Chas W. Freeman Jr., “America’s Misadventures in the Middle East,” Foreword by William B. Quandt, 230 pages, paperback, $22.95.
A new independent American publisher has recently entered the game of trying to educate the American people about the Middle East. The proprietor is Helena Cobban, well-known as a serious journalist, author and blogger (www.justworldnews.com). The new publishing house has its own website (no surprise): www.justworldbooks.com.
Its first book, released in October if of special interest to readers of The Link: a collection of 23 essays about the Middle East by retired Ambassador Chas Freeman. Other titles planned for the fall of 2010 are by Laila El-Haddad, Joshua Foust, and Reidar Visser, and are about, respectively, Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ambassador Freeman is one of America's most seasoned and thoughtful diplomatists. In March 2009, he became briefly famous when pro-Israel activists raised a furor about President Obama's decision to invite him to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Seeking to save the President from embarrassment, Freeman withdrew his name from consideration. Now, with the publication of this book, Freeman has pulled together most of his previous writings about the part of the world that got him into so much controversy in 2009.
America's Misadventures in the Middle East leads off with Freeman's detailed and previously unpublished reflection on Pres. George H. W. Bush's handling of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis of 1990-91. He was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time; he was thus uniquely placed to see and understand what Washington and key allies were doing in those fateful months. In this chapter, and the one that follows, he reflects on "the American way of war", and in particular on Washington's failure in recent decades to plan for a stable and satisfactory political end-state for the wars it wages. These chapters act as an instructive jumping-off point for the rest of the book, which focuses on Washington's continued pursuit of "the American way of war" in the Middle East of the 2000's.
Parts II and III of the book contain many examples of a fine strategic mind at work. Freeman somberly reflects on the failures at many levels that pulled Pres. George W. Bush into the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. And he stresses, repeatedly, the deleterious impact that Washington's failure to hold Israel accountable for the violent policies it pursued toward its neighbors throughout the 2000's has had on Americans' interests in the Middle East and much further afield.
In Part IV he assesses the impact that America's policy failings in the Middle East have had on its ability to continue leading the world in the same way it did in the half-century following the end of World War II. "Why not try diplomacy?" is the title of one chapter there. But it could be seen as the leitmotif of the whole of Part IV, or indeed, the whole book.
In Part V, Freeman gives us four deeply informed chapters about Saudi Arabia, placing the Kingdom's often misunderstood situation in its own historical context as well as in the context of its relationship with Western and other world powers.
As Professor Quandt notes in his Foreword to the book:
“There is much to learn about ‘old-style’ diplomacy here and much to regret that Freeman’s views seem so “radical” from the perspective of today’s politicized discourse. Readers of this volume will learn a great deal and will appreciate the style as well as the content of these essays... We are fortunate to have these records of his thoughts.”
Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr. hit the headlines in the early weeks of the Obama administration when Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis C. Blair named him Chair of the National Intelligence Council, citing his "diverse background in defense, diplomacy and intelligence." News of Freeman's impending appointment met a firestorm of criticism from numerous strongly pro-Israeli commentators, who lambasted him for the view he had often expressed that the U.S. needed to maintain an even-handed stance between Israel and the Arab countries. In early March 2009, Freeman withdrew his name from consideration for the position and issued a statement, laying the blame for the campaign against him on a network of pro-Israel activists.
Previously, during a distinguished government career spanning three
decades, Freeman negotiated on behalf of the United States with over 100
foreign governments in East and South Asia, Africa, Latin America, the
Middle East, and both Western and Eastern Europe. In 2006, he was a
member of the Iraq Study Group.
As Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-91), Freeman led an effort that more than doubled non-military exports to the Kingdom while managing the largest diplomatic mission in the world under the conditions of that crisis. His long involvement with China began with his service as the principal American interpreter during President Nixon's historic 1972 visit to Beijing. In addition to Chinese, Freeman speaks French and Spanish at the professional level, and can carry on conversations in Arabic and several other languages. His final position in government was Assistant Secretary of Defense, responsible for managing defense relations with all regions of the world except the countries of the former Soviet Union. He has received numerous high honors and awards for international negotiation and policy and management innovation.