Despite weeks of behind-the-scenes lobbying by some Jewish groups, the Obama administration yesterday tapped veteran diplomat Chas. W. Freeman Jr. to head the National Intelligence Council in what may be its most controversial appointment yet.
As chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Freeman will be responsible for producing the National Intelligence Estimate – the classified document given to the president and senior intelligence officials that analyzes potential threats to U.S. national security. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Chas Freeman is the definition of a straight shooter. His independence and unwillingness to kowtow to the Washington establishment and specifically the Israel lobby is a breath of fresh. To get a taste of Freeman’s perspective on the Middle East — the region that will of course be central to the deliberations of the NIC — watch the following very short clips which are back-to-back segments from a speech at the 15th Annual US-Arab Policymakers Conference, delivered on October 31, 2006:
The Palestine problem cannot be solved by the use of force; it requires much more than the diplomacy-free foreign policy we have practiced since 9/11. Israel is not only not managing this problem; it is severely aggravating it. Denial born of political correctness will not cure this fact. Israel has shown – not surprisingly – that, if we offer nothing but unquestioning support and political protection for whatever it does, it will feel no incentive to pay attention to either our interests or our advice. Hamas is showing that if we offer it nothing but unreasoning hostility and condemnation, it will only stiffen its position and seek allies among our enemies. In both cases, we forfeit our influence for no gain.
There will be no negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, no peace, and no reconciliation between them – and there will be no reduction in anti-American terrorism – until we have the courage to act on our interests. These are not the same as those of any party in the region, including Israel, and we must talk with all parties, whatever we think of them or their means of struggle. Refusal to reason with those whose actions threaten injury to oneself, one’s friends, and one’s interests is foolish, feckless, and self-defeating. That is why we it is past time for an active and honest discussion with both Israel and the government Palestinians have elected, which – in an irony that escapes few abroad – is the only democratically elected government in the Arab world. [continued…]
Chas Freeman’s selection to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council (first reported by Laura Rozen of Foreignpolicy.com) is notable not just for his surprising (and, to some, disturbing) even-handedness about the Middle East.
The man is one of a rare breed: He is a Washington insider, and yet he is also a ferociously independent thinker, a super-realist, an iconoclast, a provocateur and a gadfly. He has, as I wrote in a Niemanwatchdog.org article about him in 2006, spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered — or even asked — because they’re too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult.
For him to be put in charge of what Rozen calls “the intelligence community’s primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates” is about the most emphatic statement the Obama Administration could possibly make that it won’t succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq. [continued…]
To me, this is a stunning appointment. There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded (just look at this bio here), knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman. He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so. But, more to the point, he was probably the most direct and outspoken — and caustic — critic of the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror,” especially of the influence of the neo-conservatives — of any former senior member of the career foreign service. His appointment constitutes a nightmare, for the Israeli right and its U.S. supporters, in particular, (and for reflexive China-bashers, as well). [continued…]