The controversy surrounding the brief nomination of Charles Freeman to lead the NIC has generated more dueling among the public intellectuals than any other personnel choice made yet by President Obama. Yesterday I asked Mark Steyn and Glenn Greenwald about the smash-up, as I had Christopher Hitchens the day before. I will try and add conversations about Freeman with Jeffrey Goldberg and Scott Johnson today, and will invite Andrew Sullivan as well.
What amazes me is that this very important position and this very controversial nominee and this very contentious debate has received next to no coverage in the MSM –perhaps because it is a very complicated story, and perhaps because much of the debate occurs miles above the knowledge level of most MSMers. Too bad. It has been a very revealing clash that saw a lot of unusual alliances and a lot of very sharp rhetoric. Here, for example, is one part of my conversation with Greenwald:
HH: Now you also write [at Salon.com] that “what I find most mystifying is that, Israel-centric fanatics actually think it’s a good thing for Israel to impose these sorts of Israel-based loyalty tests and orthodoxies on American politics.” Is Chuck Schumer an Israel-centric fanatic?
GG: Oh, definitely.
HH: Is Rahm Emanuel?
GG: Yes, I think Rahm Emanuel is.
HH: Joe Lieberman?
GG: Yeah, absolutely.
HH: Hillary Clinton?
GG: No, I wouldn’t say Hillary Clinton is. I mean, she certainly became a lot more supportive of Israel, and a lot more along those lines when she began running for the Senate in New York, for obvious political reasons. But I wouldn’t say that she’s a true believer. And in fact, she’s actually provoked a lot of opposition on the part of that faction by criticizing the Israelis for blocking humanitarian aid into Gaza and expanding settlements. So I wouldn’t include her in that.
HH: President Obama obviously has made his number one guy Rahm Emanuel, an Israel-centric fanatic in your words, chief of staff. Does that make President Obama an abettor of Israel-centric fanatics?
GG: No, I think he surrounded himself with a lot of people. And what he does with Israel, I think, is a big question mark. I mean, there were times when he was running in the primary when he said things like I really resent the idea that you have to support Likud in order to be considered a friend of Israel. And I thought that was quite positive. And once he got the nomination, he went to AIPAC and sort of read a standard pro-AIPAC speech. So no, I wouldn’t say the fact that he named Rahm Emanuel is evidence, dispositive evidence that he intends to take that line. I think there’s going to be a lot of factions pulling on him when it comes to Middle East policy, and we’ll see what direction he goes in.
HH: The Israeli-centric fanatics you listed, Schumer, Emanuel and Lieberman, do you think they put the interest of Israel ahead of the interest of the United States?
GG: I think they see, they believe that they’ve convinced themselves, and they operated on the premise that Israeli interests are the same as American interests, and that they don’t distinguish between those two. Do they see a conflict between them and opt for Israel over America? Or do they convince themselves that they’re equal? I can’t say what’s in their mind. What I do know is that they constantly, at the center of their political advocacy, place the Israeli interest as an overarching priority. I wouldn’t accuse them of being disloyal or anything like that, but clearly Israel plays an extremely significant role in their political view.
HH: Do they have divided loyalties in your opinion, Glenn Greenwald?
GG: Again, I mean that depends on whether they think there’s a divergence of conflict. I mean, I grew up in Miami where there’s a very strong Cuban-American community. They’re very patriotic American, but they have great allegiance to Cuba, and care about Cuba as well. Is it divided loyalty? Is it dual loyalty? Is it the fact that they have affection for other countries? There’s Irish who have that, Mexican-Americans who have that. I think that’s semantics. But clearly, there are lots of factions in this country that have affection for and dedication to foreign countries besides the United States, and absolutely there’s a large segment of Jewish-Americans who do as well.
HH: And historically, of course, the charge of divided loyalty is a cornerstone of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Do you worry about having the appearance of that rhetoric in your columns?
GG: No, I worry, my goal when I write is to describe things as truthfully and honestly as I can. I mean, obviously you can cross a line rhetorically. That’s inflammatory. I try and avoid that. At the same time, though, you know, it’s like saying is it a concern if you talk about African-Americans being imprisoned at a higher rate, that you’re playing into racist stereotypes? It’s possible to play into those racist stereotypes by discussing that reality, that there’s a high percentage of African-Americans in prison, but if you’re sober and careful and honest in your discussion, I think the charge that you’re being racist by discussing that is a bogus one, just like I think the charge that you’re being anti-Semitic if you talk about what’s obvious in front of everybody’s face, that is the import of Israel and to a lot of American Jews is just bogus.
HH: Glenn Greenwald, I appreciate you taking the time to join us, to present the anti-anti-Freeman case, and I look forward to having you back again soon.
One of my other guests yesterday, Frank Dowse of the Agemus Group, discussed the deterioration in Mexico, and sent along a link to an overview he had written a few weeks back.