Misadventures: A Conversation with Ambassador Chas Freeman

Published: December 11, 2010

Share Article

Editor’s Note:

SUSRIS readers are very familiar with the insightful, thoughtful and sometimes provocative perspectives shared in these pages by Ambassador Chas Freeman.  He served as America’s top diplomat in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, among other challenging diplomatic posts in a distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service. For those who have followed his many interviews, panel discussions, keynote addresses and articles presented in SUSRIS you now can find many of his public remarks as well as heretofore unpublished materials in his new book, America’s Misadventures in the Middle East. It was published this fall by Just World Books and is available on Amazon.com. Today we are pleased to provide for your consideration a brief conversation we had with Ambassador Freeman a week before the October release of his new book. It is accompanied by, in a separate mailing and posting, an excerpt from “Misadventures” to give you a taste of what’s provided in the book.



“Misadventures”: A Conversation with Ambassador Chas Freeman

[SUSRIS] Congratulations on your new book, “America’s Misadventures in the Middle East.” Tell us about it.

Amb Chas Freeman
Ambassador Chas Freeman was the opening speaker at the 2010 Arab U.S.-Policymakers Conference and talked about American "misadventures."

[Amb Chas Freeman] This book is something new for me even though I previously published several books. The first was a bilingual English/Chinese book, I was co-author, on how to cook French and Italian cuisine in China with local ingredients. It was a called “Eating Western in China.” Then I published “Arts of Power,” a study of statecraft now widely used in teaching diplomacy around the world. “The Diplomats Dictionary,” which came out in a second revised edition in May was my third book. So other than the book on cuisine I’ve focused on diplomacy in the past.

The idea for this book, “Misadventures,” belongs to the publisher, Helena Cobban of Just World Books. It brings together a collection of my speeches on the Middle East and related matters with some papers that I had written. The new book opens with my views and experiences from the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, a lengthy paper containing materials that haven’t been seen before. Then it goes to my interpretation of why that war, although it was a military triumph, was not a political success and, in fact, led in time to a second war with Iraq.

There are some speeches and papers of interest to those concerned with developments in Saudi Arabia. None have been published before with the exception of my speech about the end of progress without change from earlier this year. The others describe some of the dilemmas facing Saudi domestic and foreign policymakers. The book is, in other words, entirely about the Middle East. It touches heavily on Saudi Arabia and is both a timeless and a chronological examination of the subjects.

[SUSRIS] Many SUSRIS readers are familiar with your perspectives through the interviews we’ve done with you and from some of your speeches that you’ve permitted us to print here. What is in the book that would be new for them?

[Freeman] The account of the Gulf War will be new and very interesting, particularly to those who lived through that time. There are two rather good accounts of the war as seen from the prospective military commanders on our side, Norman Schwarzkopf and Khalid Bin Sultan. There’s also a very good book by the British Ambassador, Sir Alan Munro [Arab Storm], from his perspective. It’s a broader account and it is quite good.

The title of the article in my book is “In the Eye of the Storm,” being in the eye of Operation Desert Storm, and I think it will be of considerable interest to people. They might learn things they didn’t know about that period.

Otherwise I was very encouraged in a way, discouraged in another way, when I looked back at the various public remarks I had given, to find that I had gotten many things right. I spoke out early against the “misadventure” in Iraq. I spoke out early against the shift of the focus in Afghanistan from Al Qaeda to pacification efforts directed at right-winged Islamic elements in Afghanistan – the Taliban and others – and I was quite a bit ahead of the curve as I look back and see. That gives me the confidence that some of the things I see happening now, I see correctly.

[SUSRIS] You said the Gulf War of 1991 was a military victory but not a political success. How so?

"America's Misadventures in the Middle East," by Chas Freeman
Click on cover for more info and to order

[Freeman] The best thing to do is read the chapter because the argument is reasonably sophisticated, but it has to do with the American way of warfare as it has evolved. Unlike any other country it does not focus in any respect, let alone adequately, on war termination strategy – on how to get the other side to acknowledge its defeat and make the concessions necessary to relieve itself of further pressure. So in the case of the first Gulf War and in a sense the invasion of Iraq as well, the United States did not know what to do once it had won militarily.

In the case of the first Gulf War Saddam Hussein was never forced to confront the reality of his defeat or to acknowledge it politically. He, therefore, was able to turn his continued survival into a point of political strength rather than weakness and to carry on for many more years. It resulted in great suffering for the Iraqi people and eventually led to a war designed primarily to dislodge him from power, which I think was its only accomplishment. So I try to explain that in terms of American war doctrine, which people may find of interest.

[SUSRIS] In one of your speeches you talked about American policy failings in the Middle East and you posed the question “Why not try diplomacy?” What about Washington’s approach in the region led you to that point?

[Freeman] The book does include, as I’ve said, the texts of many of my public remarks. That conversation was from a speech I gave in New Orleans to the University Continuing Education Association. I think the commentary in that speech laid out, in a reasonably consistent way, the mistakes that the United States has made: too much reliance on the use of force, the use of military campaigns as a substitute for strategy, the tendency to go at it alone, the building of coalitions of camp followers rather than serious military and diplomatic partners, and the inability to deal with the regional context of much of what we were doing. That last point lies in part because of our incapacities with respect to Iran, but more broadly our inability to engage, in the case of Iraq, the various countries on the periphery effectively – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Kuwait.

The United States did not put together the regional strategies that the Iraq Working Group called for. So what you have, in effect, is a running commentary in the book on American diplomacy as it unfolded. When remarks were made I discussed what the probable consequences of failure to use diplomacy more effectively might be. More often than not those predictions turned out to be correct.

[SUSRIS] With regard to the Middle East how would you see what we’re witnessing in Washington fit into your prescription of “why not try diplomacy”?

[Freeman] I don’t see this so-called peace process as an example of diplomacy. I think it’s an example of public relations for domestic political effect and an exploitation of the very sincere desire of many in the region, in Israel and among the Palestinians and other Arabs, to see peace without any real strategy for getting there. What I would say is to examine the speech and you’ll find suggestions for a diplomatic approach, beginning with getting behind the Arab Peace Initiative, which of course was a Saudi initiative.

[SUSRIS] What are your thoughts on Tom Friedman’s column suggesting an invitation from Riyadh to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the Kingdom for a hand delivered copy of King Abdullah’s peace plan, and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher suggesting the two-state solution as having been closed out and needing a new regional context. What is your reaction to those kinds of perspectives?

[Freeman] Well I think with regard to the first one it really makes no sense from any point of view to have a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in Riyadh to give him the text of that which he can read, and should have read eight years ago. I think myself, and I said this in my Oslo remarks, that the Arab Peace Initiative should be put directly in front of the Israeli public. I think it would be a good idea to buy space in Israeli newspapers to publish the text and appropriate commentary in Hebrew, which I don’t think has been done. I think most Israelis remain essentially ignorant of what was offered at Beirut in 2002. Their views are colored mostly by – not having seen the text for themselves – disparaging commentary in the press by people in Israel who basically are very happy with the status quo, where they can continue land grabs without having to give anything up. So I do think that Friedman is right – this is a serious offer which deserves to be picked up, but, tactically the approach he suggests doesn’t make sense to me.

On Marwan Muasher’s suggestion – I think he’s right on two levels. The two-state solution is now essentially physically impossible without decisions in Israel that are very unlikely to be made. And second, he’s right that the only way a resolution can come about is with the involvement of more of the neighbors of Palestine and Israel. And I think he’s a very thoughtful commentator so I hope he will continue to explore the possibilities of regional diplomacy.

In a sense, in Oslo what I was doing was making the case that no peace process, no peace that was dependent on American politics, or directly subject to them, could actually occur because of the ability of Israel and those associated with Israel to manipulate American politics. What I said in the Oslo speech was, “Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed.”

I think a lot of people have heard speeches by me or they have seen little bits and pieces of them quoted here and there, in places like SUSRIS. One of the merits of the book is it brings the major statements all together in one place and I hope it is good reading as well as thought-provoking.

[SUSRIS] Thank you as always. We appreciate the time you take with us.


About Ambassador Chas Freeman

Chas W. Freeman, Jr. – Chairman of the Board, Projects International, Inc., a Washington, DC-based development firm specializing in international joint ventures, acquisitions, and other business operations for its American and foreign clients; former President, Middle East Policy Council; former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (1993-94), earning the Department of Defense’s highest public service awards for his roles in designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War security system and in reestablishing defense and military relations with China; former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm); Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola; and author of the newly published America’s Misadventures in the Middle East as well as The Diplomat’s Dictionary (Revised Edition) and Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy.


About Just World Books

Just World Books opened in the spring of 2010 with the aim of expanding the range of discourse on the most important international issues of our day and offering a platform for some of the most overlooked (but smartest) authors writing on these matters .. Just World Books brings these eloquent voices to print so that audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere who understand the gravity of these issues, yet feel under-informed about the true nature and roots of these crises, can have easier access to the wisdom, views, and insights of people with direct experience working on (and often in) these areas.

..more [Link]


Related Items: