Charles Freeman

Freeman’s nomination for chairman of the National Intelligence Council is dead. Here is what the country has lost:

… As a young man fluent in Mandarin, [Freeman] was the translator for Richard Nixon on his first trip to China. Later, Freeman held diplomatic posts in Africa and Asia, served as assistant secretary of defense handling NATO expansion and, after adding Arabic to his repertoire of languages, was sent to Saudi Arabia as ambassador just before the Persian Gulf War.

As retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who appointed Freeman, told me the night before Freeman’s withdrawal, “We are so fortunate, with the challenges we face in Asia and the Middle East, that he could be persuaded to come back to government.”
[…]
… His great strength, Blair said, is his ability to think through how situations look to the people on the other side. Had our intelligence system been cued to do that, Freeman told me, we never would have assumed we’d be greeted as liberators in Iraq.
[…]
Had the lobbyists not prevailed, Freeman would have assigned the intelligence analysts this week to figure out why the Chinese provoked a naval incident off their coast and what lessons we could draw from the mixed reactions of other nations.

Over time, he said, he would have challenged analysts to remember that “it is not how highly classified information is, but how reliable, even if it’s on the front page of the newspaper.” He would have undermined the insularity of the intelligence world by asking members to meet with outside experts whose insights “may be worth more than security clearances.” And he would have turned them loose even on “domestic” questions such as: “If we are 38th in the world in health, what could we learn from the other 37?”

All of this now gone, because, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Blair, Freeman’s views are “beyond the pale.”

After being mostly ignored in the mainstream media up until now, the Freeman debacle becomes an editorial subject for two major newspapers: the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. The LAT editorial “calls for a free debate on US policy in the Middle East” — it “defends the US-Israeli alliance but questions why only one side is allowed to be involved in policy-making.”

And the WaPo editorial was written by Fred Hiatt.

Dean Baquet, D.C. bureau chief for the New York Times, tells Politico’s Michael Calderone why his paper did not cover the Freeman story until Freeman stepped down:

“The main reason we haven’t covered it until something happened is that this is not high enough a job for us to cover relentlessly with all the things going on Washington,” Baquet added.

Uhhh, okay, but “[t]he Freeman story wasn’t about Mr Freeman, but about Israel, the influence of its allies here in America, and the rigidity of US policy. That some braying by pro-Israel bloggers and a few politicians could sink this candidate (not to mention AIPAC’s nebulous role) is worth going a little nuts over, no?”

Glenn Greenwald argues that the Freeman story is also about the promiscuous granting of anonymity by journalists and its corrupting influence on public discourse.

Brian Beutler seconds:

As Glenn says, “reporters agreed to keep AIPAC’s ‘private’ involvement a secret by allowing them to do everything ‘on background,’ and — far worse — then allowed what they knew to be the false impression to be created that AIPAC had no involvement in the campaign.”

People who watch politics understand what’s going on here perfectly well. Sometimes efforts to advance a cause or multiple causes are most effective when conducted in secret. AIPAC’s cause in this case was to prevent Chas Freeman from becoming NIC chair while preserving the illusion that the Israel lobby doesn’t try to stifle its critics–and they couldn’t possibly do both unless they smeared Freeman to people who agreed to keep the campaign secret. And that’s a perfectly sensible way for them to accomplish their goals whether those goals are good for the country or not. But that doesn’t obligate anybody to play along and the degree to which many do is unfortunate and, sadly, all too predictable.

Fred Kaplan at Slate approves of Barack Obama’s decision not to go to the mat for Freeman — but whoever the “I” is at Democracy in America is disappointed in Obama:

Yet I am more disappointed with Barack Obama, who also didn’t think the appointment was worth going nuts over. Not that he would have had to. This was a discretionary presidential appointment, not requiring Senate confirmation. This was a story that never made it out of the blogosphere. This was a candidate who the intelligence chief was willing to fight for, and who was lauded by those who knew him. That the White House was so easily brought to its knees by this below-the-MSM-radar campaign bodes ill for the prospect of a more open discussion of US-Israel policy. And it leads me to question Mr Obama’s courage to challenge the established order.

I, Kathy Kattenburg, agree with the anonymous blogger at Democracy in America — although I do wish that bloggers who choose to use the first person pronoun would give themselves a name. I just don’t think of “economist.com” as an “I.”

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