Chas Freeman is back in the non-news this morning in non-relation to the Hagel non-nomination for Secretary of so-called Defense.
You may recall that Freeman was the foreign policy Lani Guinier of the Obama Administration, an intended major-minor appointee who, at least from the perspective of supporters, was shot down for speaking truth too powerfully. Freeman’s message on Hagel can be found at Lobelog – “Chas Freeman Speaks out on Anti-Hagel Smear Campaign” – and it demonstrates the same utter incapacity before the paradoxes of public speech in the world’s greatest liberal democracy that helped doom Freeman’s own candidacy in early 2009.
However interesting, supportable, tiresome, or reprehensible one might find Freeman on policy, his most telling line is actually a meta-statement: “Much as I sympathize with what [Hagel is] going through, it seems best not to taint his case by appearing to wish to reopen my own.” Nice sentiment, but any such statement at all, even a meta-statement on statements, becomes just such a re-opening-tainting. Now Eli Lake and all manner of lesser and greater bodies from the loosely speaking neoconservative and Israelophilic right will feel free to add Freeman to the list of suspected treasonists in support of the war veteran, former Republican Senator, and Iraq roundheel whom Obama is said to want for his suspected treasonist security team.
So I found myself tweeting and now find myself blogging in pseudo-defense of Freeman’s bad name, against the left and right duo of Lake and Zack Beauchamp. Lake implied that Freeman’s “ties to China” have been forgotten in “some revisionist history” – by which latter he means left-realist martyrology, though Lake’s own 2009 Washington Times article also emphasizes “Mideast Money.” Beauchamp diverted back around halfway from character assassination to conventional political assassination: “Some people forget how rank his apologism for Beijing’s brutality was.” Beauchamp linked for support to a Jeffrey Goldberg piece that in turn linked to a Jonathan Chait piece that finally got somewhere on the subject, though we have to read all the way to a Michael Goldfarb item in the Weekly Standard to get something approaching, but not actually offering, context on Freeman’s unforgivable sin: the sin of thinking rationally more or less coherently in semi-public – i.e., for all intents and purposes in public – on a matter of the philosophy of the state, and in a way that reflects a failure of respect before the gods of the city, the particular deities here including the Goddess of Democracy herself.
The rank apologetic to which Beauchamp referred was put to pixel in 2006.* In a mailing list contribution that echoes once-notorious observations by Henry Kissinger, Freeman offers a simply too nuanced for prime time analysis, faulting the Chinese Communist government not for unleashing the military on democracy protestors at Tiananmen Square, or just for being Chinese and Communist, but for having failed to “nip the demonstrations in the bud” at an earlier point. Freeman commits a second sin of comparing the repressive violence to actions by the government of the U.S. of A. against the so-called Bonus Army in 1932 – a use of the U.S. military against a domestic disturbance that happened to involve Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Patton, and resulted in some 2 dead and over 1000 injured. These are intolerable notions, regardless of conceivable factual or logical or political-philosophical or historical or any other intrinsic merit, though, precisely because the mere utterance is so intolerably blasphemous, the 1932 comparison was hardly noted at all, much less thought through.
Chait argues – or argued in 2009 – that Freeman-style realism was the mirror image of its main political adversary, neoconservatism. In several ways, Chait may have been more right than he realized – he has a tendency in that regard, or maybe a deeply ingrained sense of where the line between contrarian-insightful and blasphemous-burn-him lies.
It is impossible to hold a public-political debate that questions that which is never to be questioned. In a preliminary way, this impossibility offers the sole standing justification for the otherwise ludicrous association of the long-dead philosopher Leo Strauss with the not actually very noble or even effective liars of neoconservatism. Because liberal democracy must fail the Few Good Men test, and is committed to failing it forever and ever, we require of our leaders not merely that they lie, but that they do not even admit to the possibility of their and our shared commitment to falsehoods. If Chas Freeman is impossible, noble lies are necessary, their inevitable intermittent failures eventually producing new opportunities for the Freemans of the world to stumble briefly into our public reality before being made impossible again, almost as though they never existed.
[wpspoiler name=”* Freeman’s 2006 e-mail on China” ]
The Realist Chas Freeman | The Weekly Standard
From: CWFHome@cs.com [mailto:CWFHome@cs.com]
Sent: Friday, May 26, 2006 9:29 PM
I will leave it to others to address the main thrust of your reflection on Eric’s remarks. But I want to take issue with what I assume, perhaps incorrectly, to be yoiur citation of the conventional wisdom about the 6/4 [or Tiananmen] incident. I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than — as would have been both wise and efficacious — to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo’s response to the mob scene at “Tian’anmen” stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action.
For myself, I side on this — if not on numerous other issues — with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans’ “Bonus Army” or a “student uprising” on behalf of “the goddess of democracy” should expect to be displaced with despatch from the ground they occupy. I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government’s normal operations. I thus share the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang’s dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China.
I await the brickbats of those who insist on a politically correct — i.e. non Burkean conservative — view.