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A Final Post On Freeman

Andrew makes a number of good points in this post, but I think it misses the point of the argument in favor of Freeman’s appointment to say this:

Obama was not elected to continue the policies toward Israel of George W. Bush.

This is a tricky statement. Regardless of what some of Obama’s voters believe he may or may not do with respect to Israel and Palestine, Obama very clearly campaigned on positions that were essentially indistinguishable from second-term Bush administration policy, and as far as setting policy goes continuity is going to be far greater than change. It has been one of the great misreadings of Obama to expect (or fear) something else from him on this subject. One of the reasons why the reaction to Freeman’s appointment is increasingly unserious on the merits is that Freeman is not going to be in a position to set policy or alter policy, so his views of Israel one way or the other are of secondary importance. However, proponents of changing U.S. policy towards greater “even-handedness” or making any significant changes at all should expect to be disappointed even more than before, as the appointment of Freeman will have political consequences for the administration that will limits its ability to maneuver on the things that matter to these people.

Perversely, those most likely to benefit from all of this are the defenders of the status quo, which is why most of his critics come from this camp and it is naturally why they are stirring up controversy about the appointment. The controversy itself, largely baseless as it is, imposes costs on the administration that help keep the status quo intact. Even if Freeman remains in the appointment, the administration will be forced to yield elsewhere to avoid creating a “pattern” of allegedly “anti-Israel” moves. Of course, this has been the purpose of trying to paint Obama as “weak” on Israel all along–to box him in and hamper him from making even those modest diplomatic moves that he has said he supports making.

Bearing that in mind, it is telling that Freeman’s views on Israel were the views that the critics initially focused on, only then moving on to question his other views and connections, because it is primarily these views that make Freeman objectionable to most of his critics. That means that it is because of these views, which are going to be basically irrelevant to the appointed position, that he is being hounded, while anything else about him and his career is being used in an effort to stop his appointment. Whether or not Obama continues Bush-era policies, that is something that he, Gen. Jones and Secretary Clinton will be determining. Freeman will not be in a position to do anything about that. Whether that comes as a relief or as a disappointment, that is the reality.

If Freeman is right for the job as an intelligence analyst, as the DNI believes him to be, and the IG investigation finds no conflicts of interest, his particular views on this subject should not be a bar to serving in the appointed position.

P.S. Jeffrey Goldberg allows that Freeman “is not making policy,” but concludes:

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.

After putting in the usual caveats that charges of Freeman’s “visceral anti-Israel” views are excessive in themselves, it may be that some of his defenders are defending him for this reason, and it is possible that some are defending him more or less automatically just because of who his crtics are, but speaking for myself I regard it as something close to madness to rule out qualified professionals because they fail to meet a political litmus test that does not have any real bearing on the positions they are going to fill. (Imagine for a moment the absurdity of denying someone this position for holding radically libertarian views on the drug war, or for holding distasteful-but-conventional pro-Turkish views on the Armenian genocide–these things are related to U.S. policy overseas and are controversial, but have no connection to intelligence analysis.) On the flip side, it seems clear that almost everyone who has a problem with his appointment is uninterested in his professional qualifications and wants his appointment stopped almost entirely because of his views on this subject. If these views are irrelevant in determining whether he is qualified for the post (and he has no conflicts of interest), that should put an end to the controversy.

Update: Apparently missing the irony of his own words, here is a priceless quote from Chait:

The problem with making arguments primarily about motives is that it creates a stupid and poisonous public dialogue.

Yes, a stupid and poisonous public dialogue that has been fashioned and maintained by many of the people who have been preoccupied with criticizing Freeman’s appointment. For many years realists and non-interventionists have railed against the tactics used by so-called “idealists” during debates in the past, making exactly the same argument about how impugning the motives of antiwar critics, or critics of Israel or critics of U.S. foreign policy generally distorted and ruined the quality of debate. In return, we were treated to various insults, of which anti-Semite and apologist for depotism were some of the more pleasant ones. Now that some realists are making the basically accurate assessment that Freeman’s views on Israel are the main reason for the outrage over his appointment, we are supposed to believe that these realists are engaging in the same sort of tactics. This is false. For one thing, it is not as if it has somehow become a liability or an insult in American politics to observe that someone is strongly “pro-Israel.” What is so amusing about this complaint is that the entire campaign against Freeman is based on the assumption that he cannot be trusted as an intelligence analyst because of his political views and his connections to an allied state, which is not the sort of precedent these critics should want to set.

Second Update: It should go without saying that Michael Moynihan should not be attacking anyone for making poor assessments about Iraq, or perhaps he thinks that Iraq has not suffered from a humanitarian disaster in the last six years? It is also worth noting that the quote from Freeman he is criticizing expresses the view (i.e., “Iraqis Shias are not Iranian surrogates”) that the former administration and most pro-war supporters held from 2002 until mid-2006 when the reality of sectarian warfare and expanding Iranian influence became impossible to deny. This was a view they emphasized constantly to justify our ongoing support for a sectarian Shi’ite government. For any war supporter to hold this quote against Freeman is simply an amazing display of hypocrisy. Moynihan also misses that this quote directly undermines the argument that Freeman is essentially a paid-for Saudi stooge. If he were, he would take every opportunity to exaggerate Iranian power to bolster the importance of supporting the Saudis, and he would not dismiss fears of Iranian influence in a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq.

Third Update: As usual, Max Socol has an interesting, judicious take on the controversy.

Fourth Update: James Fallows has two posts on Freeman and China. Here is Fallows in the second post:

To put a brake on the momentum, and to give a chance for deliberation about a man’s reputation and a president’s ability to get the range of advice he wants, I think it is worth reinforcing the idea that the people who know Freeman and China policy best think the complaints about him on this front are a crock.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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