Sunday, March 08, 2009

Understanding Glenn Greenwald

Jeffrey Goldberg recently had a spat with the world's most obnoxious blogger, Glenn Greenwald. One of Greenwald's methods of self-aggrandizement is to poke big media bears, hoping to elicit a reaction he can pounce on. He's smart enough to know that most blogs combine overweening self-assurance with unlettered opinion, and this annoys real journalists, who are constantly under siege by them. So Greenwald tries to exacerbate the annoyance into outrage by launching over-the-top attacks from his Salon redoubt. The responses he gets are almost guaranteed to be curt and dismissive, which enables him to play maverick media critic on your behalf.

Goldberg, whose work I like, is the antithesis of Greenwald in relation to foreign policy: he's a reasonable proponent of humanitarian military intervention, and he morally favors open societies over tyrannies. But sadly Goldberg, like many others, fell into Greenwald's trap. So I sent him the following letter. I reproduce it here, because it covers themes central to this blog.

Greenwald is an instructive example of the Left/Right isolationist consensus that has been dangerously empowered by Bush's bungling of Iraq. In fact, the cause of their contretemps was Goldberg denouncing Greenwald -- who is often mistaken for a Left Democrat -- for writing for the Buchananite American Conservative. This consensus exerts itself more and more. We're seeing it now with the Chas Freeman controversy. Witness the Nabokovian farce of Robert Dreyfuss, an ex-Larouchie, trumpeting Freeman -- the "realist" analyst who mused that the Chinese government was too soft on the protesters at Tienanmen Square -- in the pages of The Nation! Think about that tangle of thorns. It's Freeman's perceived hostility to Israel that got all these people on the same page.
Dear Jeff,

Having appreciated your work for some time, and having just finished and enjoyed Prisoners, I was gratified to see you call out the singularly noxious Glenn Greenwald on your blog. I knew he would retaliate with a polyadjectival tsunami of snark -- have you noticed how putrid a writer he is? -- but I have to say your reply "Glenn Greenwald is Hysterical" left a couple of things to be desired. One, it was too dismissive, almost making it seem like you didn't have a counterargument with which to engage him. Two, implying that Greenwald is a Jewish Uncle Tom for writing for The American Conservative played into his hands. Like many people who make a pinata out of Israel, Greenwald wants everyone to believe he endures Galilean persecution for being brave enough to criticize the Jewish State. So calling Greenwald a patsy of anti-Semites and leaving it at that was throwing him red meat.

But most important is how you've misread Greenwald. I don't think Greenwald is an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew, and anyway, his psychology is unknowable. More discernible is his political psychology. You noted that anti-Semitism is a meeting point of the far Left and Right, but increasingly since the fall of the Soviet Union, so too has been isolationism, or more accurately, military non-interventionism. Maybe the first notable example of this was the Chomskyite Left's opposition to NATO "imperialism" in the Balkans, a position eagerly echoed by Pat Buchanan and his epigones. This grew into the colicky mass of "progressives", paleocons and "libertarians" (cf. Justin Raimondo) who made up a good chunk of the "anti-war" opposition to invading Iraq. It was much remarked at the time that these people didn't agree on much; but their isolationism inured them to the humanitarian potential of toppling Saddam and his demonic sons. Now Bush's multifaceted failures in Iraq have cemented their triumphalism, and sadly, convinced a lot of liberals of the wisdom of these illiberal politics.

The other thing these "anti-war" activists agree on is the peculiar evil of Israel and Zionism. Some of them are old-style Right-wing anti-Semites; some are "New Antisemites", Leftists who genuinely fixate on Zionism rather than use it as a merkin to hide an uncomplicated hatred of Jews; and still others are committed isolationists, people of the Left and Right, who decry foreign entanglements, and often exhibit a Lindberghian phobia of Jewish foreign entanglements, both real and imagined.

The latter is the school Glenn Greenwald comes from. This isn't the first time he's written for the American Conservative (see the 1/14/08, 6/18/07, 1/15/07 and 4/10/06 issues). Those other pieces aren't about Israel, but they do treat neocon hubris and the surveillance state -- topics, along with Israel-hatred, nativism and social conservatism, that animate Buchananite isolationists. Greenwald has also praised Ron Paul, whose non-interventionism sinks to crank levels and has always had a sturdy hard-on for Israel. Greenwald is a Paulite non-interventionist dressed up as a Left Democrat. This public Janus-face allows him to appeal to both the Left and Right sides of the coalition that is his audience. His non-interventionist Israel-phobia unites progressives and Buchananites.

It's not a savory job, but pick through the compost of Greenwald's blog, which furnishes ample evidence now that you know what you're looking for. You'll find truffles like Greenwald quoting George Washington on "entangling alliances" (1,2); speculating how George Washington would feel about an alliance with Israel (3,4); sounding the reveille that "neocons" and "the Israelis" are "as transparent as they are dishonest and bloodthirsty"(5); and praising The Israel Lobby, which argues, "the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel"(6).

After the Gaza drubbing, Greenwald was finally emboldened to spell it all out: "The U.S. already pays a very substantial price for its decades-long, blind and one-sided support for Israeli actions... U.S. support for Israel has been particularly costly over the last several years... If, as it appears, the face Israel is now choosing for itself is that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, then the cost to the United States of ongoing, one-sided support for Israel is going to skyrocket, and the need for serious change in U.S. policy towards Israel will be even more acute."(7)

Hopefully this will help you understand and handle Greenwald, should you choose to engage him again. I think he jumped the shark a while ago, and now that Bush his bete noire is gone, he'll spin himself out on the standard crank portfolio of Israel, neocons, MSM malfeasance and the surveillance state. But I do think it's important to analyze and expose him, because Greenwald is a neat example of the post-Cold War phenomenon of Left/Right isolationism, and if people begin to properly view him in that light, maybe it will help undo some of the damage done by Bush to liberal interventionism.


John-Paul Pagano
The Socialism of Fools

I edited the original for clarity.

Nota bene: This American Footprints blogger believes Freeman might have been misinterpreted in relation to Tienanmen Square.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

You might accuse me of splitting hairs in specifying that Chas Freeman is "not so much anti-Israel as pro-Saudi", but there are good reasons for recalibrating the focus on Freeman.

If Freeman is still a Saudi shill, if anything that means he will bring a stronger anti-Shiite than anti-Israel bias to his post. That's because, while ideologically the Saudis would love to see the Jewish state destroyed, practically they are terrified by the Shiite risorgimento we've created by bungling Iraq. (To be sure, they hate the Shiites ideologically too.) The Saudis know Israel doesn't pose a threat to them. Iran is a different matter.

The most recent milestone on the road leading to an American denouement with Iran due to its nuclear ambitions was the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. That document concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. National Intelligence Estimates are summary approximations of the opinions of all the US intelligence agencies on a security issue. They are released by the Director of National Intelligence, who is currently Dennis Blair. The chair of the National Intelligence Council oversees the process. Dennis Blair has picked Chas Freeman to chair the NIC.

If Freeman is in thrall to the Saudis, then he might feel compelled to do one of two things with respect to Iran. Out of anti-Israel animus, he might be inclined to underestimate Iranian nuclear prospects in a Lindberghian gesture to prevent our going to war with Iran on behalf of Israel. In fact, in remarks to the 14th Annual US-Arab Policymakers Conference, Freeman snarked:
Some of the same people who neoconned the United States into invading Iraq are now arguing for an attack on Iran as a means of ensuring that it does not eventually acquire nuclear weapons.

But because of the regional playing field, it's more likely that Freeman will be inclined to overestimate Iranian nuclear prospects, so as to leverage American power in favor of his Sunni paymasters.

This could contribute to a devastating outcome, one that again underscores the absurdity of the argument of anti-anti-Israel partisans that the Freeman pick spells an end to The Lobby's subordination of American interests.

It would also be brutally ironic for the liberals among these partisans who are clamoring in favor of Freeman. These same anti-warriors who found it so hard to believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant it when he called for Israel to be wiped off the map -- or that he even said it at all -- are now agitating for the appointment of an intelligence chief who might oppose Iran more than the Jewish state.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Not So Much Anti-Israel as Pro-Saudi

The case that Charles "Chas" Freeman is a fanged Israel-hater is weak so far. It hinges largely on his being an Arabist ex-foreign service officer, his think tank being generously funded by the Saudis, and on several comments he made calling out Israel in straightforward terms. Here's one that's been shofar-blown around the web:
"Demonstrably, Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace."

Jeffrey Goldberg argues that an "analyst-in-chief", as opposed to a polemicist, would acknowledge the "complex truth" that "quite often it's been the case that both sides in the conflict have shown no talent for making peace". That's true, but many have been less thoughtful. The Joseph Trumpeldors of Contentions speculate: "Had the public (and specifically Jewish voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama) known that Obama would appoint the Saudi-funded, Israel-bashing, analytically-disabled Chas Freeman to a key national security position, I wonder if he would have cleared the bar of acceptability for commander-in-chief."

Actually Dennis Blair, the National Intelligence Director, picked him. And it's silly to elide Obama and Freeman. Freeman's role will be to oversee the collection and editing of intelligence for Blair, who in turn will brief the President. Freeman will surely have influence, but this involves a lot of different people. He's not going to be Rasputin.

There is a tendency to exaggerate the influence of individual government officials, ignoring -- in a conspiratorial fashion that, not for nothing, is favored by the far Left and Right -- that most everyone is merely a cell in the vast hive of politics. That's not to say people don't have influence, some a lot more than others; but Freeman, especially as chair of the National Intelligence Council, isn't going to torpedo American government support for Israel. And as others have recognized, it will be constructive for idealist forces to engage opponents in the Obama administration. Freeman is known to be an articulate and fearless polemicist, perhaps to a fault by the standards of politicians. James Fallows (or more precisely, Fallows' "friend") clarifies and elaborates:
"... as head of the National Intelligence Council... [Freeman] would be exactly right. While he would have no line-operational responsibilities or powers, he would be able to raise provocative questions, to ask 'What if everybody's wrong?', to force attention to the doubts, possibilities, and alternatives that normally get sanded out of the deliberative process through the magic known as 'groupthink.'"

But Freeman need not hate Israel to undermine it and America. He need only have excessive admiration for the Saudis, with whom he was intimate as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, and for whom he shilled before and during his tenure as president of the Middle East Policy Council, a think tank founded in 1981 by another ex-foreign service officer named Richard H. Curtiss (more later about Curtiss).

In a post-Iraq and Iran-ascendant Middle East, the Saudis are shaping up to be the Sunni Arab vanguard, in play against the Shiites of Iraq and Iran, and the Israelis, among others. As such, it's troublesome that Freeman has accepted $1 million from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to bankroll the Middle East Policy Council. Practically, that seems to be the cause or effect of the fact that Freeman's public statements about Israel and 9/11 express the Saudi line.

In 2002 Freeman asked during a symposium held by The Washington Institute:
And what of America’s lack of introspection about September 11? Instead of asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism. Before Americans call on others to examine themselves, we should examine ourselves.

In a speech in 2006 to the 15th Annual US-Arab Policymakers Conference, Freeman observed:
We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.

These are just a more straightforward version of the rider Prince Abdullah attached to his $10 million gift to the city of New York to help rebuild after 9/11, which Rudy Giuliani rightly spat on and sent back:
However, at times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause. While the UN passed clear resolutions numbered 242 and 338 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip decades ago, our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of the Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.

The practical drivers of Abdullah and Freeman's statements include a desire to divert attention from the fact that Osama bin Laden, while hardly phlegmatic about the Arab-Israeli conflict, cited American military presence in and cooperation with Saudi Arabia as the main reason Al Qaeda undertook jihad against America. (American support for Israel was the tertiary reason.)

Bin Talal's refocus on Israel was the classic regional despot's diversion. Freeman echoing it doesn't speak well for his analytical powers or objectivity. That he would slap America in the face with it on behalf of Saudi Arabia, the country that has done so much to nourish the filthy ideology that produced 9/11, and provided the manpower for the attacks, says a lot about the premise that Freeman is an antidote to those who would subordinate American interests to foreign concerns.

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