Chas Freeman’s selection to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council (first reported by Laura Rozen of Foreignpolicy.com) is notable not just for his surprising (and, to some, disturbing) even-handedness about the Middle East.
The man is one of a rare breed: He is a Washington insider, and yet he is also a ferociously independent thinker, a super-realist, an iconoclast, a provocateur and a gadfly. He has, as I wrote in a Niemanwatchdog.org article about him in 2006, spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered — or even asked — because they’re too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult.
For him to be put in charge of what Rozen calls “the intelligence community’s primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates” is about the most emphatic statement the Obama Administration could possibly make that it won’t succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq.
During the Bush years, Freeman was one of the few foreign-policy mandarins to routinely and blisteringly point out how self-defeating Bush’s war on terror really was.
Here he is, for instance, in a NiemanWatchdog essay from October 2006:
Muslim extremists seek to drive us from their lands by hurting us. They neither seek to destroy nor to convert nor to conquer us. They can in fact do none of these things. The threat we now face does not in any way justify the sacrifice of the civil liberties and related values we defended against the far greater threats posed by fascism or Soviet communism. Terrorists win if they terrorize; to defeat them, we must reject inordinate fear and the self-destructive things it may make us do.…
Muslim extremists cannot destroy us and what we have stood for, but we can surely forfeit our moral convictions and so discredit our values that we destroy ourselves. We have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them. To prevail, we must remember who we are and what we stand for. If we can rediscover and reaffirm the identity and values that made our republic so great, we will find much support abroad, including among those in the Muslim world we now wrongly dismiss as enemies rather than friends.
In a July 2007 NiemanWatchdog.org essay, Freeman wrote that Bush’s undefined, seemingly endless “war on terror” needed to be reassessed from top to bottom. “In less than a decade,” he wrote, “we have managed to discredit our capacity to enlist others in defending our interests and to forfeit our moral authority as the natural leader of the global community.” He decried “a made-for-TV approach to international negotiation in which our leaders demonstrate their resolve by refusing to allow our diplomats to talk to bad guys until they come out with their hands up. When that approach produces the predictable impasse, we fall back on the ‘shoot first, let God worry about what happens next’ neocon school of war planning.” And then, he wrote: “Rather than consider the possibility that the witless application to foreign societies of military pressure, no matter how immense and irresistible it may be, is more likely to generate resistance than to make states of them, we prefer to blame the inhabitants of these societies for their ingratitude and internal divisions.”
And he argued that the only way to restore our international reputation and eliminate terrorism against Americans is to make peace between Israelis and Arabs.
Don’t think he’s a friend to Democrats, either. As he wrote in July 2007:
Both parties colluded in catastrophically misguided policies of militarism and jingoistic xenophobia. We succumbed to panic and unreasoning dread. We got carried away with our military prowess. Our press embedded itself with the troops and jumped into bed with our government. We invaded countries that existed only in our imaginations and then were shocked by their failure to conform to our preconceptions. We asked our military to do things soldiers can do only poorly, if at all. Our representatives pawned our essential freedoms to our Commander-in-Chief in exchange for implied promises that he would reduce the risks to our security by means that he later declined to disclose or explain.