Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dissent Not Allowed

Last week, some little-known events transpired which I think reveal a lot about the politics between the US and Middle East.

Charles Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and president of the Middle East Policy council was a few weeks ago picked by a top Obama advisor to chair the National Intelligence Council. He was not picked directly by President Obama, but certainly with his approval.

Now, a little background on Mr. Freeman. He has been a voice questioning America's unquestioning support of Israel, urging policy-makers to look at all sides of the situation. He has been critical of the "Israel lobby" in Washington--those who take it upon themselves to ensure that Israel's interests become equated with America's interests in the minds of those who make policy. Read more here.

Basically what happened is that enough commentators and even elected representatives (like Senator Schumer of New York) complained so that Freeman was pressured into removing himself from consideration. Apparently Freeman was disqualified for his "extremist views"--that he is willing to criticize our policy of support for Israel is considered extremist. One commentator says about the efforts to marginalize Freeman:

The real rub, the basis of the whole controversy, however, is that [Freeman] has been far more critical of Israeli policy than is generally allowed within acceptable debate in Washington. . .

The whole effort strikes me as little more than a thuggish effort to keep the already too-constricted terms of debate over the Middle East and Israel/Palestine locked down and largely one-sided. . . . But the gist is that campaigns like this are ugly and should be resisted. Not just on general principles, but because the country needs more diversity of viewpoints on this issue right now.

Another writes:

The idea that Obama should not have advisers who challenge some of the core assumptions of the Bush years, especially with respect to Israel-Palestine, seems nuts to me. And the impulse to blackball and smear someone as a bigot is reprehensible.

I'm impressed that the Obama administration is willing to appoint someone like Freeman as an advisor to the president's foreign policy. Considering the lack of success in foreign policy we've seen recently, it seems some diversity in viewpoints is needed. Particularly on the Israel issue. However, it's very discouraging that others would pressure this man out, and the administration wouldn't be able to stick with him. Many people here were hopeful that Obama's election would bring some change in America's stance regarding Israel/Palestine. Rahm Emanuel's selection as chief of staff took a little of the wind out of their sails. The fact that Obama was open to Freeman's ideas shows he has some good intentions, but I'm afraid there is still a long way to go before American policy can be more even-handed in expressing our ideal that "all are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among this are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

-Abu Tulip

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