Since February 26, I’ve written several times (here, here, here, and here) about the battle over the nomination of Charles W. (“Chas”) Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Committee. On Tuesday, he withdrew his name from consideration after what I called a “thunderous, coordinated assault” against him by the Israel lobby and its neoconservative allies.
On Friday, three days after he withdrew — in the midst of a media storm, including front page stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post — Freeman and I spoke in an exclusive interview for The Nation. Here is the unedited transcript:
Q. When were you first approached by Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence?A. It was in early to mid-December. My initial reaction was that I was reluctant to go back to the government at all. And then my reaction was about, as I’ve been quoted saying, giving up my freedom, my leisure, most of my income, undergoing a mental colonoscopy, and resuming a daily commute to a job with long hours and a ration of political abuse.
Q. So when did you accept the position?A. Probably late January. It took me five, six weeks to overcome common sense and agree to do it.
Q. And what happened between January and the leak of your appointment?A. Two things happened. One, I began to notify the various organizations I nominally head or on whose boards I sit that I would be leaving to go into the government, though I didn’t say where, and when I was approached to join new activities I replied that I would be grateful but that I couldn’t consider it because I was going into government. And, two, I took the various business activities I was engaged in and looked at them to see how I could bring projects that were ongoing to a stage where I could responsibly walk away.
Q. Did you start to work with Blair in terms of defining your job?A. I had a series of conversations with him in which we discussed the need for the Obama administration to have a strong National Security Council policy process that could re-examine things on the strategic level, which is clearly long overdue. To look at the preconceptions of policy and to take a zero-sum look at quite a range of issues, including some connected with the Middle East, and a few, not very many, connected with China, because I don’t see too much broken there: the alliance relationships, the NATO-Russia relationship, the emergence of narco-states within Mexico spilling over our border, the increasingly defiant stance of countries in Latin America to our influence, issues of order and state collapse in Africa, the issue of Indo-Pakistani relationship, “Pashtunistan” on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, how to understand the possibility of an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, and what remains as the basis for a mutually agreed upon Arab-Israeli settlement. And a lot of economic issues, too.