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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