Saturday, March 14, 2009

There're No Words On It!

Congressional representatives are insisting that AIPAC never lobbied them on Chas Freeman (and AIPAC, for its part, says it took no position). Obviously, there are only two interpretations one can draw from this story:

1) They're lying. You know how folks who support Israel are.

2) They're telling the truth. This makes AIPAC even more pernicious -- people are so terrified of it can influence policy without even saying a word.

There is, in theory, option 3: That representatives came to their own conclusions that, on the weight of the evidence (including but not limited to Freeman's views on Israel), Mr. Freeman should not head the National Intelligence Council. This is of course too absurd to contemplate. Pro-Israel people aren't capable of having interests independent of the Jewish state, let alone evaluating them independent of what AIPAC dictates. It's a miracle they can even go to the bathroom without the Israel lobby's permission.

Meanwhile, J Street -- which also stayed out of the Freeman fight -- has released this statement.


PG said...

Or option 4: AIPAC took no formal position, but people identified with AIPAC such as Steven Rosen were indeed publicly attacking Freeman even before the pick was formally announced, and AIPAC provided critical info on Freeman.

Only a few Jewish organizations came out publicly against Freeman's appointment, but a handful of pro-Israeli bloggers and employees of other organizations worked behind the scenes to raise concerns with members of Congress, their staffs and the media.

For example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often described as the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, "took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it," spokesman Josh Block said.

But Block responded to reporters' questions and provided critical material about Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him. Asked about this yesterday, Block replied: "As is the case with many, many issues every day, when there is general media interest in a subject, I often provide publicly available information to journalists on background." ...
The earliest cry of alarm about Freeman's appointment -- a week before it was announced -- came from a former AIPAC lobbyist. Steve Rosen wrote Feb. 19 on his blog that Freeman was a "strident critic of Israel" and described the potential appointment as "a textbook case of the old-line Arabism" whose "views of the region are what you would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry."

Rosen said yesterday that he had been "quite positive" about President Obama's previous appointments for Middle East positions but that he was "surprised" about Freeman. The appointee's "most extreme point of view," he said, was not what he had expected for the head of the NIC.

Rosen has a unique position in Washington. A former chief foreign policy lobbyist for AIPAC, he and a colleague were indicted by the Bush administration in 2005 on suspicion of violating the Espionage Act, the first nongovernment employees ever so charged. AIPAC cut him loose, and a trial date has been set for May.

Meanwhile, Rosen is limited in what he can do. He said he cannot talk to AIPAC employees, nor can he lobby Congress. He has talked to "a number of journalists" who called him about Freeman, but not members of Congress. He did not answer when asked yesterday whether he has talked to Hill staff members.

Rosen's initial posting was the first of 17 he would write about Freeman over a 19-day period. Some of those added more original reporting, while some pointed to other blogs' finds about Freeman's record. In the process, Rosen traced increasing interest in the appointment elsewhere in the blogosphere, including coverage by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, and Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.

Matt said...

Dan Fleschler is blogging this as AIPAC really did speak up, even if not 'officially.'

But his analysis is interesting. AIPAC (and AIPAC alone, not any amorphous lobby) seems to like the self-serving image of itself as all-powerful (perhaps in the way any lobbying group would, or perhaps in more conspiratorial terms - I don't know), but this actually puts significant limits on their power.

But, of course, is there anything actually wrong with Jews lobbying against someone who blamed 9/11 on American support for Israel (as was Jeff Goldberg's foremost point) and said that the US had ceeded its right to form its own judgments on ME foreign policy (my biggest complaint)?

I would add that this might mean Washington as a whole is peculiarly antisemitic in a way most of the US isn't - in other words antisemitism is far more deeply institutionalized in the US than we might imagine. This wouldn't be so surprising given that a major feature of antisemitism is that Jews are largely rendered invisible everywhere else.

But if it is disloyal to America for Jews to participate in the political process in ways specific to the Jewish experience, then (as you've pointed out yourself) that is a refusal to accept Jewish agency and subjectivity.

As PG said elsewhere, even if every Jew were to teleconference in order to scheme to defeat the Freeman nomination, that wouldn't be out of line. The problem with the discourse is how it exaggerates the power of "the lobby" and how the contours of "the lobby" are defined, so that Joe Klein can include Jeff Goldberg among "professional Jewish community" and smear Goldberg with an association with "the Lobby."

PG said...

There's nothing wrong or unfair about people's associating to express their preference about government -- it's the most core of First Amendment activity -- but it is unfair if there's an effort to portray Freeman inaccurately; to take his words out of context (as someone I'm inclined to respect has said occurred with Freeman's comments on the China listserv); in other words, to hang him with anything other than his own rope. I don't care who brought down the nomination -- it's an ad hominem fallacy to assume that a claim can be dismissed based on who makes it -- but I care how it was done and whether the process was just.

Matt said...

I'd agree with that as a standard. It seems awfully idealistic in a partisan world, but I don't know what to do about that.

As for the specific case of the Freeman appointment, though, here's the editorial your letter-writer was responding to. It seems Reynolds mischaracterizes Chait a bit. Chait may have neglected to note that Freeman's views are commonly shared, but I think plenty of people would still agree with Chait's characterization.

Reynolds puts it as "an endorsement of shooting down idealistic students." I don't see (unless it was written elsewhere, but I've seen a fair bit from Chait on this) any justification for suggesting that Chait had written that (though it is a conclusion some might draw directly from Freeman). What Chait had said -after an extensive quote from Freeman, introduced with "an excess of restraint"- was that Freeman possessed "a mind so deep in the grip of realist ideology that it follows the premises straight through to their reductio ad absurdum." Harsh, but I wouldn't say unfair.

PG said...


You think that Chait gave a fair quote of Freeman when Chait doesn't even start with the beginning of Freeman's sentence? Chait left out the rather important beginning: "I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that ... " (Ellipses and other indications that a quote has been truncated are an alarm bell for anyone reading a brief to go check what the full quote really was.)

Also, if Freeman said the Chinese government's mistake was "the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud" and the 0 to 60 move from inaction to force (instead of only using "force when all other measures had failed"), then what is the reductio ad absurdam here? That it's better to try nonviolent methods first instead of rushing straight to violent ones? That doesn't seem very absurd to me.

Matt said...

Well, yes, PG, I do find the quote reasonable. I had read the full quote before the elided one (and thus actually missed the elision in the op-ed version) interpreting it as Chait presents. It's true, there's a slight, incomplete distancing from outright support which Chait omits. But I find that less meaningful than you do. In fact, it strikes me as most likely pro forma.

What do you make of "as would have been both wise and efficacious"? It strikes me as a bit garbled, and I can't identify exactly what he intends to describe as wise and efficacious. But it does seem to be the position he is accused of holding. The only alternative present would be the actual crackdown. That seems unlikely.

Then Freeman also goes on to speak explicitly from his own position, that no government could allow such an uprising.

"For myself, I side on this -- if not on numerous other issues -- with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' "Bonus Army" or a "student uprising" on behalf of "the goddess of democracy" should expect to be displaced with despatch from the ground they occupy. I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations. I thus share the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang's dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China."

I think this is something many Americans might find downright frightening. I do, at any rate.

PG said...

"I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations."

If you think the Bush Admin would have allowed a student occupation that would shut down the federal government's normal operations -- particularly any dealing with defense or intelligence -- bless your heart for such optimism. The Bonus Army to which Freeman referred was the march on Washington by WWI vets who had not been fully paid by the government and who demanded the payment with the onset of the Depression. Hoover didn't let them stick around either. See also the Bonus Army of the Revolutionary War that also was driven out of D.C. by the U.S. military.

One thing you can give the realists: they're generally not hypocritical enough to morally condemn other governments for doing what their own government has done.

Matt said...

Well, MacArthur disobeyed Hoover to chase the Bonus Army further than across the Potomac.

Matt said...

In any case, we agree on points, about the right of Jews to political action and the grounds for arguing against such action, that are far more important to me personally than China.