”Give Up the Dream”
None of this is news to anyone who's followed the Arab-Israeli conflict. None of it is news to the Middle East desk at the State Department. It's a recurring theme in The Much Too Promised Land, the history of two decades of US-Israeli relations by Aaron David Miller, a fixture at that desk until the early days of the second Bush administration, when he couldn't take the smugness anymore.
Nor is Freeman's speech news to someone like James Baker, the first George Bush's secretary of state and the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group who, in a famous speech to AIPAC in May 1989 (the so-called "Give Up the Dream" speech that urged Israel to quit fooling itself about "Greater Israel" and West Bank settlements), said with prescience: "Continuation of the status quo (in the Middle East) will lead to increasing violence and worsening prospects for peace. We think now is the time to move toward a serious negotiating process to create the atmosphere for a renewed peace."
Reacting to the speech in The New York Times on May 28, 1989, Thomas Friedman wrote, "In the cycles of Middle East diplomacy, last week's speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker was a turning point. It signaled the end of a honeymoon era in American-Israel relations that existed for the last four years under the Reagan administration and a return to a more evenhanded approach to the Middle East."
If only. As Freeman's case indicates, views like Baker's and Freeman's are the exception, and they're not usually tolerated. (Following Baker's speech, more than 90 senators sent a letter to Bush underlining their support to Israel. The message between the letter's lines was: rein in Baker.)
Media Complicity Against Freeman
News reports of Freeman's withdrawal have focused on his comment blaming the "Israel lobby." That, too, is an inflammatory way to play the lobby's game--to focus the attention not on Freeman's astounding credentials, not on the critical qualities he'd have brought to the job, including an even-handedness seldom practiced by American policy makers regarding Israel, but on his alleged, and entirely fabricated, anti-Israeli attitude.
Freeman had it partly right when he spoke to Broder the morning before he withdrew: "I think their goal is not to stop me but to keep others from speaking out, and to assure that AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] is part of the vetting process for future nominees." Only partly right, because they did want to stop him. And they succeeded. American policy will suffer as a consequence. As Broder put it,
It was an ignominious end to one of the most distinguished international careers in American government. As a young man fluent in Mandarin, he was the translator for Richard Nixon on his first trip to China. Later, Freeman held diplomatic posts in Africa and Asia, served as assistant secretary of defense handling NATO expansion and, after adding Arabic to his repertoire of languages, was sent to Saudi Arabia as ambassador just before the Persian Gulf War. As retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who appointed Freeman, told me the night before Freeman's withdrawal, "We are so fortunate, with the challenges we face in Asia and the Middle East, that he could be persuaded to come back to government."
So much for that sort of change. Even the Obama administration was taken aback by the Freeman nomination, according to The Times. The decision, the paper reported, "surprised some in the White House who worried that the selection could be controversial and an unnecessary distraction, according to administration officials."
Freeman issued a statement after he withdrew his name from consideration for the NIC position. His estimate of what's ahead for the Obama administration, in light of the cabal surrounding his nomination, is telling and sobering:
The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.This, too, is telling: At no point did Barack Obama say a word in defense of Freeman. He should have. He didn't. Maybe James Baker can deliver a new "Give Up the Dream" speech.