The most interesting part of the debate about the nomination of Chas Freeman for head of the National Intelligence Council is not so much the anti- side — where I find myself, unsurprisingly — but the rhetoric of his defenders.
The issue itself is simple. Freeman is President of the Middle East Policy council (or was, from 1997 until just recently; the MEPC website still lists him as president), originally called the American Arab Affairs Council, an organization receiving major funding from Saudi Arabia and which promotes the Saudi viewpoint. It would not be far from the truth to call him a paid agent of the Saudi kingdom.
Freeman was also a member of the “International Advisory Board” of Chinese state oil company CNOOC from 2004 until this February 1. Both of these connections raise serious questions of conflict of interest quite unrelated to his views about Israel.
Now let’s get to his defenders. Stephen Walt, co-author of the notorious attack on American Jews and Israel “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” said
The Likudnik wing of the Israel lobby is gradually losing influence, because more and more people understand that its policies are disastrous for both Israel and the United States, and because its repeated efforts to smear people and stifle debate are deeply damaging as well as un-American. — Walt, “Have they not a shred of decency?“
Walt doesn’t mention Freeman’s Saudi and Chinese connections while he attacks his detractors for “McCarthyism” and claims that
What unites this narrow band of critics is only one thing: Freeman has dared to utter some rather mild public criticisms of Israeli policy.
Of course this is nonsense. See, for example, this letter by Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) opposing the nomination. Note that the word ‘Israel’ does not appear therein. And Wolf is not the only member of Congress expressing similar concerns; at least 10 others have done so.
Walt commits the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi (“Red herring“) by ignoring the arguments about conflict of interest and replacing them with accusations against the ‘Israel lobby’ and its undue influence. In his use of emotion-laden terms such as “McCarthyism”, “Likudnik”, “smear” and — last but definitely not least — “un-American”, Walt is guilty of the fallacy of “appeal to emotion“, the attempt to replace real arguments with emotional trigger words. In his statement that “more and more people understand…”, he commits the fallacy of “appeal to belief“, since the number of people who believe a proposition is irrelevant to its truth.
For these, plus an overall tendency to substitute ad hominem attacks for reasoning, I am giving Walt an F in Logic 101. Maybe he will do better next semester.
While Walt only hints that Freeman’s critics are motivated by their er, ‘ethnicity’, slimy M. J. Rosenberg, being Jewish himself, is allowed to say it explicitly:
…Jonathan Chait of the New Republic is an interesting case. He’s liberal on every single issue but Israel (on which he is pure neocon), not only liberal but brilliant. But when it comes to Israel, he just can’t get beyond the ethnic pull. Even worse, he does not understand that his ethnic blinders (and that is all they are) have led him to support an approach to Israel that, if it succeeds, will destroy it.
Rosenberg thinks that Freeman’s critics exposed their “ethnic” bias by opposing him because they think he will be bad for Israel, and only pretending to care about the Chinese connection (he doesn’t mention the Saudi connection).
M. J., step into my office: you have received an F. The motivations of the “usual suspects” don’t matter. Only their arguments do (argumentum circumstantial ad hominem). And the argument is that Freeman has serious conflicts of interest.
Rosenberg even admits that he, personally, supports Freeman because he thinks he will be anti-Israel (OK, he uses the phrase “honest broker”):
It’s the same reason I’m writing about Freeman. I want an honest broker. He doesn’t. The only differences between Chait and me on the issue are (1) We have diametrically opposed views about what is best for Israel (2) I know the issue and (3) I am up front about what my interest in Freeman is.
No, the difference is that he has a legitimate argument which you prefer to ignore for ideological reasons!
Richard Silverstein just lays it on in the thickest partisan terms: a “Republican pro-Israel witch-hunt” orchestrated by the “pro-Israel Right” of the Republican Jewish coalition. He claims that one cannot be opposed to Freeman without also being opposed to Obama’s employment of advisors such as Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross because they have received money from “pro-Israel sources”.
Richard, I’m giving you a D for not understanding that ‘pro-Israel sources’ are not the same as ‘foreign governments’. And I’m reducing that to an F because a) providing advice is not the same as vetting intelligence, and b) what Obama does with Ross and Indyk is irrelevant to what he should do with Freeman. This argument, if you can call it that, tries to be an argumentum ad hominem tu quoque (“you too”) which would be fallacious even if it were parallel, which it isn’t.
Personally, as a Jewish Likudnik Democrat neo-con (I am not exactly a neo-con, but I will accept the label if it means ‘pro-Israel’, which it seems to in this context) I dislike Freeman for a lot of reasons.
But as an American, I simply don’t want a paid Saudi or Chinese agent preparing intelligence summaries for my President.
Update [10 Mar 2009 1424 PDT]:
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2009 (AFP) – A veteran US diplomat and vocal Israel critic, Charles Freeman, has withdrawn from contention for a top US intelligence post, US intelligence director Dennis Blair announced Tuesday.
Freeman “has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret,” Blair’s office said in a statement.