Who’s behind the war on Obama’s intelligence pick

The effort to dislodge Freeman still has the potential to impact the Obama administration’s policies towards Israel, however discredited its architect [indicted former AIPAC director, Steven Rosen] may be. This is, of course, the underlying objective of many of Freeman’s critics. “Freeman is stuck in the latest instance of the deadly power game long played here on what level of support for controversial Israeli government policies is a ‘requirement’ for US public office…” foreign policy analyst Chris Nelson wrote in his Nelson Report, an influential private daily newsletter read by Washington policy makers. “If Obama surrenders to the critics and orders [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] to rescind the Freeman appointment to chair the NIC, it is difficult to see how he can properly exercise leverage, when needed, in his conduct of policy in the Middle East. That, literally, is how the experts see the stakes of the fight now underway.”

The Israeli lobby’s mounting frustration with the intelligence community suggests another reason for its opposition to Freeman. As NIC director, Freeman would oversee the production of National Intelligence Estimates (NIE’s), the consensus judgment of all 16 intelligence agencies—essentially the official analysis of the U.S. government on global realities. When the December 2007 NIE found that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” and that Iran was “less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005,” advocates for a preemptive U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities reacted with anger and dismay. Neoconservative scholar Daniel Pipes—Rosen’s new boss at the Middle East Forum—decried the NIE as “a shoddy, politicized, outrageous parody of a piece of propaganda.”

“It’s clear that Freeman isn’t going to be influenced by the lobby,” Jim Lobe, the Washington bureau chief of Inter Press Service, remarked to me. “They don’t like people like that, especially when they’re in charge of products like the NIE. So this is a very important test for them.”

Hand-picked to lead the NIC by Obama’s director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, Freeman brings a wide-ranging resume to the job. He has spearheaded key U.S. initiatives from Africa to Europe to East Asia while gathering experience in the Middle East as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Having cut his teeth as President Richard Nixon’s translator during his historic trip to China, Freeman is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. Retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Pat Lang described Freeman as “a man awesomely educated, of striking intellect, of vast experience and demonstrated integrity.” A letter signed by 17 current and former ambassadors published in The Wall Street Journal underscored the career diplomat’s credibility. “We know Chas [Freeman] to be a man of integrity and high intelligence who would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments,” the ambassadors wrote. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The latest salvo in the smear campaign against Freeman comes from Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In a letter to DNI Blair, the senators did however pull their punches. Even though they said that Freeman’s appointment sends “the wrong message”, they stopped short of calling for him to step down.

“Given our concerns about Mr. Freeman’s lack of experience and uncertainty about his objectivity, we intend to devote even more oversight scrutiny to the activities of the NIC under his leadership.”

In other words, rather than standard rubber-stamp oversight, the senators are actually going to take their job seriously. What a relief!

But why are they holding back? Blair has stood resolutely behind his choice, so the attacks on Freeman’s judgment are implicitly a criticism of Blair’s judgment.

And who’s job was it to ensure that the new DNI would be a man of impeccable judgment? Oh yeah, the Senate Intelligence Committee that held confirmation hearings and then all voted in favor of his appointment. If Blair’s judgment isn’t sound, what about the judgment of the Senate committee?

The campaign against Freeman is not only showcasing the Israel lobby in action; it is also exposing intellectual contortionists who even now have a hard time standing up against an entrenched political force that continues to poison Washington and the media.

Consider this strange conclusion that Ezra Klein reaches:

    But for Freeman’s detractors, a loss might still be a win. As Sullivan and others have documented, the controversy over Freeman is fundamentally a question of his views on Israel. Barring a bad report from the inspector general, Chas Freeman will survive and serve. But only because his appointment doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Few, however, will want to follow where he led. Freeman’s career will likely top out at Director of the NIC. That’s not a bad summit by any means. But for ambitious foreign policy thinkers who might one day aspire to serve in a confirmed capacity, the lesson is clear: Israel is off-limits. And so, paradoxically, the freethinking Freeman’s appointment might do quite a bit to silence foreign policy dissenters who want to succeed in Washington.

Let’s see if I get this: Before we witnessed the current spectacle there were foreign policy dissenters waltzing around Washington who didn’t know it was dangerous to criticize Israel? But now they know how dangerous a move that would be?

Give me a break! The taboo on criticizing Israel is the universally understood status quo. No one needed a “lesson” about this. If the Israel lobby loses here, it’s a loss — resounding and unequivocal. If they win, they will hereafter be unremitting in their efforts to beat the Obama administration into submission — and at this point it’s far from clear that the administration would put up much of a fight.

The fight about Chas Freeman is not about him: it’s about the power of the Israel lobby. It will either be vindicated in its own assessment of its own strength, or it will publicly be seen to be on the wane and no longer powerful enough to silence its critics.

Charles Freeman, Roger Cohen and the changing Israel debate

Anyone who doubts that there has been a substantial — and very positive — change in the rules for discussing American policy towards Israel should consider two recent episodes: (1) the last three New York Times columns by Roger Cohen; and (2) the very strong pushback from a diverse range of sources against the neoconservative lynch mob trying, in typical fashion, to smear and destroy Charles Freeman due to his critical (in all senses of the word) views of American policy towards Israel. One positive aspect of the wreckage left by the Bush presidency is that many of the most sacred Beltway pieties stand exposed as intolerable failures, prominently including our self-destructively blind enabling of virtually all Israeli actions. [continued…]

Blair defends intelligence pick from questions on foreign connections

The nation’s spy chief is defending his pick to head the National Intelligence Council even as every Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee signaled their qualms about the choice.

In letters sources said were sent March 6 to key lawmakers, including the leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence committees, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair responded to congressional complaints about Chas W. Freeman Jr.’s former service as president of the Middle East Policy Council and on the board of the China-owned Chinese National Offshore Oil Company.

In a copy of one of the letters obtained Monday by CQ, Blair wrote that the Middle East Policy Council has received no more than a twelfth of its annual budget from Saudi Arabia and does not take stances on issues or lobby; Freeman, he also wrote, did not discuss any of the Chinese company’s dealings with Iran while on the company’s board, a position which provided him with about $10,000 annually. The MEPC job provided Freeman with between $76,000 and $84,000 annually, the letter said.

Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has never been a lobbyist, would not serve the director in any policy capacity, and his international-business development firm, Projects International, has never had foreign governments as clients, Blair states. [continued…]

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  1. delia ruhe

    jezuz, this is like watching the final moments of a tight football match from the 50-yard-line. I don’t know whether to hope for a miracle touchdown or for the clock to run out — because it’s no longer about just moving the ball a few yards. This is crucial and could define Palestinians’ future for all time.

  2. Abe Bird

    Why can’t the Israeli Lobby have its say when the Pro-Saudi and Pro-Chinese Lobbies approved and pushed Chas W. Freeman Jr. for that sensitive mission?
    I’m glad for the American people that Freeman is a free man now and set down off the mission. Something good happened in America then !!!!

  3. Paul Woodward

    Abe – Thanks for your comment. Can you provide me with some references, statements, or evidence of any kind that “Pro-Saudi and Pro-Chinese Lobbies approved and pushed” for Freeman’s appointment?

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