Walt: In Defense of Chas Freeman Why we Need Clear-Eyed NIEs

Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt, who blogs for Foreign Policy takes on the critics of Chas Freeman’s possible appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council, and critics of Walt for defending him.

Freeman is a man of enormous diplomatic experience, both a China expert and a Middle East hand, and is the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is also a clear-sighted analyst who is not afraid to say that the US mission in Afghanistan has become quixotic, and that Israel’s expansionist policies are bad for all concerned, including the US. As soon as his appointment was bruited, the well-connected coterie of right-Zionist pundits went after him, and it is pretty obvious that he was being smeared and punished for having dared publicly criticize Israel, which the Revisionists have tried for years to make a hanging offense.

Walt pointed out that these pundits were just deploying ad hominems and that for them it is all about Israel, and then they accused him of being hysterical, paranoid, etc.

What Walt is too polite to say is that these guys are just ultra-nationalist bullyboys. A bully is a bully, it doesn’t matter whether a Zimbabwe nationalist or a Zionist, and it doesn’t matter whether it is John Hagee or Jonathan Chait. In accordance with the principle that you learned most things worth knowing in kindergarten, here is what one author says about school bullying;

‘ What Is Bullying?

Most kids have been teased by a sibling or a friend at some point. And it’s not usually harmful when done in a playful, friendly, and mutual way, and both kids find it funny. But when teasing becomes hurtful, unkind, and constant, it crosses the line into bullying and needs to stop.

Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways. It can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, threats, and mocking to extorting money and treasured possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about them. Others use email, chat rooms, instant messages, social networking websites, and text messages to taunt others or hurt their feelings.

It’s important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something that kids have to “tough out.” The effects can be serious and affect kids’ sense of self-worth and future relationships. In severe cases, bullying has contributed to tragedies, such as school shootings.’

Zionism is a form of nationalism centered on the necessity of turning Judaism into a base for a nation-state. Probably a majority of Jews, and virtually all American Jews, were offended by this notion before WW II. And although Zionists think they were vindicated by the events of the 1930s and 1940s, it is not at all clear in the 21st century that having a state makes you safe (my state has nuclear missiles aimed at it), or, just as important, adds to your wellbeing. Moreover, having an ethnically-based state is invidious (Jim Crow in the US was a form of white Protestant ethnic nationalism).

But in any case, Zionist nationalism isn’t any different from any other nationalism (all nationalisms fetishize some marker or markers of identity, whether language, religion, folkways, etc.) and it doesn’t deserve to be privileged in any way. Nationalism where healthy can be a sane form of patriotism and pride in the achievements of a people,and many Zionists fit that description (though more Jewish Zionists than Christian Zionists are humane in my experience). But nationalism can also easily turn pathological. You saw the way Christian Zionism becomes pathological when John Hagee said God had been angry with the Jews for not forming a state or going to Palestine, and so sent Hitler as their divinely appointed hunter. When nationalism turns pathological, it becomes a 00, a license to kill. The pundits who tried to smear Freeman and then Walt think they are 00’s.

For a person engaged in reasoned public discourse, ultra-nationalists are pains in the ass. Whenever I point to Milosevic’s war crimes, I get some fanatic defending him. It is disgusting. The Sudanese ultra-nationalists even rallied in Khartoum for Omar Bashir, just indicted for crimes against humanity. But, well, you are a little unlikely to be denied a high government post in the US because you once criticized Milosevic or Bashir. But if we leave aside the question of how many people, exactly, they have killed, and just examine the mindset and the shape of the policy they advocate, Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are also ultra-nationalists. Why in the world should they be above criticism. Because their ancestors were harmed by other peoples’ ultra-nationalism? What sense does that make?

The ultra-nationalist bullyboys set up Campus Watch to intimidate university administrations and to cow vulnerable assistant professors, which they have been doing with the utmost viciousness. They also bully congress, threatening to fund their rivals if they step out of line and decline to give Israel more cluster bombs to drop on innocent civilians. Most American Jews are social liberals and voted for Obama. They were the group, along with African-Americans, most likely to oppose the Iraq War in 2003. But the far-right Zionists among them have the big megaphones. Most major metropolitan newspapers have an ultra-nationalist Zionist columnist. Why? They are like 10 percent of the American Jewish community, which is 2 percent of the American population. But they aren’t correct in their analyses. They aren’t good writers. They don’t represent any significant population. They are just ultra-nationalists. And their main activity is to try to smear and intimidate people.

A military strategist once said that in order to dominate a population, you must put out its eyes. That is, you have to shut up the people who can see what is really going on. The ultra-nationalist bullyboys are trying to shut up Freeman and Walt, with character assassination and ad hominems and, in Freeman’s case, blackballing. They have gotten away with this shameful behavior for so long, despite the enormous harm it has wrought to the United States, that one hesitates to short them. They may well succeed in derailing Freeman’s appointment. But remember, these same pundits kept quoting to us the completely flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was just wrong. Freeman would be in charge of the writing of NIEs, and the ultra-nationalist pundits are afraid that he will get in the way of their plans for mayhem. If people don’t stand up for Freeman, it is hard to see how they can escape some of the blame when things go pear-shaped because of future bad National Intelligence Estimates. (You can write the White House here.)

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