March 12, 2009

A Brief (and Belated) Word on Chas Freeman


What can one say about Mr. Freeman's ill-fated appointment saga these past weeks? I've now been able to take a quick peek and take note of what some of the key blogospheric voices like Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Daniel Larison, among others, had to say. In a word, what happened to Chas Freeman was repugnant, if I guess mostly predictable. As Larison writes:

What all of this tells me is that most of the criticism of Freeman on matters related to China was premature at best and was made without knowing very much about him, his views or his career. As to the questions of conflict of interest, the IG investigation would have resolved them one way or the other, but instead of waiting for an impartial and professional assessment of these matters the critics piled on with what were likely to have proved to be entirely baseless insinuations about Freeman’s integrity and accusations of working for foreign governments. As usual, character assassins typically reveal more about themselves than about the person they try to destroy.

Indeed. Incidentally, and lest anyone be concerned I've employed overly panegyrical tones re: Obama in previous posts of late (mostly because of the terror I felt at the hauntingly awful prospect of a Palinized putsch into the counsels of power), suffice it to say I have some disappointments, to be sure, which I hope to voice if I can come up for air sometime (both on the foreign and economic policy fronts).

And so it looks like I will need to add another now. After all, that Obama didn't deign to go to bat for Blair and Freeman, and instead we reportedly see the faux fevered calls from the Chuck Schumers to Rahm Emanuel helping scuttle things in the old Washington manner, well, it cheapens the Change Messiah imagery some, does it not?

As I said, more on other aspects later, but for now, I can only say Mr. Freeman on reflection will doubtless derive much comfort to be able to keep his keen and strategic voice at full-throttle as a private citizen, beholden to no Beltway muzzles or preordained red-lines, his own man, one whom fair-minded folks know well has maintained his honor and decency through this process, his opponents, far less so, I'm afraid, even those suddenly combing through Freeman's Tibetan and Tiananmen list-serv oeuvres with the voracious alacrity of born again human rights purists (many of these same ennobled watch-dogs far less concerned, if at all, by the recent years-long junking of the Geneva conventions, use of torture, and other such ostensibly passe Addingtonian/Yooesque fare).

Here's a snippet from Freeman I'd blogged earlier that struck me as very clear-sighted at the time, it's a pity we'll be prevented his counsel in digesting the nation's intelligence (adult supervision delivering tight, non-biased, rational work-product that ends up significantly helping define policy would have been greatly boosted by Freeman's presence in the job), and a pity too many of our best and brightest--even after the capsizing of Wall Street--steer clear of Washington exactly because of the cheap denigrations and empty spectacles we've just witnessed again with this tawdry episode.


No country was then more widely admired or emulated than ours. The superior features of our society - our insistence on individual liberty under law; the equality of opportunity we had finally extended to all; the egalitarianism of our prosperity; our openness to ideas, change, and visitors; our generous attention to the development of other nations; our sacrifices to defend small states against larger predators both in the Cold War and, most recently, in the war to liberate Kuwait; our championship of international order and the institutions we had created to maintain it after World War II; the vigor of our democracy and our dedication to untrammeled debate - were recognized throughout the world. Critics of our past misadventures, as in Vietnam, had been silenced by the spectacle of our demonstrable success. This, our political betters judged, made the effort to explain ourselves, our purposes, and our policies through public diplomacy an unnecessary anachronism. The spread of global media and the internet, many believed, made official information and cultural programs irrelevant. Our values were everywhere accepted and advancing, albeit with some lingering resistance in a few out-of-the-way places. Our policies would speak for themselves through the White House and State Department spokesmen. Why not save the money, while simplifying the organization chart?

That was, of course, before we suffered the trauma of 9/11 and underwent the equivalent of a national nervous breakdown. It was before we panicked and decided to construct a national-security state that would protect us from the risks posed by foreign visitors or evil-minded Americans armed with toenail clippers or liquid cosmetics. It was before we decided that policy debate is unpatriotic and realized that the only thing foreigners understand is the use of force. It was before we replaced the dispassionate judgments of our intelligence community with the faith-based analyses of our political leaders. It was before we embraced the spin-driven strategies that have stranded our armed forces in Afghanistan, marched them off to die in the terrorist ambush of Iraq, and multiplied and united our Muslim enemies rather than diminishing and dividing them. It was before we began to throw our values overboard in order to stay on course while evading attack. It was before, in a mere five years, we transformed ourselves from 9/11's object of almost universal sympathy and support into the planet's most despised nation, with its most hateful policies. [my emphasis, for obvious reasons]

If you click the link you'll find more, much of it provocative, even on occasion, a tinge hot-headed. Which leads me to my last point, that Chas Freeman probably never could have--at least in this far more tedious era of technocrats climbing up the greasy pole to positions in the NSC and such--gotten a really top slot above things like Ambassador to Riyadh. He was too much an outsize personality, relative to this era of frequently mind-numbing ideological conformity, rife with group-think lick-spittles, ideological litmus tests, and assorted apparatchik-type dullards posing as 'experts'. We are the poorer as a nation for not having him in the job, to be sure, but deep down Freeman will be the richer for it. A small consolation, but I do wish it for him.

N.B. As I probably won't be back in this space again for several months, perhaps now is a good time to explain to readers why I've disappeared of late. As my revised bio indicates, there have been a couple changes in my life recently. First, the birth of a son, my second child. Second, I am currently enrolled in an Executive M.B.A. program at Columbia Business School, to help diversify my legal background (I'd always wanted to have a joint J.D.-M.B.A.). Given a demanding full-time job, busy family life with two children, what is a fairly rigorous M.B.A. program on weekends, not to mention the frenetic pace of life in Manhattan generally, you can see how--while it was always challenging to begin with--writing anything consistently in this space now given the above is simply impossible. Still, you might keep me book-marked if inclined, I will probably still try to comment every now and again, and once I've concluded some of the extracurriculars and the children are a bit older there may be some windows for more consistent production here. Best to all.

UPDATE: I have been having some technical problems with some more recent posts not staying on the main page. Regardless, this post helpfully includes a personal update that explains why new posts will be very limited for the foreseeable future, so likely makes most sense to have up as lead item for now. Time/tech issues permitting however I will try to get the old posts back up too. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at March 12, 2009 12:23 PM

Thanks for this.

The Freeman link is delightful. It's a shame not to have his voice being heard in some official capacity. Even so, we have a consolation prize in knowing that someone in the administration (the boss himself?) advanced his name for consideration. His input may yet matter, even if we never find out.

Posted by: Hootsbuddy at March 12, 2009 05:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good to hear your view. Agreed he'll be a free man, but Blair obviously could have used his help. We can hope that Shumer and the AIPAC crowd seriously overplayed their hand on this one.

On the China side, it was amusing to have Hillary over there pleading with them to continue buying our debt. Not that they have much choice. Even more amusing is the braying of the MSM on the USA's role as moral arbiter of nations and purveyor of Democracy. Everyone is entitled to our opinion. But no one wants it. Plain-spoken realists like Freeman are in too short supply.

We shouldn't be surprised that Obama has feet of clay, is a moderate by inclination, and willing to compromise highest principles to get things done. His books are pretty clear on those points. And he is a politician.

Congratulations on the birth of you son.

I look back on the days of full-time job, grad-school, and parenthood as a kind of insanity. I'm sure you're doing better with it than I did.

I hope we don't have to wait for you to finish the MBA to get your take on our financial meld-down and the consequences for our foreign policy. Geithner's been a little disappointing too, on both bold initiative and the transparency thing. ("I'm your wicked uncle Timmy, I hope you won't see or hear me as I fiddle around....")

Best regards.

Posted by: Adams at March 12, 2009 05:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Congratulations on the birth of your son. May the world be markedly improved by the time he comes of age. And as a Columbia (non-MBA) grad myself with friends at the B-School I know the program will be well worth your time. While I'm sorry we won't have the benefit of your insights, I'm sure once you come out the other end you'll have much to contribute wherever you finally land. Good luck.

Posted by: AndrewBW at March 12, 2009 06:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I had the pleasure of citing a quotation from your blog on my "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review" at

Posted by: John Brown at March 13, 2009 03:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Always a pleasure to read your perspective, no matter how infrequent (though you will be missed).

While I've enjoyed your observations re: foreign affairs, for a long time I was intrigued by your occasional remarks about an over-the-horizon financial debacle that might occur (this about 2 - 3 years ago). I too shared that sense of trouble (with the most basic of analysis: that there was a housing bubble and MEW was fueling consumption). And now it's come to pass and is the dominant issue for the world. The economic situation will test Europe's integration and who can say what will happen in Eastern Europe, China, or India? Oddly, I don't think military action is a likely outcome, mainly because it's too expensive and won't bring any rewards. Instead, there will be much grousing and ill-feelings, which won't be pleasant, but I'll settle for that.

In any event, congratulations on your new son and best wishes with your pursuit of an MBA. Don't stress out, dude!

Posted by: Quiddity at March 13, 2009 11:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's a snippet from Freeman I'd blogged earlier that struck me as very clear-sighted at the time, it's a pity we'll be prevented his counsel in digesting the nation's intelligence...

And here, evidently, is a snippet of his clear-sightedness:

A government that responds to unwelcome election results by supporting efforts to correct them with political assassinations and cluster bombs has even less credibility in this regard. (If democracies don't fight democracies, by the way, what are Gaza and Lebanon all about? But that's another discussion.)

Um, notice anything missing from this so-called paragon's "clear-sighted" analysis?

(Actually, I guess you didn't.... Sigh.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 18, 2009 10:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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