Monday, March 9, 2009

Greewald: Ad Hominem as The Method

There's this story going on about Chas Freeman, who has been appointed to some highfalutin advisory position somewhere within the Obama Administration. Lot's of people are cheering, others are groaning and kvetching. I haven't been following it too closely. My understanding is that it's not an executive position, nor is it top-tier. If here and there in the Administration there are people with nutty viewpoints, the United States of America is a big enough place to contain them. If the fellow challenges any potential groupthink, that can't be bad, either.

One of the advantages in being deeply and fundamentally right is that you can afford to be questioned by skeptics, contrarians, fools and snakes, all. So long as the the decision makers themselves are rational, there isn't much to be fearful of. In the long run, the skeptics may make some legitimate criticisms here and there, but they won't be able to cast serious doubt on a position that's fundamentally correct.

So far so good. Now you might want to cast a glance at Glenn Greeenwald's thoughts on the matter. They're long and wordy: Greenwald's like that. My understanding is that the central objective problem with Freeman is that he has been in the pay of the Saudis, who have a record of knowing why they pay nice sums to former American diplomats. In spite of everything Greenwald and others will imply, the vocal friends of Israel in Washington haven't been on Israel's payroll. They've made up their minds for whatever nefarious reasons, but being paid for them wasn't one. Greenwald, however, has this revealing comment to make:
There is, by design, definitely a chilling effect to these smear campaigns. Freeman is being dragged through the mud by the standard cast of accusatory Israel-centric neocons (Marty Peretz, Jon Chait, Jeffrey Goldberg, Commentary, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, etc. etc., etc.), subjected to every standard, baseless smear, as a warning to others who think about challenging U.S. policy towards Israel in a similar way...
Ultimately, the greatest weapon to defeat these campaigns is to highlight the identity and behavior of their perpetrators. Just consider who is behind the attack on Freeman; how ugly and discredited are their tactics and ideology; and, most importantly, how absurd it is, given their disgraceful history, that they -- of all people -- would parade around as arbiters of "ideological extremism" and, more audaciously still, as credible judges of intelligence assessment.
The argument, in other words, must be resolved by "highlighting the identity" of the discussants saying things we don't like. Not "let's refute their claims", but "let's paint them in garish colors".

PS. And no, I hope I don't do the same. Follow the tags and you'll see that when the Guardian or Juan Cole (rarely) say thoughtful or valuable things, I've taken note. They don't do it often, true, but it can happen. What's wrong with them is how they use their cognitive facilities, not the fact that they are who they are.

1 comment:

Dimitry said...

Actually, Freeman's intended position is rather influential. He would be responsible for providing the president with the security assesments.
I think we had a problem with something similar in Israel, no? In '73?