Stephen M. Walt
The best defense is to be offensive?: A response to Chait, Goldfarb, and Goldberg
You know your opponents are worried when they start calling you names. Jonathan Chait says I’m "paranoid," that I "went bonkers" in a recent blog post, and that my scholarship is "wildly hyperbolic." He says his real objection to Charles Freeman’s appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council is that Freeman is an "ideological ...
You know your opponents are worried when they start calling you names.
Jonathan Chait says I’m "paranoid," that I "went bonkers" in a recent blog post, and that my scholarship is "wildly hyperbolic." He says his real objection to Charles Freeman’s appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council is that Freeman is an "ideological fanatic" (isn’t it odd that this quality went undetected during Freeman’s lengthy career as a public servant?) and that Freeman’s other critics were mostly worried about his relations with Saudi Arabia (as if this had nothing to do with their views on other aspects of our Middle East policy). Nice try, but it is abundantly clear to almost everyone that the assault on Freeman has been conducted by individuals — Chait included — who are motivated by their commitment to Israel and who are upset that Freeman has criticized some of its past behavior. Of course Chait doesn’t broadcast this openly, as it would immediately undermine the case he’s trying to make.
As for the others, Michael Goldfarb compares me to Father Coughlin and says I assembled a "blacklist," when in fact I did no such thing. I’m not suggesting that Freeman’s critics should lose their jobs or face other forms of persecution; I just pointed out what they were doing and said it was wrong. Read what I actually wrote, and then ask yourself why Goldfarb would make this up. Perhaps he’s confusing me with Ron Radosh, who did call for the New York Times to fire Roger Cohen for writing a column about Iran that didn’t demonize it. Jeffrey Goldberg says that my co-author and I are "viciously anti-Israel," even though we have consistently declared our support for a Jewish state, said we "admired its many achievements," and wrote that the United States "should come to Israel’s aid if its survival is ever in jeopardy." M.J. Rosenberg challenges Freeman’s critics too, and Goldberg labels him a "professional slander expert."
What explains the false claims and overheated rhetoric these pundits employ? Why can’t Chait and his allies represent their opponents’ views accurately, and deploy facts and logic instead of invective and character assassination?
Answer: because the case they are defending is so weak. Not the case for Israel’s existence, which virtually everyone engaged in these debates supports (including Freeman himself), but the case for continuing to give Israel nearly unconditional backing, even when it continues to build settlements in the Occupied Territories and when its newly-elected leaders openly declare their opposition to a two-state solution, which was the preferred outcome of the Clinton and Bush administrations and is now the stated goal of the Obama administration. Because the case for never criticizing Israel and backing it no matter what it does makes little strategic or moral sense, advocates of that approach have no choice but to misrepresent their opponent’s arguments, and to try to portray them as wild-eyed extremists (i.e., "ideological fanatics" or "paranoid"), in an attempt to marginalize them. It never seems to occur to them that what we really have here is a straightforward policy disagreement, and that the policies they prefer might actually be harmful to Israel and the United States.
Their tactics used to work pretty well, but more and more people understand and resent the game that Israel’s hardline supporters are playing. But Messrs. Chait, Goldfarb, and Goldberg don’t get this. They don’t understand that their mean-spirited fulminations are undermining their own case, much as a loudmouth hogging the mike at a public meeting turns off the rest of the audience. So it’s hard to get too upset at all the name-calling. As Napoleon once said, "when your opponent is making a very serious mistake, don’t be impolite and disturb him."
P.S. The Washington Times reports today that Freeman’s appointment is going to be vetted by the DNI’s Inspector General, to make sure there are no disqualifying conflicts of interest. I see nothing wrong with that, provided he is judged by the same standards as other government officials in similar roles. The article also quotes several former NIC members who support the vetting process but believe "It has to be looked at, but I don’t see anything to disqualify him," and that Freeman "should be a fine choice."