Freeman – monday update

A question on Greg Sargent’s blog got me thinking rather more deeply about the Freeman matter because some odd contradictions and complexities arise when we peek in.

 As with so much about the last eight years, we are in upside-down land again.

The traditional conservative position on foreign relations is ‘realist’ – policies derived from a fairly cold survey of American interests and how they might be best served. Support for totalitarian regimes, if perceived to be helpful for business or strategic interests, has been common, even where this might entail over-turning a local government democratically elected, and even where the totalitarian regime is truly ugly in terms of civil/human rights (insert photo of Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand). Conversely, the traditional liberal position has been to place more weight on moral considerations – to foster democracies and civil/human rights concerns and to shove business or strategic interests towards the back burner (which is cooking a lot of cliches presently, of course).
As liberals (for those of us who are), we probably ought to be concerned about a ‘realist’ such as Freeman appears to be. But most of us find ourselves taking the opposite position and supporting his appointment. Clealy, that’s because of our concerns for the influence on US policy from a lobby which has been extremely influential and which has forwarded hardline, militarist and perhaps even racist policies in the Middle East and which we now consider detrimental to just about everyone. Further, we should note that this lobby has tended to forward the intererests of a particular Israeli party. I haven’t heard a lot of rah rah for Labor Party policies emerging from this lobby though it’s possible I’ve missed it.

 There’s a very good reason that the Bush propaganda machine, as it worked through the sequence of rationales on ‘we must attack Iraq because…’, put a major emphasis on “spreading democracy” and on “the evils perpetrated by Saddam and sons”. Those reflect traditional liberal notions/values and as such, made the sales job much easier. Had they said, “this is about control of petroleum resources and about supporting our lobby-heavy client state in the region”, that sales job woud have been a tad tougher.

All of which brings us to the “neoconservative” camp. We all recognize that term now but I hadn’t even heard of it until I read an essay by Anatol Lieven in the London Review of Books (it’s well worth reading the whole essay) back in late 2002 as the propaganda campaign was being ramped up.

 To understand the Administration’s motivation, it is necessary to appreciate the breathtaking scope of the domestic and global ambitions which the dominant neo-conservative nationalists hope to further by means of war, and which go way beyond their publicly stated goals. There are of course different groups within this camp: some are more favourable to Israel, others less hostile to China; not all would support the most radical aspects of the programme. However, the basic and generally agreed plan is unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority, and this has been consistently advocated and worked on by the group of intellectuals close to Dick Cheney and Richard Perle since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

This basic goal is shared by Colin Powell and the rest of the security establishment. It was, after all, Powell who, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared in 1992 that the US requires sufficient power ‘to deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage’. However, the idea of pre-emptive defence, now official doctrine, takes this a leap further, much further than Powell would wish to go. In principle, it can be used to justify the destruction of any other state if it even seems that that state might in future be able to challenge the US. When these ideas were first aired by Paul Wolfowitz and others after the end of the Cold War, they met with general criticism, even from conservatives. Today, thanks to the ascendancy of the radical nationalists in the Administration and the effect of the 11 September attacks on the American psyche, they have a major influence on US policy.


Though the neoconservative set of ideas may have some intersection points with traditional liberalism, that’s really a matter of chance more than anything. The philosophy is, at its core, unyielding Platonism in its “understanding” that the dirty and emotional masses need a small and select elite to guide them and the world. It is profoundly undemocratic. Further, it holds (as voiced by Strauss, the progenitor of this worldview) that is is the moral imperative of rulers to forward falsehoods (the “noble lie”) where necessary to herd the masses in the right directions.

Many of the people who are key to the attack on Iraq first came together in the Reagan and Bush 1 administrations, then consolidated again under Bush 2. There appears to be a convenient alignment of goals and methodologies between hardline realists (eg Cheney), neoconservatives (eg Wolfowitz) and the military/industrial/Pentagon crowd (war is good money) which pushed concerns about the middle east (oil, Israel) and militarist engagement and, of course, 9/11, which resulted in the horrid activities and mistakes of the last seven years.
I think it is because of all this that we liberals now find Freeman to be far easier to understand and far more likely to act in a predictable and honest manner than what we’ve just been through. And he seems to represent as well a potential diminishment of the power nexus that the neoconservative camp had become.

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