and Chas Freeman likely had these in mind when he made these comments.

Is he "wrong"? Perhaps, but I do not think ANYONE in the civil service in the US would come to a different conclusion in this situation.
Certainly not his neocon detractors, who said very similar things about the lynching of Israeli soldiers during the Antifada (which, despite the obvious differences, could be compared to the lynching of governament soldiers by rioters driven to the brink by governament despotism in China).

Freeman is right that the whole thing was an exercise in bad faith and hypocrisy, thats all.

Posted by lunogled at March 17, 2009 09:49 AM

Nell: I don't know what happened to your comment; I'm pretty sure it was there when I responded to Jason, but it was gone an hour or so later. My only guesses at this point are that 1) it was inadvertently deleted when Jon or someone else with the keys was deleting another comment for some reason (spam/duplicate/troll), 2) it's a bug in Movable Type (I've had at least one comment disappear from my MT-based site before as well), or 3) somebody's figured out how to do targeted comment deletions. Hopefully not the latter.

lunogled: Freeman is right that the whole thing was an exercise in bad faith and hypocrisy, thats all.

Yes, agreed, he's right. But he's also an explicit supporter of Chinese repression of dissent (generally, not just in the case of Tiananmen): he "share[s] the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang's dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China." Note: "domestic protesters", with no qualifications about their behavior.

Also, Freeman is fully capable of speaking for himself, and he didn't mention the Chinese government propaganda you're echoing (with its mobs of violent, angry rioters). Rather, he specifically said: "allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations." The one instance of violence he mentions is Chinese troops being fired upon at Muxudi, though even there he says it's not clear who did the firing.

But this is all beside the point anyway, since Freeman was saying that Chinese authorities should "strike hard and strike fast" to nip future demonstrations (or "self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids") in the bud, before they get out of hand. I'd definitely agree that his detractors are a bunch of hypocrites, but that doesn't mean he's innocent of the charge of supporting Chinese repression (as some of his defenders have claimed).

Posted by John Caruso at March 17, 2009 12:33 PM

Unsettling MoveableType bug; hope it was a one-time event. To recap:

The positive side of the Chas Freeman episode was the overreach by the Lobby, which made it much more difficult in future to deligitimize those who note its existence and activities. One of the fruits is this LA Times editorial, 'An Open Debate on Israel'.

At this stage is the thawing of previously frozen terms of discussion among Serious People, it's important that those on the sidelines see that commenters can call the Lobby-ists on their b.s. and survive. It had eff-all to do with Chas Freeman himself.

The part of my comment that Carl agreed with was that anyone getting the job was going to be someone who believes in and supports elite rule and suppression of the rabble. (Though some might be more politic about where and how they set out those views than Freeman was...)

Posted by Nell at March 18, 2009 11:55 AM

At this stage is the thawing of previously frozen terms of discussion among Serious People, it's important that those on the sidelines see that commenters can call the Lobby-ists on their b.s. and survive.

I wouldn't really call it survival in Freeman's case; he said he'd abandoned all his previous positions and activities, and now he's apparently going to scuttle off and take up basket weaving. So it was his lack of concern about career survival that gave him the freedom to speak up.

I don't find the whole "now the lobby's out in the open" talking point that some people (not you) are pushing all that impressive either. The Israel lobby has been very visible on plenty of issues in the past (like F-15s for Saudi Arabia), and it hasn't done any long-term damage. If anything, the fact that they felt they could expend this much effort on one (relatively) inconsequential appointment shows how much of their agenda they've already achieved and how entrenched they are.

The part of my comment that Carl agreed with was that anyone getting the job was going to be someone who believes in and supports elite rule and suppression of the rabble.

Which is one of the reasons I don't think it made much sense for people to get excited about the appointment. This is a mid-level functionary with a specific institutional function, not a policy maker. If Freeman had been nominated for Secretary of State the enthusiasm would have been more justified, but having someone with slightly more sane views as director of the NIC? That's great as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far.

Posted by John Caruso at March 18, 2009 04:22 PM

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Posted by Mike Meyer at March 18, 2009 05:03 PM