Sunday, March 01, 2009

WaPo on Freeman

Obama has erred again, and with deeply disturbing implications for Taiwan, as John Chait in WaPo writes. In this case the appointment is that of Charles Freeman for National Security Council Director:
Taken to extremes, realism's blindness to morality can lead it wildly astray. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, both staunch realists, wrote "The Israel Lobby," a hyperbolic attack on Zionist political influence. The central error of their thesis was that, since America's alliance with Israel does not advance American interests, it could be explained only by sinister lobbying influence. They seemed unable to grasp even the possibility that Americans, rightly or wrongly, have an affinity for a fellow democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships. Consider, perhaps, if eunuchs tried to explain the way teenage boys act around girls.

Freeman praised "The Israel Lobby" while indulging in its characteristic paranoia. "No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article," he told a Saudi news service in 2006, "given the political penalties that the lobby imposes on those who criticize it." In fact, the article was printed as a book the next year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York.

The most extreme manifestation of Freeman's realist ideology came out in a leaked e-mail he sent to a foreign policy Internet mailing list. Freeman wrote that his only problem with what most of us call "the Tiananmen Square Massacre" was an excess of restraint:

"[T]he truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tian'anmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action. . . .

"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 [sic] from the ground they occupy."

This is the portrait of a mind so deep in the grip of realist ideology that it follows the premises straight through to their reductio ad absurdum. Maybe you suppose the National Intelligence Council job is so technocratic that Freeman's rigid ideology won't have any serious consequences. But think back to the neocon ideologues whom Bush appointed to such positions. That didn't work out very well, did it?
The realist school has been a disaster for Taiwan over the years, with Kissinger being the prime example, selling out Taiwan over Vietnam and then going on to operate a business in China. Its primary ideal is that countries do not have ideals, but interests, and its primary mode of operation is betrayal.

Word has it that Freeman is the pick of Admiral Blair, Obama's intelligence director.....

UPDATE: Investor's Business Daily rips the appointment:

National Security: Imagine one of China's and Saudi Arabia's mouthpieces in America writing intelligence reports for the White House. Meet Chas Freeman, who will soon fill all three roles.


Freeman does business with the bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia, and in the weeks after 9/11 he didn't even consider halting his dealings with them. Through his firm, Projects International Inc., he continued discussing proposals with the bin Ladens, who also contribute heavily to the Middle East Policy Council.

Freeman also co-chairs the U.S. China Policy Foundation, part of the pro-China lobby. His son works for the China Alliance, which advises clients on China trade.

The elder Freeman, who once worked at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, apologized for the communist regime's bloody crackdown on young Tiananmen demonstrators. If anything, it was "overly cautious," he said, ignoring how the Beijing butchers turned the pro-democracy students into human paste with their tanks.

"I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government," he added.

Never mind if "normal" means communist police state.

Freeman also would let Beijing annex democratic Taiwan. "My own view is that reunification would be very beneficial for all concerned," he told China's official state organ, the People's Daily. "It would remove the only potential cause of conflict between the U.S. and China."

That's his new boss's attitude, too. Blair once called Taiwan the "turd in the punch bowl" of U.S.-China relations.

"China's proposal for reunification would leave Taiwan's armed forces intact and continue to make them, rather than the People's Liberation Army, primarily responsible for Taiwan's defense," Freeman said. "The PLA would not garrison Taiwan.

"As I understand it," he added, "the Chinese proposal would allow Taiwan to continue to choose its own leaders through elections, and would not assign any government personnel to the island from the mainland. Taiwan's newly democratized political system would not be affected by reunification."

The Politburo could not have said it better. Truth is, the PLA has a stated goal of military and political hegemony in Asia. It's called the "Island Chain Strategy." Perhaps Freeman should read it.


Aì Tâi-oân said...

From this portrayal, Charles Freeman seems like one of those elitists who are drunk on wielding power. To an elitist like that, wielders of power are whom you hobnob with no matter how repressive they are to their people -- because the elitist thinks of the citizens merely as their people -- sheep to be herded around. I often felt those vibes from hearing Obama: that he moved in elitists circles. And these elitists are found among leftists, communists, conservatives, capitalists -- every camp. To someone like that, Taiwan is merely an annoying buzzing that keeps them from getting on with their deep and monumental maneuverings on the front and center of the world stage. Taiwan and its people are treated as things, chips for bargaining instead of what they "really" are -- 23 million people.

Too bad we have our share of elitists in Taiwan's government.

Dixteel said...

Humm...looks like a disaster appointment indeed...not just for Taiwan, but for American.

Ben Goren said...

Now THAT scared me. The ONLY mistake was to have not prevented the Tiananmen Square Massacres. The bodies of students crushed under the wheels of tanks is justifiable? Taiwan would not be garrisoned? Simply shocking. Thanks for blogging on this.

iroiro said...

Is it just that US will sell weapons to Taiwan, get the money, and forget the island forever?? I cannot believe!

Don said...

Thanks, Michael. It appears that terms like honor and loyalty have no meaning to this guy. Let us hope that his opinions are not shared by many others in the Obama administration.

It should be noted that Intelligence Director Blair recently stated that his "turd in the punchbowl" comment was made in reaction to "a single, specific action by the Taiwan government, certainly not about Taiwan itself." It sounds like an "I did not have bad things to say about...that place" comment, but hopefully he wasn't just parsing his words.

You can read about his comment and a theory about what may have generated it here:

Anonymous said...

What an arrogant asshole. Astonishing.

Just as an aside, though, I don't think realism is the problem here. That's just a theory that tries to explain why states behave as they do, presumably on the basis of history. And, if anything, I would think that realism lends a lot of support to skepticism about the notion of a Chinese "peaceful rise." For example Mearsheimer -- who is a very clear and compelling speaker by the way, and well worth reading -- has written gloomily about the inevitability of the PRC's challenge to U.S. hegemony.

Keep up the hard work, Michael Turton.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Don and Anon. It is so frustrating that no matter who the President is, the same set of actors captures foreign policy.


J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Michael: Note that Charles Freeman was appointed National Intelligence Council (NIC) chairman, not National Security Council (NSC).

His views on the Tiananmen Square Massacre - if they are indeed his - are worrying, but on other subjects, he's been bang on, such as in his criticism of neo-conservatives and Zionism.

Anonymous said...

Add another turd to the punchbowl:

Ten days ago Adm. Blair clearly demonstrated how the "Old Boy" network functions: He tapped fellow Commissioner John Deutch to sit upon a spy satellite advisory panel.

Mr. Deutch, you may recall, was CIA director under Bill Clinton. "The worst director in CIA history," a former senior agency official told the The Investigator. You may also remember this: Soon after Mr. Deutch's departure from that job in 1996, he was discovered to have grossly mishandled government secrets.

Mr. Deutch, it transpired, had downloaded 74 top secret documents onto four computers used at his home by other family members and connected by modem to the Internet -- on which Mr. Deutch also accessed Russian porn sites through his AOL account.


Michael Turton said...

His critiques of Zionism and Neocons are bang on, but these guys are like Catholics critiquing Protestants, when what is needed is atheism.

But never mind all that: the conflict of interest -- Freeman doing intelligence while lobbying for China -- is massive.

Anonymous said...


'He is bang on Neo-conservatives, so he is okay, er, except on Taiwan issues near and dear to the hearts of some people.'


The whole concept of neo-conservatism is to promote democracy over realpolitik. If you care about Taiwan's democracy, you almost by definition are a neo-conservative.

If you support Taiwan's democracy vs. China, do you think Sen. Kerry's global test will defend Taiwan or a Bush-like cowboy unilateral foreign policy that is willing to ignore UN and "global opinion?"

Anonymous said...

Charles Freeman holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. He concentrates on the political economy of China and other parts of East Asia and on U.S.-China relations, particularly trade and economic relations. A second-generation “China hand,” he has lived and worked between Asia and the United States for his entire life. During his government career, he served as assistant U.S. trade representative (USTR) for China affairs. In this capacity, he was the United States’ chief China trade negotiator and played a primary role in shaping overall trade policy with respect to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, and Mongolia. During his tenure as assistant USTR, he oversaw U.S. efforts to integrate China into the global trading architecture of the World Trade Organization. Earlier in his government career, he served as legislative counsel for international affairs in the Senate.---



he is a careerist on the wrong place..

to handle chinese(wich base on idiology.) you need hardhead-politicans and idiologists, not Yale-Harward carrerists, wich will sell own mother just top step up.

Anonymous said...

Aì Tâi-oân said...To an elitist like that, wielders of power are whom you hobnob with no matter how repressive they are to their people

That reminds me of a Red Dwarf episode where the crew discover a parallel copy of themselves that has the ability to time travel. The crew is disgusted to find that their copies have been hanging out with all the worst dictators in history because the most repressive people throw the best parties.

Anonymous said...

His views on the Tiananmen Square Massacre - if they are indeed his - are worrying, but on other subjects, he's been bang on, such as in his criticism of neo-conservatives and Zionism.

So when he wants Taiwan to cease to exist so the Taiwanese can be ruled by their oppressive freedom hating neighbors, he's bad, but when he wants Israel to cease to exist so the Israelies can be ruled by their oppressive freedom hating neighbors, he's good?

What do the Chinese have to do to get your approval, start using suicide killers?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "turd in the punchbowl" comment. Maybe my memory is just messed up, but I think I remember Blair making good comments defending Taiwan. I had developed a pretty favorable view of him and was very surprised when I first heard about this punchbowl comment. However he did make a pretty good clarification, and it is easy to understand that when speaking someone may not parse their words carefully. It is easy to imagine saying "Taiwan is..." when what you really is that "The Taiwan issue is...". And indeed, the Taiwan issues is a turd, and it is entirely China's fault. China put the turd there.

The thing I fault Blair on in this case is that he appears to be blaming Chen rather than China. I believe Chen was president at the time that Blair made the comment that he later claims was referring to "a single, specific action by the Taiwan government". The question is, which action?

I can't think of any actions Taiwan took that would be considered a turd in the US-China relations. Perhaps a failure to first get clearance with the U.S., or to at least give pre-notice to the U.S., might be considered a turd in U.S.-Taiwan relations. But that's not what he said.

Anyway, I suppose there may be some justification lurking in classified information somewhere, but based on what I know I can't totally clear the guy. But I'm also not going to use that one comment to decide that he's an evil pro-China goon.

They say one turd spoils the whole bowl of rice, but I would like to give the guy the benefit of whatever doubt there is.

. said...

"His critiques of Zionism and Neocons are bang on, but these guys are like Catholics critiquing Protestants, when what is needed is atheism."

Wonderfully put!
I clicked into the comments section to try express the same point - though I wouldn't have done it nearly as cogently.

B.BarNavi said...

Okay, this just sounds like neocon nonsense stirring some unfounded paranoia. "Mouthpiece of China and Saudi Arabia"?! How crassly provocative can you get? The neocons have witness their "liberalism by force" doctrine fail utterly in Iraq, not as a matter of conduct but of ideological shortcoming. Such narishkeit has no place in future administrations, even if they just happen to represent the interests of certain countries we like.

The failure of neoconservatism has seen a resurgence in realism. I know you guys don't like it, but that's the current Washington consensus. Maybe in time, we can have Obama and Hillary's liberal-internationalist positions come into light, but until then, realism is the language we're speaking. Deal with it.

(And anyone who says that Freeman wants Israel's destruction is being intellectually dishonest.)

Michael Turton said...

Yes, I assume my readers were able to tell that both these critiques were right-wing and thus untrustworthy in many of their claims.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, I'm putting it up on my Facebook so all my friends can read it too. I'm an American (living in Taiwan now) and I voted for Obama but looking at decisions like this, I sometimes feel like I shouldn't have bothered to vote at all because democracy in America is nothing but a cheap lie.

Anonymous said...

More on Freeman (Mar5)

..Among the areas likely to be scrutinized in the vetting process are Mr. Freeman's position on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC).

Walt also has a follow-up piece.