In addition to the requisite outrage over Chas Freeman’s (should be) wholly uncontroversial position that military occupations tend to be provocative, a number of conservatives are now up in arms over a statement Freeman made in April 2002, at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event discussing U.S.-Arab relations after 9/11. Freeman asked “And what of America’s lack of introspection about September 11?”
Instead of asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism. Before Americans call on others to examine themselves, we should examine ourselves.
It’s important to note that Freeman was responding here to a specific question about the amount of self-criticism in the Arab world regarding the teaching of extremist ideologies in their societies. Predictably, Freeman’s response is being marketed by rightwing blogs as blaming the victim, etc. etc.
While I’m personally not a fan of Freeman’s brand of realism, there’s no question that he’s very well qualified for the position he’s been assigned. Charges that Freeman would “politicize” intelligence — especially coming from such places as the Weekly Standard, whose editors obviously have no problem with politicized intelligence as long as it’s politicized in favor of ruinous policies they like — shouldn’t be taken seriously on substance, but they should be taken seriously as strategy. Raising a fuss over Freeman probably can’t do much to dislodge him from his position as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, but it does serve to lay the groundwork for challenges to the intelligence estimates produced by that shop.
As for the dyspepsia over Freeman’s statement above, there’s always been something really bizarre about conservatives’ tendency to interpret the merest suggestion that U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed in any way to the September 11 attacks as evidence of traitorous anti-Americanism, especially since this is a mainstay of the neoconservative critique of pre-9/11 U.S. foreign policy. Here it is elucidated by Sen. John McCain a year ago, in his first major foreign policy address of the 2008 campaign:
For decades in the greater Middle East, we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah of Iran, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family, and even, for a time, on Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel. The Shah was overthrown by the radical Islamic revolution that now rules in Tehran. The ensuing ferment in the Muslim world produced increasing instability. The autocrats clamped down with ever greater repression, while also surreptitiously aiding Islamic radicalism abroad in the hopes that they would not become its victims. It was a toxic and explosive mixture. The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred.
We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these out-dated autocracies is the safest bet. They no longer provide lasting stability, only the illusion of it.
Without getting into the quality of McCain’s analysis here, it’s pretty obvious that he is, in fact, suggesting that past U.S. policy in the Middle East bears some of the blame for the 9/11 attacks. You’ll notice that no one on the right attacked McCain for this. Funny.