The appointment of Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council is a done deal, and it's probably the single best appointment that Obama has made to date. But small-minded critics are out for blood. And now John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and other Republicans on the Hill are demanding Freeman's head.
The critic with the smallest mind, I'd say, is Jonathan Chait, a rabid, pro-Zionist hawk and supporter of the war in Iraq, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post this week called "Obama's Intelligence Blunder." Chait, who knows squat about intelligence, had the temerity to call Freeman a "fanatic." As in:
Freeman was attacked by pro-Israel activists, but the contretemps over Freeman's view of Israel misses the broader problem, which is that he's an ideological fanatic.
By "fanatic," Chait meant that Freeman is a "realist," which is sort of like calling someone a fanatical moderate. Listen to Chait's "reasoning":
He's not an ideologue of the sort who draws most of the attention. When most people think of foreign policy ideology, they mean neoconservatism, which dominated the Bush administration. ... Freeman belongs to the camp that's the mortal enemy of the neoconservatives: the realists.
In other words, if you're a mortal enemy of neoconservativism, you can't be appointed.
That was enough for Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican -- or should we say, rank Republican -- on the House intelligence committee, who has called on Obama to rescind Freeman's appointment. Hoekstra is crabby because Freeman's appointment doesn't need Senate confirmation, and he's reduced to begging Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, to dump Freeman. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hoekstra met Blair on Tuesday, but he was rebuffed. Says the paper:
Mr. Hoekstra met Mr. Blair Tuesday. The intelligence chief made clear his support for Mr. Freeman, Mr. Hoekstra said. The congressman said he plans to meet Mr. Freeman in the next week.
Meanwhile, the Journal adds, a congressman actually named Israel -- that would be Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a Democrat -- is "calling for an investigation into whether Mr. Freeman's tiesd to Saudi Arabia pose a conflict of interest."
Freeman's defenders include Arnaud de Borchgrave, who wrote:
A rarity in Washington, the secret was well kept until the announcement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair. His deputy as chairman of the National Intelligence Council is Charles "Chas" W. Freeman Jr., a Chinese-speaking iconoclast with a brilliant analytical mind that is anathema to the Israel lobby and the neocons.
And over at Foreign Policy, Stephen M. Walt, coauthor of the much-talked-about book on the Zionist lobby, wrote a post entitled: "Have they not a shred of decency?" which lambasted Freeman's critics and cited me, among others, as among his defenders. Said Walt:
Fortunately, the screeching of Freeman's critics has not worked; Freeman will be the head of the National Intelligence Council. In fact, this heavy-handed behavior, with its McCarthy-like overtones, may even backfire, by showing just how obsessed his critics are with their own narrow-minded vision of U.S. Middle East policy, a vision they expect all other Americans to share.
Steve Rosen, the disgraced former official of the American Israeli Public Affair Committee, who's been indicted in an espionage scandal, is the one who got the anti-Freeman ball rolling. His latest post , in his blog "Obama Mideast Monitor," picks up on the members of Congress who want to derail Freeman. He writes:
Ten members of the House of Representatives, including Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), are asking for an investigation into the financial ties of Chas Freeman, nominated to head the National intelligence Council. In a letter to the Inspector General at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Reps. Eric Cantor, Shelley Berekley, Mark Krik, Sue Myrick, Patrick McHenry, Leonard Lance, Doug Lamborn, Bob Inglis, Mike Rogers and Boehner, expressed concern that Freeman's organization has "close ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," and made the case for an investigation. "We are writing with concern over the appointment of Charles "Chas" Freeman as the next Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Given his close ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we request a comprehensive review of Amb. Freeman's past and current commercial, financial and contractual ties to the Kingdom to ensure no conflict of interest exists in his new appointment. Congressman Steve Israel sent an earlier letter making the same request.
Obama isn't likely to cave in to the small minds opposing Freeman, nor is he likely to listen to the carping of GOP critics, including Boehner, who are likely to lose this one.
Still, it's troubling to read this exchange from the White House briefing of February 27:
Q. Robert, there are have been several reports that the President has settled on former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, to head his National Intelligence Council. Mr. Freeman's organization took a million dollars from the Saudi government, and he later refers to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, saying, "Perhaps you should be called, King Abdullah the Great." Is this someone that has the kind of detachment necessary to assess intelligence for the U.S. government?
MR. GIBBS: I've, on any number of occasions, said that I will talk about personnel announcements when we make personnel announcements, and we haven't done so in that.