Belmont Club

Looking back in surprise

Martin Peretz, professor, philanthrophist, long-time supporter of Al Gore and publisher of the New Republic is apopletic at the selection of Chas Freeman as prospective chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Foreign Policy summarizes the controversy over Freeman.

The Cable reported last week that former U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman was up for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council. Since confirmed, the story has set off something of a media firestorm.

Reports from Politico and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, along with commentary and blog posts from The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, the Witherspoon Institute’s Gabriel Schoenfeld (in the Wall Street Journal), and former AIPAC official Steve Rosen have conveyed the charge that, in the judgment of some pro-Israel activists in the United States, Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is too sympathetic to Riyadh’s worldview and has frequently spoken outside the traditional Washington discourse on Israel.

But this bland, matter-of-fact recital by Foreign Policy hardly does justice to the vividness and choice vocabulary of Peretz’s denunciation of Freeman, who he practically characterizes as a footman and flunky of the Saudi Royal House. Peretz writes:

Freeman is a bought man, having been ambassador to Saudi Arabia and then having supped at its tables for almost two decades, supped quite literally, and supped also at home, courtesy of Prince Bandar, confidante of the Bushes who as everybody knows became extremely wealthy through the intimacy with the royal house, a story that has not been done adequately ever. …

Chas Freeman is actually a new psychological type for a Democratic administration. He has never displayed a liberal instinct and wants the United States to kow-tow to authoritarians and tyrants, in some measure just because they may seem able to keep the streets quiet. And frankly, Chas brings a bitter rancor to how he looks at Israel. No Arab country and no Arab movement–basically including Hezbollah and Hamas–poses a challenge to the kind of world order we Americans want to see. He is now very big on Hamas as the key to bringing peace to Gaza, when in fact it is the key to uproar and bloodletting, not just against Israel but against the Palestinian Authority that is the only group of Palestinians that has even given lip-service (and, to be fair, a bit more) to a settlement with Israel.

In the paragraph above, one might object the phrase “a new psychological type” and indeed, Foreign Policy hints that the controversy over Freeman goes beyond the ambassador himself. FP says:

In conversations with The Cable, some Washington foreign-policy types have argued that the controversy may be more about the president than about Freeman himself.

A source close to Freeman said that among the critics taking shots at the would-be appointee, several “opposed Obama on the spurious ground that he wanted to do in Israel. He doesn’t.” The source noted that some critics of Obama’s appointments had also targeted national security advisor James L. Jones, who previously served as a U.S. envoy charged with strengthening the Palestinian Authority and its security forces, as being too even-handed. “It seems to be the president these guys are after,” the source said.

In other words “a source close to Freeman” argues that he’s not an anomaly at all, but a chip off the old block. The translation of Freeman’s roundabout defense is as follows: ‘people are criticizing me because they don’t like the President’s policy and that policy is consistent over other people besides me.’ Whatever you think of Freeman, he has a point. The Center for Security Policy has just released a study entitled the “Rise of the ‘Iran Lobby’: Teheran’s front groups move on– and into– the Obama Administration“. We’ve got to talk to them all. This is what engagement is all about, isn’t it? Given this circumstance several commenters at Peretz’s site were shocked, positively shocked that Peretz should be shocked. Here’s a sampler of comments.

  • Now, first the $900 million for Gaza, next, apparently, Chas Freeman. What else will you have to endure over these next four – or eight – years? Are you already nostalgic for the ghastly George Walker Bush administration? …
  • Mr. Peretz, at what point do you acknowledge that your certitude about Obama good sense prior to his election is now in serous doubt barely four weeks into his presidency?
  • Between this and the outrage of Durban II, it’s become painfully obvious what Obama’s true feelings are – politically and otherwise – about the State of Israel.
  • Folks: You are getting what you supported and voted for. Live with it.

The most cruel comment of all was this: “Marty: 78% of American Jews voted for B.O. Among them, you were one of his loudest cheerleaders. Contempt is less than thine stupidity deserveth.” Now Mr. Peretz may be wrong and Ambassador Freeman might be a completely misunderstood man. However that may be, the fact remains that Peretz has changed his mind under the impact of new information. He has revised his expectations about this particular BHO appointment a posteriori; that is to say looking back on what happened. We all have to revise our expectations in life, not always for the better. A priori happens at weddings. A posteriori at divorces. Mr. Peretz now has an a posteriori opinion of BHO’s judgment at filling the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council. What is his revised judgment of Obama himself?

But if some people of erudition and refinement have misjudged Mr. Obama it isn’t because they are bad or lousy people. On the contrary: I think that many of those who recognized BHO correctly from the beginning did so because they were a little bit shady themselves; the sort who watch people’s hands in dark alleys; are on the lookout for marked cards at games of chance and think twice before ordering a drink for an inordinately friendly lady at a seemingly respectable establishment with no prices on the bottles. These are the sort of people who would know beforehand what Peretz has come to realize belatedly.

But as they say, better late than never. Handsome is as handsome does. In the matter of Chas Freeman, remember who appointed him.

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