Lebanon

“It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl…”

mccarthy… and all that Chas.

The above-the-fold story today is AIPAC’s whopping take-down of Chas Freeman as director of the National Intelligence Council. Here is some of the better commentary :

Richard Silverstein in Tikun-Olam: “Freeman Withdraws: Israel Lobby 1- Obama 0”

“I am sorry that Obama and Blair withdrew from the field with hardly a fight. It doesn’t augur well for the trench warfare that will be necessary in future if there is ever to be a U.S. role in midwiving peace in the Middle East. In this one, Obama faced the lobby eyeball to eyeball and flinched.”

Glenn Greenwald in Salon: “Charles Freeman fails the loyalty test”

“Obviously, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are rabid, hateful paranoids — total bigots and anti-Semites — for having suggested that there are powerful domestic political forces in the U.S. which enforce Israel-centric orthodoxies and make it politically impossible to question America’s blind loyalty to Israel.  What irrational lunacy on their part… In the U.S., you can advocate torture, illegal spying, and completely optional though murderous wars and be appointed to the highest positions.  But you can’t, apparently, criticize Israeli actions too much or question whether America’s blind support for Israel should be re-examined.”

David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy: “Freeman is Forced Out“:

“The United States will get along fine without Freeman and without each and every one of the casualties of this latest hiring cycle. But we will ultimately suffer irreparable damage if we do not reverse this pernicious trend. Further, those who celebrate keeping out Freeman or any others whose views do not align with theirs or who feared his associations would do well to remember that the same kind of criteria can be applied by other groups. The result is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman. But for the record, the most compelling reason I found for believing Chas Freeman would have been a superb Chairman of the National Intelligence Council was one that seldom came up in all the articles I read. I actually know him.”

Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy (prior to the take-down): “Have They Not a Shred of Decency?“:

“What unites this narrow band of critics is only one thing: Freeman has dared to utter some rather mild public criticisms of Israeli policy. That’s the litmus test that Chait, Goldberg, Goldfarb, Peretz, Schoenfeld et al want to apply to all public servants: thou shalt not criticize Israeli policy nor question America’s “special relationship” with Israel. Never mind that this policy of unconditional support has been bad for the United States and unintentionally harmful to Israel as well. If these pundits and lobbyists had their way, anyone who pointed that fact out would be automatically disqualified from public service.”

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Discussion

23 thoughts on ““It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl…”

  1. QN,
    All the commentaries you provide are based on some muddled thinking. Of course you can question anything about Israel in the US. Walt does it. Freeman did it. You do it. But when your arguments are not convincing, and are rejected by the Congress, that does not mean that you can’t put these arguments forward. It means your arguments were bad.

    Posted by AIG | March 11, 2009, 1:31 pm
  2. AIG

    That’s right, because Congress is the Academy of Athens, where all bad arguments go to die.

    Give me a break. 🙂 Can we make a rule? You don’t bullshit me, and I won’t bullshit you.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2009, 1:53 pm
  3. QN,
    Seriously, it was the DEMOCRATS in Congress who shot down Freeman. Maybe they are not all geniuses, but they are no morons also. The NRA, as strong as it is, has problems with many of these guys. I am not bullshitting you. The argument that supporting Israel is against US interests is just not convincing to these guys and to their constituents. It is not the case that the argument has not been made. It has been made many times. Walt has written his opinion in a book and has op-ed pieces in the major media.

    Let’s say you try convincing someone, and he does not agree. One way to go is say that this guy is a moron. Another way is to review your argument. You are choosing the easy path.

    Posted by AIG | March 11, 2009, 2:13 pm
  4. Hold on hold on… Who said anything about arguing that “supporting Israel is against US interests”?

    That is not Charles Freeman’s argument, nor is it Stephen Walt’s. Their position is that the United States is overly protective of what AIPAC determines to be Israel’s interests, etc.

    But the underlying point is much more important: you are suggesting that the U.S. Congress is the ultimate arbiter of the correctness of an argument. That is just plain naive, and I know you are not naive, which makes it pure cynicism.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 11, 2009, 6:40 pm
  5. QN,
    Come on. Nobody said that the Congress is the “gold standard” for anything. But if the US Congress cannot be counted on to take care of the US interests, who can be?

    Walt’s argument is that some strong lobby (AIPAC or the Israel lobby) forces the US to act against the US interests. How? By making mostly the US Congress act against US interests. But the argument is very weak because it assumes that the Congress is made up of unpatriotic morons (or perhaps traitors) who are willing to put Israel before the US. Now, no one is claiming that the Congress is the “gold standard”, but it certainly does not include unpatriotic morons.

    Take Biden as a concrete example. He is a train loving catholic from Delaware, a small state with very few Jews. He is an expert on foreign policy, even according to Obama. So why does his voting record show that he 100% voted according to AIPAC recommendations? Is he stupid, ignorant, an unpatriotic coward, does not know what the US interests are, a racist Arab hater, really has a Jewish mother? Or, perhaps the much more probable explanation: Biden believes that AIPAC policy is aligned with US interests.

    Posted by AIG | March 11, 2009, 7:22 pm
  6. Freeman’s views on Israel were okay with me. What bothered me was his support of the Tienanmen Square massacre. He didn’t merely advocate continued trade and good relations with China mind you, he actually claimed that China had to violently remove those students. Maybe this was an unrepresentative quote and he still might have been the best man for the job, but I don’t like that kind of thinking.

    Oh, and AIG, why is your screen name an insurer with severe liquidity problems?

    Posted by Abraham Rotsapsky | March 12, 2009, 1:44 am
  7. Abe,
    When I started commenting on Syria Comment, there was one Israeli there and he called himself “Israeli Guy”. So naturally I called myself “Another Israeli Guy”, which everybody there shortened to AIG. And now I am stuck with it…

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2009, 3:00 pm
  8. QN,
    Read the washington post editorial:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/11/AR2009031103384.html#

    It will give you some perspective.

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2009, 4:00 pm
  9. AIG,

    Read the New York Times political page.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/washington/12lobby.html?_r=1&hp

    It will give you some perspective.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 12, 2009, 5:14 pm
  10. QN,

    Whether or not AIPAC were behind it is not the issue. The issue is your belief that people like Joe Biden are moronic cowards that put US interests before Israeli interests.

    It could certainly be that people in AIPAC helped in the campaign against Freeman. But AIPAC certainly did not put its weight behind it or take it seriously. As the Washington Post attests, its editors were not even contacted by AIPAC about this issue. It took just a few committed bloggers and people to take down Freeman.

    And I am glad that you can post articles from the mainstream press that you think support your position. You see, it is not the mainstream media that is at fault here. It is your argument that doesn’t hold water.

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2009, 5:46 pm
  11. AIG

    You are misrepresenting my position. I don’t believe “the mainstream press” is at fault. I have problems with certain papers, or certain journalists at certain papers, but I accept that we all have different points of view.

    And I don’t think that the U.S. Congress is composed of moronic cowards. (You are the one who used that phrase). When I said that it wasn’t the Academy of Athens, I was responding directly to your simplistic point about the verity of an argument being determined by whether it is accepted by Congress. This is just false.

    Congress is designed to be lobbied. Therefore, powerful lobbies have powerful influence. Good for them. “Arguments” don’t enter into it. Power and interests are what do.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 12, 2009, 5:56 pm
  12. QN,

    I thought you supported the Walt-Mearsheimer position that the US congress acts against US interests when it concerns Israel because of the lobbying by AIPAC or the Israel lobby.

    If you don’t think that, then I don’t think we have a substantial disagreement. But then, what is it that you don’t like?

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2009, 6:33 pm
  13. I do support the Walt-Mearsheimer position. What does that have to do with your point?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 12, 2009, 6:57 pm
  14. QN,
    Very simple. If congress acts against US interests then you are saying that they are unpatriotic morons. But then you deny that they are. I don’t get it. Is Biden stupid and acts against US interests because he has a voting record pleasing to AIPAC?

    Posted by AIG | March 12, 2009, 7:28 pm
  15. AIG,

    Even though you are beginning to sound more and more like you are reading from talking points, I will respond to you.

    The relationship between US interests and the deliberations of US congressmen is not a priori. You are pretending that the sentence “US interests are defined by US congressmen” has the same epistemological value as the sentence “all bachelors are unmarried”. This is untrue.

    Members of Congress act against U.S. interests every day. It is not (necessarily) because they are unpatriotic or stupid, but simply because they need to negotiate powerful special interest groups and secure their own status in the House or Senate. It is not unusual for a freshman congressman to have to raise $5000-10,000 per day from the moment he takes office, just to get re-elected against a strong challenger two years later. This means “taking into account” the interests of wealthy and well-organized groups like the NRA, AARP, Big Pharma, Big Oil, the ethanol lobby, and AIPAC. Each of these groups works to serve a specific subset of Americans’ interests. They do not define American national interests.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 13, 2009, 6:34 am
  16. QN,

    The Walt-Mearsheimer argument is that for years, a large majority of Congress has been acting against the US interests when it comes to Israel.

    Now how the way US congressmen act does not define US interests. We agree on that. But, I hope we can also agree that US congressmen do their best to work in the US best interests. What you want us to believe is that for years, the majority of Congress has been cynically or because of stupidity working against US interests and that this is predominantly the case when Israel is concerned and not other issues like guns, retirees etc. It is only in this one issue where all Congressmen unite into one basic position that you argue is against the US interests.

    Now, how likely is that? Isn’t it the much simpler explanation that the congress believes that the interests of the US and Israel are aligned and is correct about it?

    Let’s talk epistemology. We have a decision process for each congress person. He has to decide whether to support AIPAC’s position or not. Influencing this process are his personal ambitions (wanting to get reelected), his beliefs and what his constituents support. You want us to believe that there is one case, the case of Israel in which the personal ambitions of the congress people overwhelmingly override the other two aspects. Or that in the case of Israel, unlike in any other case, the congressmen act in a unanimously moronic way, either because they are stupid and their beliefs are stupid or that their constituents are stupid and that over decades they could not figure out the true interests of the US.

    What is the more likely explanation? Yours or mine? The NRA is just as strong as AIPAC if not stronger. Why then are many Democrats and a few Republicans not afraid to challenge it? Why are people just “afraid” of AIPAC?

    In the case of Biden, is he cynical or stupid or both? Does he vote with AIPAC only out of personal ambition? Or is it the case he understands nothing about the middle-east? Or that you and Walt and Mearsheimer are smarter than him or have access to more information than him. We can discuss many other examples if you like (what about Hillary Clinton?).

    Posted by AIG | March 13, 2009, 1:47 pm
  17. I hope we can also agree that US congressmen do their best to work in the US best interests.

    This is a flawed premise. What are the best interests of the United States? You talk about them as if they were common knowledge, when all one has to do is open a newspaper to witness the raging battles — waged daily in Washington — over the definition of this phrase. Is legalizing marijuana in the U.S.’s best interests? What about outlawing abortion? What about campaign finance reform? Weapons bans? Farming subsidies? Increasing defense spending? Decreasing defense spending? Talking to our enemies? Not talking to our enemies?

    What you want us to believe is that for years, the majority of Congress has been cynically or because of stupidity working against US interests and that this is predominantly the case when Israel is concerned

    There is no question that many legislators sincerely believe, as you do, that the kind of US-Israeli relationship promoted by AIPAC is in the United States’s best interests. These people are not acting cynically. Nor are they necessarily stupid (your word, not mine); I would say that they are motivated, in their support, by various reasons ranging from sympathy for the suffering of the Jewish people, to a feeling of kinship between Christians and Jews, a perception of shared cultural values between America and Israel, evangelical crackpot-ism, and a sense that Israel has much to offer by way of strategic value in facing the menace of the Islamic world.

    Then you have those legislators who don’t feel that strongly about Israel, one way or the other, but who will put their name on a petition because supporting Israel is an easy cause to get behind and a difficult one to stand against. Why bother risking the ire of the lobby if there is no political capital to be gained from criticizing pro-Israel policies? This is where the lobby has been brilliantly effective. It has managed to dictate the very terms of the discussion, such that any real criticism of Israel is immediately castigated as anti-American, anti-Semitic, or just plain wrong. These congressmen are being a little bit cynical, but since they don’t really care one way or another (and since, frankly, the Arab world does such a miserable job providing a counter-narrative) it’s generally just chalked up to the cost of doing business.

    and not other issues like guns, retirees etc. It is only in this one issue where all Congressmen unite into one basic position that you argue is against the US interests.

    There are plenty of cases where lobbies work in ways that I would consider to be against U.S. interests. The difference with Israel is that — unlike guns, abortion, school prayer, etc. — most Americans couldn’t find Israel on a map, whereas they could tell you what their position was on those other issues. This is why legislators and presidents occasionally feel like they can stand up to certain lobbies: they’ve got polls showing popular support against the lobby’s goals. In the case of Israel, however, popular support is overwhelmingly in favor of it. Why? First of all, there is a massive proportion of the population who support Israel because of biblical prophecy. Israel and its lobby have not shied away from courting the adulation of these people, despite the fact that their Armageddon scenario is not so complementary to the Jews. (Chime in with a sentence containing the word “cynical” whenever you feel moved to do so.)

    Then you’ve got Americans who know nothing about the Middle East besides: (a) it is full of people who hate us; (b) they were towels around their heads; (c) Israel is our friend. These people are easy targets for the lobby’s propoganda because, again, there is no counter-narrative, and, because, in the immortal words of H.H. Munro, “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.”

    In the case of Biden, is he cynical or stupid or both? Does he vote with AIPAC only out of personal ambition?

    I’m glad you brought up Biden, because he demonstrates how complex this entire issue is; it is not reducible to a question of cynicism or stupidity. You may think his Israel record is unimpeachable, but the members of the Republican Jewish Coalition certainly do not. When he was selected as Obama’s running mate, their exective director said:

    “with the selection of Senator Joe Biden the Democrat’s ticket has become an even greater gamble for the Jewish community. Throughout his career, Senator Biden has consistently been wrong on Iran and his voting record on Israel has been inconsistent.”

    Therefore, if Joe Biden can be perfectly pro-Israel for you, insufficiently pro-Israel for the RJC, and too pro-Israel for me, then in what way does it make sense to boil the issue of his attitude toward Israel as a matter of cynicism or stupidity?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 13, 2009, 3:37 pm
  18. PS: Take Biden’s position on Iraq as another example. To use your frame of looking at things, how do you explain his flip-flopping? In 2002, he not only supported the war, he also — through his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — engineered a set of hearings designed to produce a conclusion in favor of the war. According to the chief UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, “Biden and most of the Congressional leadership have pre-ordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts, and are using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”

    However, since the presidential election campaign, Biden’s position on Iraq changed dramatically, and he said that it was a mistake to support it.

    How do you explain this? Cynicism or stupidity? You have 3 seconds.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 13, 2009, 3:47 pm
  19. QN,

    The fact that we do not know for certain what the US interests are does not make my premise flawed. The best estimation we have is that the US interests are what the majority of Americans believe the US interests are (if this is not true, than democracy makes no sense). And this is what Congress strives for.

    Since we agree that many representatives are sincere in their support of Israel and that most Americans support Israel, I think there is very little we disagree about.

    You are even leaning towards the conclusion that AIPAC is successful not because it is extremely strong or effective, but because there is no good counter argument against it. And that is the whole point. Instead of complaining about the lobby (which you are not exactly doing), those that believe differently from it should advance a better argument. I think we may agree on this also. It is not the Israel lobby that needs to be stopped or its actions changed, it is those who take the opposite position that need to become more effective. To put it differently, the problem is not that AIPAC is strong, the problem is that the lobbies with different views are weak. They could be weak from lack of ability to organize or they could be weak because their argument does not resonate. I think the latter is more likely the case. Again, you think the argument does not resonate because it is too nuanced to be understood by the average American. In spite of Hizballah chanting “Death to America” and being supported by the majority of Lebanese, according to you, the Average American should understand that the Lebanese really love America.

    As for Armageddon, and the end of days, when I see the Christians rising to heaven around me, I will convert. What is cynical about that? 🙂

    Posted by AIG | March 13, 2009, 4:54 pm
  20. QN, why the selective quoting of David Rothkopf? Why not post his angry tirade against Stephen Walt for capitalizing on this opportunity to claim he told us so?

    Posted by Eventual Israeli Guy | March 13, 2009, 7:12 pm
  21. EIG,

    Didn’t see it. Please feel free to post it in the comment section.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 13, 2009, 8:41 pm
  22. QN –

    Poor Chas Freeman fell on his anti-Israel sword. The sorrow is unbearable. Have you finished sitting “shiva”?

    And where was AIPAC when Secretary of State Baker was handing out phone numbers to the Israeli PM? Where was AIPAC while valuable satellite time was spent spying on Israeli settlements and loan guarantees were withheld?

    The invincibility of AIPAC is worthy of the best Greek Arab Mythology.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 17, 2009, 8:56 pm

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