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Influence of Israel Lobby Debated as Intelligence Pick Casts Blame for Pullout

And Stephen Walt, one of two writers who in 2006 famously described the influence of the Israel lobby as dangerous, chimed in on ForeignPolicy.com: "For all of you out there who may have questioned whether there was a powerful 'Israel lobby,' or who admitted that it existed but didn't think it had much influence . . . think again." (Foreign Policy is owned by a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co.)

Time's Joe Klein opined that Freeman "was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives -- abetted by less than courageous public servants . . . [who have] 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."

The White House, which had sidestepped questions about Freeman twice in one week, said little yesterday. "I don't have anything to add from what Admiral Blair discussed yesterday in accepting Mr. Freeman's decision that his nomination not proceed and that he regretted it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The White House did not respond last night to a question about outside influence on personnel decisions.

The earliest cry of alarm about Freeman's appointment -- a week before it was announced -- came from a former AIPAC lobbyist. Steve Rosen wrote Feb. 19 on his blog that Freeman was a "strident critic of Israel" and described the potential appointment as "a textbook case of the old-line Arabism" whose "views of the region are what you would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry."

Rosen said yesterday that he had been "quite positive" about President Obama's previous appointments for Middle East positions but that he was "surprised" about Freeman. The appointee's "most extreme point of view," he said, was not what he had expected for the head of the NIC.

Rosen has a unique position in Washington. A former chief foreign policy lobbyist for AIPAC, he and a colleague were indicted by the Bush administration in 2005 on suspicion of violating the Espionage Act, the first nongovernment employees ever so charged. AIPAC cut him loose, and a trial date has been set for May.

Meanwhile, Rosen is limited in what he can do. He said he cannot talk to AIPAC employees, nor can he lobby Congress. He has talked to "a number of journalists" who called him about Freeman, but not members of Congress. He did not answer when asked yesterday whether he has talked to Hill staff members.

Rosen's initial posting was the first of 17 he would write about Freeman over a 19-day period. Some of those added more original reporting, while some pointed to other blogs' finds about Freeman's record. In the process, Rosen traced increasing interest in the appointment elsewhere in the blogosphere, including coverage by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, and Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.

Interest also was growing among members of Congress.

On March 2, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) wrote Blair to raise concerns based on what he had read about Freeman's positions. Two days later, he called for Blair to withdraw the appointment.

Also on March 2, the Zionist Organization of America called for support of a letter by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) that called on the DNI inspector general to investigate Freeman for possible conflicts of interest because of his financial relations with Saudi Arabia. That letter, signed by Kirk and seven other congressmen, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), was sent to Inspector General Edward Maguire on March 3.

Close observers of the events consider that request a turning point in the effort to stop Freeman's candidacy, and Rosen's blog began focusing almost exclusively on the appointment.

On Monday, the seven Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee wrote Blair to protest his choice, which was not subject to Senate confirmation, and threatened to review the NIC's work as long as Freeman chaired that body.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting one day later, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Blair of his own concerns, and he added that the controversy "is not going to go away until you or Ambassador Freeman find a way to resolve it." Hours later, Freeman withdrew.

Freeman explained his decision last night on National Public Radio: "It became apparent that, no matter what the National Intelligence Council or the intelligence community might put out under my chairmanship, I would be used as an excuse -- if something was said that wasn't politically correct -- to disparage the quality and the credibility of the intelligence."


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