Thursday, March 12, 2009
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.
For the record, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee says that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman's appointment and undertook no lobbying against him. If there was a campaign, its leaders didn't bother to contact the Post editorial board. According to a report by Newsweek, Mr. Freeman's most formidable critic -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- was incensed by his position on dissent in China.
But let's consider the ambassador's broader charge: 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. Mr. Freeman darkly claims that "it is not permitted for anyone in the United States" to describe Israel's nefarious influence. But several of his allies have made themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such charges -- and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always had an eager audience here and around the world. The real question is why an administration that says it aims to depoliticize U.S. intelligence estimates would have chosen such a man to oversee them.
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