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A Question for "Burkean" Conservatives

11:09 AM, Mar 4, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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National Review posts an editorial today on the appointment of Chas Freeman. The editors write:

Three of the major foreign-policy challenges the United States faces today involve the survival of Israel, the Saudis' promotion of radical Islam, and the ambitions of China. To navigate them, Obama has chosen a fierce critic of Israel - our only reliable ally in the region where threats to the United States are most immediate - whose track record is one of kowtowing to our enemies in the Mideast and our rivals in Beijing.

Freeman's supporters have failed to mount any defense at all of Freeman's writing on the Tiananmen Square massacre. Instead they've avoided the issue entirely, focusing on Freeman's alleged status as an "honest broker" on Middle East issues. But as the editors at NR point out, even if that were true, it is irrelevant to the job that Freeman is being asked to do. This job requires someone capable of serious and independent thinking about the threat posed by Communist China, the threat posed by radical Islam, and the extent to which the Saudi regime supports the latter.

It now seems obvious, if only by the silence of his supporters, that Freeman is not independent or serious on these issues -- otherwise someone, anyone, would come forward to defend his statements that King Abdullah should be called King Abdullah the Great, or that "the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities" was their failure to act quickly enough "to restore domestic tranquility" in 1989.

As a postscript to his note in support of the Chinese crackdown, Freeman wrote:

I await the brickbats of those who insist on a politically correct -- i.e. non Burkean conservative -- view.

Should the head of the National Intelligence Council really be a man who fancies himself a "Burkean conservative"? Wasn't the lesson of the last eight years, repeated again and again by the left, that intelligence should be free of ideology and politics? And why hasn't Andrew Sullivan, the blogosphere's self-appointed leader of Burkean conservatism, weighed in on this? Is it true that Burkean conservatives supported the Chinese crackdown in 1989, or has Freeman badly misunderstood the writings of Burke?

Update: Donnelly responds here.