Voice

The right choice to be analyst-in-chief

In today's Wall Street Journal, Gabe Schoenfeld, a smart guy who is a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, continues what has been a mounting wave of attacks on the supposed appointment of Amb. Charles "Chas" Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.  This story was broken on Laura Rozen's excellent blog, The Cable, here at FP (the one blog I make sure to read every day at this site). And the controversy is summarized well in a post by Joshua Keating on the Passport blog.  

There is something ugly to these attacks on Freeman. A number of critics of the possible appointment, led by Steve Rosen, have suggested that because Freeman is too sympathetic to the Saudis or worked with a Saudi-funded think tank for a while, that he should be disqualified from the NIC job. Schoenfeld goes further and asserts that Freeman is also too soft on the Chinese and attacks him for having "extreme views."  

So for me, here's the problem: I think the Saudis have not been a good ally of the United States. I think the Chinese government's handling of the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square was not defensible, as Freeman is quoted as having said it was. And Chas Freeman is quoted as having embraced the banal claptrap of Walt and Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby, about which my views are on the record. Further, one of the critics of the proposed appointment, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, is, I think, one of the smartest commentators and writers around.  But I can think of very, very few people who are better choices than Chas Freeman to head the NIC.

The head of the NIC is, in some respect, the analyst-in-chief of the U.S. government. He or she must have a great mind, must reject cant, must have a nose for political agendas (and the willingness to filter them out... including first and foremost his own biases), and must be genuinely intellectually daring, willing to explore unpopular or unlikely ideas to consider their implications. He or she must understand how the U.S. national security community works from top to bottom. The head of the NIC oversees production of the President's Daily Brief and thus must have an eye for what is really important and the ability to cut away the fatty, bland, self-serving analysis that often filters up from the Directorate of Intelligence.  

Few people would be better for these tasks than Chas Freeman. Part of the reason he is so controversial is that he has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power. You can't cow him and you can't find someone with a more relentlessly questioning worldview. His job will be to help present the president and top policymakers with informed analysis by which they can make their choices. His intellectual honesty and his appreciation for what is necessary in a functioning policy process is such that he will not stack the deck for any one position. He wouldn't last five minutes in the job if he did. (And Denny Blair, the wise and canny Director of National Intelligence, wouldn't tolerate it.) Further, the chairman of the NIC does not directly whisper into the president's ear in a void. He helps prepare materials that will become the fodder for active debate among a national security team that is devoid of shrinking violets.  

If you want to dispute whether he should be secretary of state or president, fine, let's have that discussion. But for the job in question, he is a supremely well-qualified professional who should not be subject to evaluation by simplistic litmus tests.

David Rothkopf

The axis of stability

At my summer camp in Maine -- which was really the equivalent of that South Pacific manhood ritual where they attach vines to a teenaged boy's testicles and throw him off a tree -- on the very first day they would gather all the new campers around and teach them the camp song. It was entitled "Oh, Camp We Love" and, as the budding concentration camp guards they called counselors used to point out, "it's sung to the same tune as the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada.'" Naturally, this generated confusion and blank stares from all the boys present because the comment was roughly as helpful as suggesting the camp talent show utilize the same narrative technique as The Tale of Genji. I mean, for goodness sake, we were from New Jersey. We knew Canada was up there somewhere between Boston and the North Pole and that they played hockey there, but beyond that, details were scarce.

Since then, throughout my life, I have always found that when giving a talk, a reference to Canada is reliably good for a laugh. Making fun of Canada seldom offends any American and Canadians tend to be too polite to object. And it it's funny because Canada is so darned unthreatening, bland enough to make your average bowl of tapioca seem muy caliente. (The only thing more boring than Canada? Coldplay. "Viva la vida?!" Seriously. Viva la sominex.) Of course, I'm not the only one who has gone after Canada. Take for example the greatest song ever written about international relations, "Blame Canada." (Which song clearly kicks the ass of anything Coldplay has ever written. Of course, so too does anything ever done by that immortal Canadian-Egyptian-Armenian, Raffi.)

It's all a bit unfair actually. A lot unfair. And I was thinking this as I was watching President Obama's press conference with Prime Minister Harper. Harper's year has been as politically star-crossed as Obama's has been seemingly guided by a lucky star. But together yesterday, these two were the picture of what good allies should be. They were polite, respectful, at times deferential, honest about areas of concern and seemingly sincere in their desire to work through potential trouble spots whether they be sclerotic border crossings or the potential for turbulence on trade. Both were gracious, articulate, and statesmanlike.

The U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue they announced was an excellent step to strengthen an already rock-solid relationship by collaborating on an issue where common interests abound.

During the news conference held by Harper and Obama, each of the men warmly characterized the state of the relationship between the two countries. Framing his remarks in the context of Obama's ascendancy to office, Harper said:

His election to the presidency launches a new chapter in the rich history of Canada-U.S. relations. It is a relationship between allies, partners, neighbors, and the closest of friends; a relationship built on our shared values -- freedom, democracy, and equality of opportunity epitomized by the President himself."

Obama, speaking next said:

I came to Canada on my first trip as President to underscore the closeness and importance of the relationship between our two nations, and to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work with friends and partners to meet the common challenges of our time. As neighbors, we are so closely linked that sometimes we may have a tendency to take our relationship for granted, but the very success of our friendship throughout history demands that we renew and deepen our cooperation here in the 21st century.

"We're joined together," he continued, "by the world's largest trading relationship and countless daily interactions that keep our borders open and secure. We share core democratic values and a commitment to work on behalf of peace, prosperity, and human rights around the world."

Usually such words exchanged between political leaders are empty rhetoric. But, in the case of the U.S. and Canada, even with the ups and downs the relationship has been through, they ring true.

It underscored a reality that doesn't earn magazine covers in the way problems such as those highlighted in FP's Axis of Upheaval do. It is natural to focus on problems and threats. But throughout human history and especially in the current era, instability and failed states are really "dog bites man." 

What is rare, exceptional really, are the cases of the special relationships, the alliances that transcend treaties and become true and enduring partnerships. In many of the most important elements of life and foreign policy, boring is good. Boring is the foundation that allows us to stand the upheaval. Boring is constant in an inconstant world and as such is indispensable and invaluable. (The very best marriages for similar reasons, are sometimes perceived as boring. My wife for example, likes both Canada and Coldplay very much. Come to think of it, I'd probably better move on to the next thought...)

I would go further, it may well be that among the relationships of neighboring states, particularly among comparatively powerful neighbors, the U.S.-Canada relationship may be unique in history.  Oh sure, once, long ago, we had that little "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" issue, but that was with the British and frankly with all that manifest destiny testosterone pulsing through our then adolescent veins we were bound to get into trouble with anyone we encountered.

To put it into context, go through history in your mind. Pick two neighbors anywhere. Now find a pair that have gotten along better, avoided war (save for the conflicts depicted in "Canadian Bacon" and that in the aforementioned classic "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.")

Go further, in the vein of my post last week on America's worst alliances, make a list of America's best alliances. Canada tops the list so easily that it is hard to find anyone else that is close. There's the United Kingdom, of course, but we did get off to a bit of a rocky start with them and there was that pesky War of 1812 and they were, despite being officially neutral, not entirely constructive during the Civil War.

And then the next best ally? Ah, while the choices are few they are so tempting. Readership-baiting is so gratifying. (Really, you guys are so easy to toy with. It's like having a dog that always goes after the stick.) I guess the next best ally we have had is Israel. (There, I've said it. Come on all you "realists" time to line up and give it your best shot. I'll even provide your first line for you: "Some of my best friends are Jews, but...") Or, offering the kind of paradox that makes such analyses so much fun (and explains everything about our relationship with the French) perhaps number three is actually France. Ah, this really is too enjoyable.

I think I will stop writing and just warmly contemplate your reactions out there in Wonkavia, land of the Foreign Policy geeks. (And congratulate myself for having gotten through an entire piece about Canada without a single joke about Celine Dion.)

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