March 10, 2009
In Re: Messrs. Freeman and Obama

Personally I got everything I hoped for from my vote the morning after the election when, as Bill Greider predicted, white supremacy was defeated.

Thus appointments like Tim Geithner and Dennis Ross don’t bother me as much as they would if I had any expectations. The cognitive-psych folks tell us that our emotions are not direct reactions to the world around us. Instead, they’re reactions to the difference between the world as it happens — as the various possibilities collapse into a single actualization — and what we expected. In a nutshell, if we expected crap and got crap, or expected okay and got okay, we’re fine; but if we expected okay and got crap, we’re pissed.

So when I see the occasional Presidential appointee who doesn’t seem to me to be more of the same horse hockey, I’m pleasantly surprised. To wit, thank God (says the Zen Buddhist) for George Mitchell. He’s not without flaws, and his range might prove, for example, to be limited to western European cultures. But at least with Abe Foxman complaining that he’s too even-handed he’s got a chance at some credibility.

Realistically, I don’t think the world expects us to sort out the Israeli-Palestinian mess on our own; we didn’t create it, at least not directly. But we have been the reason the wound has festered rather than healed, and we need to do something about that. We need to encourage rather discourage some sort of live-and-let-live arrangement. The problem is that this has never been the A-merican way. We’re all about get-the-hell-out-of-my-way, facing Native Americans, Spanish, Russians, or whoever.

At some point, we might have to grow up as a nation, and realize that not only did Moses not physically part the Red Sea, we’re not special in God’s eyes any more than anyone else is. Yes, we are special. So is everyone else, including those who disagree with our religion, our political system, and our economic theories. Even those whose affectional or, worse, recreational preferences are different from ours!

Admittedly this is a full plate for a single administration, and perhaps not even The One could pull off such a feat. But if we hope to accomplish a chunk of this agenda in Obama’s first administration, the appointment of George Mitchell is a good step.

As is that of Chas Freeman, appointed chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The NIC is charged with synthesizing the products of the various agencies and offices involved in intelligence, and producing the National Intelligence Estimates, or NIEs, most recently (in)famous for being used by the Cheney administration to bolster the dishonest case for war in Iraq.

It appears from his history that Freeman would be a voice against such silly moves in the future. Therefore a certain portion of American opinion, based on the primacy of the war machine, opposes him quite vociferously. Consider these comments from Jim Lobe of IPS and FoBA Jim Fallows of The Atlantic. Despite their differences, I rank both of them among the top handful of helpful and reliable reliable commentators on US foreign policy.

Depending on your take on this issue, you might want to consider contacting your representatives at various levels of government. This is still a democracy if we make it one.

Jim Lobe:

To me, this is a stunning appointment. There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded (just look at this bio here), knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman. He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so. But, more to the point, he was probably the most direct and outspoken — and caustic — critic of the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror,” especially of the influence of the neo-conservatives — of any former senior member of the career foreign service. His appointment constitutes a nightmare, for the Israeli right and its U.S. supporters, in particular, (and for reflexive China-bashers, as well).

Jim Fallows has posted three times recently about this apointment. He says he doesn’t know Freeman personally,

But I do know something about the role of contrarians in organizational life. I have hired such people, have worked alongside them, have often been annoyed at them, but ultimately have viewed them as indispensable. Sometimes the annoying people, who will occasionally say “irresponsible” things, are the only ones who will point out problems that everyone else is trying to ignore. A president needs as many such inconvenient boat-rockers as he can find — as long as they’re not in the main operational jobs. Seriously: anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.

So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.


Posted by Chuck Dupree at March 10, 2009 05:53 AM
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Yes, that really would be a change, having leadership that would tolerate someone even being allowed to ask difficult questions that didn't necessarily support the preconceived notions. That sounds revolutionary, like it might possibly threaten the way of life that we have become accustomed to. I'm not one to take lightly being dispelled of the illusions and delusions that I have become comfortable with. I'm "agin it."

Posted by: knowdoubt on March 10, 2009 8:26 PM
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