Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Take on the Freeman Thing

I'm not a big fan of Daniel Drezner, apologist as he is for the sort of winger conventional wisdom that dropped America in the soup in 2003, but I do agree with one of his commentators on this:

Vetting used to be about making sure someone was qualified, did not have a criminal background, and had no existing conflicts of interests. Now, it is whether or not you share the opinion of the major power brokers in DC. In this case, it was running afoul of the AIPAC crew. But it could just as easily holding the wrong position on medicine, transportation, etc.
What follows is some wingnut nonsense about the DoE, but the basic idea is sound. The fact that Freeman was lobbied to death because he said that the settlements were maybe sorta kinda a problem isn't as bad as Brzezinski getting froze out because he has ties to Jummy Carter(better known as History's Greatest Monster) but it's definitely a sign that the problems dealing with middle eastern issues have outlived the Bush/Cheney cabal.

Though it may not be that simple. Stephen Walt (yeah, THAT Stephen Walt) believes that this shows that the Dems are "wimps" and that his polemics are true. He points to a "chilling effect":

the worst aspect of the Freeman affair is the likelihood of a chilling effect on discourse in Washington, at precisely the time when we badly need a more open and wide-ranging discussion of our Middle East policy. As I noted earlier, this was one of the main reasons why the lobby went after Freeman so vehemently; in an era where more and more people are questioning Israel's behavior and questioning the merits of unconditional U.S. support, its hardline defenders felt they simply had to reinforce the de facto ban on honest discourse inside the Beltway. After forty-plus years of occupation, two wars in Lebanon, and the latest pummeling of Gaza, (not to mention Ehud Olmert's own comparison of Israel with South Africa), defenders of the "special relationship" can't win on facts and logic anymore. So they have to rely on raw political muscle and the silencing or marginalization of those with whom they disagree. In the short term, Freeman's fate is intended to send the message that if you want to move up in Washington, you had better make damn sure that nobody even suspects you might be an independent thinker on these issues.
I know I return to this point a lot, but there are good reasons to use pseudonyms, and this is one of them. Not necessarily this issue, but there are no small number of them where you either engage in RightThink or are unwelcome. Look at Walt.

(I note, without comment, that the anti-pseudonym and litigious Whatzisname is one of those who would applaud this move.)

Glenn Greenwald isn't happy either, and makes a good point about anonymity; that people with power can and do organize behind the scenes, while keeping their public hands clean. AIPAC (according to Greenwald and others) played this game: they coordinated the critical response, but didn't come out in public against Freeman's appointment, because they knew that their public involvement would actually strengthen his case. I'd say there's a difference, though, between pseudonymous or anonymous commentary and behind-the-scenes elite organization; one is available to the people, but the other is the province of the powerful.

(And there's also the issue of the press granting selective anonymity to sources, which is a different and yet somewhat more intractable problem. "High-level officials" are a much bigger problem that Greek-named bloggers, folks.)

That said, the fact that there WAS a debate over this does, in Greenwald's mind, indiciate that the situation is changing somewhat. I agree. Like Walt and Mearsheimer, any "victory" only reinforces the perception of unchecked power that they're trying to fight, and this particular issue isn't going away anytime soon, especially with Israel's new leaders being a problematic bunch at best.

I'll give the last word to Josh Marshall:
The whole effort strikes me as little more than a thuggish effort to keep the already too-constricted terms of debate over the Middle East and Israel/Palestine locked down and largely one-sided. James Fallows argues here for the need for contrarian thinkers in general, of which Freeman is certainly one. Joe Klein reviews the issue here, arguing that it's not the time to be enforcing groupthink on Israel or other critical policy issues. And Andrew Sullivan has been doing great blogging on this topic in general and in this timeline in particular, which shows the whole storm being whipped up by neoconservatives upset over Freeman's positions on Israel. Finally, 17 former Ambassadors -- including Thomas Pickering -- have now come forward to support the appointmentand defend Freeman's worthiness for the position if not agree with all his views.

These other posts are each worth reading because they're good and go into more detail than I am. And I could go into a deeper discussion of foreign policy questions involved. But the gist is that campaigns like this are ugly and should be resisted. Not just on general principles, but because the country needs more diversity of viewpoints on this issue right now.
True enough. But I suspect, Josh, that that's what they're worried about.

No comments:

Post a Comment