The Assault on Chas Freeman
Time / Joe Klein
08-Mar-2009 (one comment)

Especially now, as Israel concocts a new government that will probably
include an anti-Arab bigot (Avigdor Lieberman) in a key cabinet
position, will probably allow the cancerous spread of Jewish
settlements on Arab lands and will oppose a two-state solution, I think
it's absolutely necessary that the US government, finally, makes it
clear when Israel is behaving badly (as Hillary Clinton did recently,
when she chastised the Israelis for not allowing humanitarian supplies
into Gaza).

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Richard Just asks a question of me, Matt Yglesias and Bob Dreyfuss:

I am genuinely curious to know what
they think of Freeman's views on how authoritarian governments should
treat their own people--a topic they don't seem to want to engage. For
my part, I am horrified by the idea that someone with such a dim view
of those who essentially risked their lives for liberalism (i.e. the
Tiananmen protesters) would now serve in a liberaladministration.
(Imagine if an appointee had made similar comments about 1960s civil
rights protesters in the south; we liberals would be justly
enraged.)... Instead, why don't we liberals just stop and answer the
question: Are Freeman's views on Tiananmen acceptable to us or not? And
if not, shouldn't we all be equally appalled by his selection?

Set aside for a moment, because Richard does, the question of the
investigation of Freeman for his foreign ties, which strike me as the
strongest case that can be made for getting rid of him. As best as I'm
aware, the origin of the question of Freeman's Tiananmen views comes
from emails to a private listserv that the Weekly Standard published. You can read one of them here and a longer one here.

Anyone with experience on private email listservs knows that you
think out loud on them, so I take these emails in that spirit. The
first email the Standard printed is indeed troubling from a
human-rights perspective. I don't see how it can be justified to say
that the Chinese government's suppression of the Tiananmen Square
protesters is an example of "overly cautious behavior."
On the second email, I'd say read it in full and judge for yourself the
degree to which it's actually an apology for the Chinese government.
There I'm not convinced. For instance, there's this: "Certainly, China
continues to fall far short of our minimal expectations for human and
civil rights in many respects but it has made very significant progress
on many levels. To deny this is primarily to raise questions about the
extent to which one has been able to observe readily observable
reality." The tone is a bit obnoxious -- not being familiar with the
culture of that listserv, it's hard to know whether that's par for the
course of what -- but it seems reasonable to assert that China in 2005
(when Freeman wrote the email) is better than China under, say, the
Cultural Revolution from a human-rights perspective, while still
falling short of our minimal human rights expectations. Freeman's
concern about that strikes me as rather balanced -- if not necessarily
where I'd calibrate the precise balance.

So then comes the question of whether we should be appalled as
liberals by the selection of someone who'd write these emails to chair
the National Intelligence Council. There I'd suggest Richard is
somewhat overheated. The job of the NIC chairman is to frame discussion
for long-term analysis and -- with the caveat that this could change
under Dennis Blair-- supervise the writing of community-wide estimates.
Again with the caveat that this could change under Blair, the NIC
chairmanship is a weak position relative to the actual National
Intelligence Officers who take charge of the debate/writing process of
the estimates. (It has no role in short-term or immediate-term
intelligence, such as the president's daily brief.) In short, Freeman
is more likely to push against other people's perspectives in an
intelligence debate than to actually assert his own views in a policy

But let's say he does. There I wonder if there isn't, counterintuitively, a benefit
for human-rights advocates in Freeman's place on the NIC. After all,
some of the most innovative human-rights theorists of the age serve in
the Obama administration. Susan Rice is the ambassador to the United
Nations. Samantha Power has the multilateral-affairs portfolio in the
National Security Council. All sets of principles carry the danger of
hardening into dogma, which is why all of us have to be careful to
confront assessments that challenge what we believe. And all
administrations want to strike a balance between protecting American
interests abroad and promoting American values. (In this
administration, the human-rights-revolution advocates have arguably the
most power they've ever had in any administration.) Power and
Rice aren't crimped ideologues, and they'd probably be well served as a
result by confronting a piece of long-term intelligence analysis that,
for instance, explored the prospects for the global human-rights
movement in 2025 along the lines of their favored policies. That's the
sort of thing that results in better policy, no matter what you might write on an email listserv.