Chas Freeman for NIC: Lots at Stake

A thunderous, coordinated assault against one of President Obama's intelligence picks is now underway. It started in a few right-wing blogs, migrated to semi-official mouthpieces like the Jewish Telegraph Agency, and today it reached the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, in the form of the scurrilous piece by Gabriel Schoenfeld, a resident scholar at some outfit called "the Witherspoon Institute."

The target is Charles ("Chas") Freeman, the former US ambassador to
Saudi Arabia, former top Defense Department official during the Reagan
administration, and president of the Middle East Policy Council, whose
wide-ranging experience stretches from the Middle East to China.
Freeman is slated to become chairman of the National Intelligence
Council (NIC), the arm of Admiral Dennis Blair's Office of the Director
of National Intelligence. The NIC is the body that includes a host of
analysts called national intelligence officers who are responsible for
culling intel from sixteen US agencies and compiling them into
so-called National Intelligence Estimates. It's a critical job, since
NIE's -- often released in public versions -- can have enormous
political and policy impact. Cases in point: the infamous 2002 Iraq NIE
on weapons of mass destruction and the 2007 NIE on Iran that revealed
that Tehran had halted its work on nuclear weapons.

If the campaign by the neocons, friends of the Israeli far right,
and their allies against Freeman succeeds, it will have enormous
repercussions. If the White House caves in to their pressure, it will
signal that President Obama's even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli
dispute can't be trusted. Because if Obama can't defend his own
appointee against criticism from a discredited, fringe movement like
the neoconservatives, how can the Arabs expect Obama to be able to
stand up to Israel's next prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu?

Freeman is a one-of-a-kind choice: with an impeccably establishment
pedigree, Freeman has developed over the years a startling propensity
to speak truth to power, which is precisely what one would want in a
NIC chairman. Over the last decade, he's excoriated Israel for its
stubborn refusal to compromise with the Palestinians, he's accused
George W, Bush and the "neocons" of having pushed America over a cliff
in Iraq, and he's ridiculed the military-industrial complex for trying
to tout China as a bugaboo because, Freeman once told me, the Pentagon
has suffered from "enemy deprivation syndrome" since the end of the
Cold War.

Just last December, in a Nation cover story, "Obama's Afghan Dilemma," I quoted Freeman's incisive analysis on Afghanistan, and it's worth citing here again at length:

"What we conveniently have been labeling 'the Taliban'
is a phenomenon that includes a lot of people simply on the Islamic
right," says Freeman.

"What began as a punitive raid aimed at beheading Al Qaeda and
chastising its Afghan household staff has somehow morphed--with no real
discussion or debate--into a prolonged effort to pacify Afghanistan and
transform its society," says Freeman. "This moving of the goal posts
gratified neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike. Our new
purpose became giving Afghanistan a centrally directed state--something
it had never had. We now fight to exclude reactionary Muslims from a
role in governing the new Afghanistan." Freeman suggests that this is
an untenable goal, and that it is time to co-opt local authorities and
enlist regional allies in search of a settlement.

"What the insurgents do seem to agree about is that foreigners
shouldn't run their country, and that the country should be run
according to the principles of Islam," says Chas Freeman. "We need to
recall the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place," he says.
"Our purpose deny the use of Afghan territory to terrorists
with global reach. That was and is an attainable objective. It is a
limited objective that can be achieved at reasonable cost. We must
return to a ruthless focus on this objective. We cannot afford to
pursue goals, however worthy, that contradict or undermine it. The
reform of Afghan politics, society and mores must wait."

Schoenfeld, in the Wall Street Journal piece, says that
Obama is placing a "China-coddling Israel-basher" in charge of writing
intelligence estimates that, he says -- with no evidence whatsoever --
will reflect Freeman's own "outlandish" ideas.

But the firestorm directed at Freeman didn't start with Schoenfeld. It began with alarmist postings on a blog by Steve Rosen,
the former official of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee
who's been indicted for pro-Israeli espionage in a long-running AIPAC
scandal. Rosen, whose blog is entitled "Obama Mideast Monitor," is
published by the Middle East Forum, a rabid, right-wing Zionist outlet
led by Daniel Pipes, whose Middle East Quarterly is edited by Michael
Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Said Rosen, whose blog
appears alongside the Pipes-Rubin axis:

Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook
case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the
time the state of Israel was born. His views of the region are what you
would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry, with which he maintains an
extremely close relationship, not the top CIA position for analytic
products going to the President of the United States.

The Steve Rosen blast, which was followed up by Rosen here and here, richocheted around various AIPAC-linked blogs until it was picked up by (of course) Fox News on
Monday. Fox settled on Frank Gaffney, an extremist, right-wing Zionist
who leads the Center for Security Policy, to blast Freeman:

"This is a really serious error on the part of Dennis
Blair and the Obama administration," said Frank Gaffney, founder and
president of the think tank Center for Security Policy . "Both in
government and certainly in the period since he left government, he has
compromised the objectivity that one would want in the person whose job
it is to oversee the production of National Intelligence Estimates."

Gaffney called Freeman's perceived lack of concern for the Iranian
threat to the U.S. and Israel "profoundly troubling," saying it would
be "irresponsible in the extreme in the person who runs the National
Intelligence Council."

"Whether it's his association with organizations with close ties to
Iranians or close ties to the Chinese, these are disqualifiers for the
job," Gaffney said.

And today, the smearing of Freeman landed on page 15 of the Wall Street Journal.

Some defenders of Freeman have begun speaking up. Jim Lobe,
at, calls it "amazing" and "stunning" that Freeman was
selected for the NIC chairmanship, and praised Freeman, writing: "He
doesn't pull punches." Dan Froomkin, at Nieman Watchdog, called Freeman "a one-man destroyer of groupthink," and added:

The man is one of a rare breed: He is a Washington
insider, and yet he is also a ferociously independent thinker, a
super-realist, an iconoclast, a provocateur and a gadfly. He has, as I
wrote in a article about him in 2006, spent a goodly
part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never
get answered -- or even asked -- because they're too embarrassing,
awkward, or difficult.

But Freeman needs more defenders. The campaign by AIPAC, AEI, Pipes, the Wall Street Journal
and their ilk can only be expected to intensify, using lots of muscle
behind the scenes to pressure the White House, and Admiral Blair, to

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