Friday, March 06, 2009

Questions About Chas Freeman Go Beyond Israel (Updated)

At The Plank, Richard Just has a question for Stephen Walt and the defenders of Obama nominee Chas Freeman to head National Intelligence Council:
why don't Walt and others answer a very simple question: Do they or do they not find Freeman's views on Tiananmen Square alarming? Look, I strongly disagree with Freeman's views on Israel (for the record, I would describe myself as a liberal Zionist), but, given the wide range of views about Israel on the left these days, I'm not particularly surprised that someone whose opinions on the subject clash with my own has found his way into the Obama administration. What does surprise me is that someone with Freeman's views on human rights has ended up with a fairly prominent post. I already know where Walt--and others who have been attacking the Freeman attackers--stand on Israel. But I am genuinely curious to know what they think of Freeman's views on how authoritarian governments should treat their own people--a topic they don't seem to want to engage. For my part, I am horrified by the idea that someone with such a dim view of those who essentially risked their lives for liberalism (i.e. the Tiananmen protesters) would now serve in a liberal administration.
So, just what does Freeman think about China? Fortunately, The Weekly Standard has an email Freeman wrote defending China. Here is what he wrote about Tienanmen:
The attack on "unarmed students" at Tian'anmen (actually at Muxudi and Fuxingmen and other locations outside Tian'anmen) came after many weeks, even months, in which the Chinese leadership had lost control of security in their own capital. (The troops were, in fact, fired upon at Muxudi, though it is not clear by whom.) The only surprise to me (and other realists, including, I gather, you) was that the Chinese leadership did not act earlier to restore order. We would have done so, judging by the precedents set by MacArthur and our National Guard over the decades from 1920 - 1950. The main lesson those leaders who survived the affair have drawn from it, in fact, is that one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids. If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.
That evaluation is not supported by everyone:
No one knows for certain how many people died over the two days. The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600, then quickly retracted that figure under intense pressure from the government. The official Chinese government figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded.
This is from Frontline, which includes some firsthand accounts and a timeline.

Freeman's ties, both to China and other countries may constitute a conflict of interest. Eli Lake writes:
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). The Chinese government and other state-owned companies own a majority stake in the concern, which has invested in Sudan and other countries sometimes at odds with the United States, including Iran.

Mr. Freeman is also president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. He also has chaired Projects International, a consulting firm that has worked with foreign companies and governments.
The issue of Saudi money may be a source of problems for Freeman:
Mr. Freeman's ties with Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) also have come under scrutiny. According to the 2006 tax returns for the organization - considered a nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service - 11 donors contributed a total of more than $2.7 million that year.

MEPC's acting director, Jon Roth, said the organization would not disclose the names of the donors, but added, "If the government needs something, we will cooperate with them."

In 2007, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that he had provided a gift of $1 million to the MEPC for its endowment. Prince Alwaleed's attempt to give New York money after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was refused by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Buck Revell, the FBI's associate deputy director responsible for investigations and intelligence from 1980 to 1991, said the receipt of Saudi money alone is not a reason to disqualify Mr. Freeman.

"Saudi money is everywhere. It is in the George Bush library, it is in the Clinton library, it's everywhere. So that in and of itself is not disqualifying," Mr. Revell said. "But how that money was used - was it used for the correct purposes, was it diverted to other entities or other organizations - that would raise issues of security. If it is going to organizations that say Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth and other stuff, that would raise issues."[emphasis added]
Besides the questions surrounding the nature of Freeman's connections to foreign countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, what he has said is an inescapable part of the issue. His statements about Tienanmen naturally draw attention:
Herb Meyer, a deputy chairman of the NIC during the Reagan administration, said business connections with China and Saudi Arabia were a concern, but he was more worried about Mr. Freeman's views.

"What concerns me more is what he has said and written. What matters here is his judgment and that seems to be the point that everyone is skating away from," Mr. Meyer said. "Can you imagine if I had stood up and explained away Tiananmen Square? He does not have the intellectual fire power to sort through the intelligence and reach a plausible conclusion."
Sen. Charles Schumer has weighed in with his concerns about Freeman regarding Israel, while a probe is now under way--with one voice conspicuously absent:
It’s worth pointing out that we still haven’t heard much of a defense of Freeman from the White House yet, suggesting the possibility that they’re hanging Freeman out there. As noted below, the spokesperson for director of national intelligence Dennis Blair, who gave Freeman the post, says he did so without “White House approval.” Unclear where this is heading.
The question now is whether Freeman is going to be an addition to the still growing list of appointees who are being thrown 'under the bus'.

Given all this, I thought I would see what former Secretary of State James Baker thought of Freeman. Chas Freeman appears twice in the index of James Baker's book The Politics of Diplomacy.  Both passages relate to Freeman's insistence that we go easy on the Saudis in terms of seeking their financial support for the Gulf War.

The first instance appears in a passage in which Baker is recounting his visit to Saudi Arabia in September 1990, to build up support for the coalition to expel Saddam from Kuwait:

From the start, they [the Saudis] were always advocates fro the massive use of force. We knew that if it came to war, permission to launch from Saudi bases would be automatic. And we suspected that the King was also willing to bear any burden asked by his American benefactors.  Even so, I was urged by our ambassador, Chas Freeman, to go easy on the numbers. "They're strapped for money," he told me before the meeting. "Don't press for too much right now."  I disagreed. (p. 289)

Baker asked for a lot and got what he asked for from the Saudis. The next index entry for Freeman appears in connection with discussions in early January 1991, after the decision to attack Saddam's forces had been made:

Our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, suggested to me that perhaps we shouldn't ask quite so much of the Saudis. As a result of their previous commitments to Desert Shield, he said, they had a liquidity shortage that Saud hadn't wanted to admit to me. It seemed to me to be a classic case of clientitis from one of our best diplomats. "I'm going in front of the Congress and I'm asking them to go ahead and fund this effort," I said, "and I've got to explain that American blood will be spilled. If you think we're not going to ask the Saudis to pay for this, you've got another thing coming." It was the last I ever heard from him about going easy on the Saudis in terms of the costs of the operation. (p. 373).

I asked a foreign policy expert friend of mine what he makes of the above passages. This was his response:

My own person gloss is that Baker is a class act, and only said "one of our best diplomats" to throw him a bone. The fact that Saudi Arabia is so central to this period — and that the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia appears only twice in the book, shilling for the Saudis both times, and in passages that show Baker flatly disagreed with him, indicates what Baker really thinks of Chas Freeman. "Best diplomat" is just Baker being a great diplomat. 

Pity the poor Saudis and their shallow pockets.

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