The Washington Post blasts the Obama administration for playing politics with national intelligence today in a scathing editorial over Chas Freeman’s aborted appointment to the National Intelligence Council. Despite Joe Klein’s weird bleatings about “assassination” by quoting a nominee verbatim, the Post doesn’t get fooled by conspiracy theorists. Instead, they point to Freeman’s valediction as belated proof of his unsuitability, and wonder what Team Obama could be thinking:
FORMER ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. looked like a poor choice to chair the Obama administration’s National Intelligence Council. A former envoy to Saudi Arabia and China, he suffered from an extreme case of clientitis on both accounts. In addition to chiding Beijing for not crushing the Tiananmen Square democracy protests sooner and offering sycophantic paeans to Saudi King “Abdullah the Great,” Mr. Freeman headed a Saudi-funded Middle East advocacy group in Washington and served on the advisory board of a state-owned Chinese oil company. It was only reasonable to ask — as numerous members of Congress had begun to do — whether such an actor was the right person to oversee the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates.
It wasn’t until Mr. Freeman withdrew from consideration for the job, however, that it became clear just how bad a selection Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair had made. Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister “Lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel — and his statement was a grotesque libel. …
He describes “an inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics.” That will certainly be news to Israel’s “ruling faction,” which in the past few years alone has seen the U.S. government promote a Palestinian election that it opposed; refuse it weapons it might have used for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and adopt a policy of direct negotiations with a regime that denies the Holocaust and that promises to wipe Israel off the map. Two Israeli governments have been forced from office since the early 1990s after open clashes with Washington over matters such as settlement construction in the occupied territories.
What’s striking about the charges by Mr. Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists is their blatant disregard for such established facts.
And what’s striking about the Obama administration is an inability to screen for incompetents, cheats, and conspiracy theorists in their appointments. Didn’t anyone think to ask Freeman what he thought of the pro-Israel lobby? As the Post expertly points out, Freeman can’t even get the basics right on US-Israeli relations. How could they expect him to do a competent job in analyzing intelligence with this kind of conspiracy-theorist mindset?
Or does Dennis Blair and Barack Obama share those viewpoints with Freeman?
Klein, meanwhile, drinks heartily of the Freeman Kool-Aid:
Chas Freeman has withdrawn his name from consideration as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council. His withdrawal statement is relayed here by Laura Rozen in all its pugnacious glory. The guy goes out with guns blazing–a bit too hot, for my taste. He pins his departure on “the Israel Lobby,” which is imprecise. He was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives–abetted by less than courageous public servants like Senator Chuck Schumer, who has publicly taken credit for the hit. …
Schumer should know that he has taken a scalp in the name of closed-mindedness, which is not a well-known Jewish tradition. He has made Washington even less hospitable for those who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, for those who are reflexively contentious, who would defy the conventional wisdom.
Sorry, but the choice of NIC chair shouldn’t go to the biggest loudmouth and crank in Washington DC just because we want to encourage loudmouths and cranks. Nor was Israel the actual catalyst for Freeman’s departure, despite its substantial validity for his disqualification, as the Post points out. Not exactly a bastion of neo-conservative (or any stripe of conservative) thought, Newsweek reports that the move to oust Freeman came from Nancy Pelosi and Schumer not because of Israel, but because of Freeman’s connections to China and Saudi Arabia:
Chas Freeman, the Obama administration’s choice to serve in a key U.S. intelligence post, abruptly withdrew Tuesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous other congressional leaders complained to the White House that he was too closely tied to Saudi and Chinese government interests. …
A former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Freeman has faced questions over the past two weeks about financial ties between members of the Saudi royal family and the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a Washington think tank he heads that has been critical of U.S. support for Israeli government policies. But Pelosi’s objections reportedly focused on Freeman’s ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human-rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman’s views were “indefensible” and complained directly to President Obama about his selection.
Of course, the facts matter as little to Klein as they do to Freeman. Here’s another fact: Freeman has no formal intelligence background, at least according to his CV. Why would the Obama administration choose a man with no direct experience in intelligence to run their independent analyst group? It makes as much sense as putting Leon Panetta in charge of the CIA, I suppose, if the Obama administration wants to politicize all of its intelligence work.