Timidity Derails Obama Intel Choice

On Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis
Blair, employed the indicative mood in describing the high value that
Chas Freeman, his appointee to head the National Intelligence Council
(NIC), will bring to the job - "his long experience and inventive mind," for example.

By five o'clock that afternoon, Freeman announced that he had asked that his selection "not proceed."

one to mince words, Freeman, spelled out the strange set of affairs
surrounding the flip-flop and the implications of what had just

Borrowing from
George Washington's Farewell Address the pointed warning against
developing a "passionate attachment" to the strategic goals of another
nation, Freeman made it clear that he was withdrawing his "previous
acceptance" of Blair's invitation to chair the NIC because of the
character assassination of him orchestrated by the Israel Lobby.

The implications? Freeman was clear:

outrageous agitation ... will be seen by many to raise serious questions
about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own
decisions about the Middle East and related issues. [It casts] doubt on
its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best
serve the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on
enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government...

aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise
of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its
views ... and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by
Americans and our government other than those it [the Lobby] favors."

policy analyst Chris Nelson described the imbroglio as a reflection of
the "deadly power game on what level of support for controversial
Israeli government policies is a 'requirement' for U.S. public office."

the flip-flop on Freeman was announced, Nelson warned, "If Obama
surrenders to the critics and orders Blair to rescind the Freeman
appointment, it is difficult to see how he can properly exercise
leverage, when needed, in his conduct of policy in the Middle East.
That, literally, is how the experts see the stakes in the fight now
under way" - the fight that is now over.

Congressional Boasting

Chuck Schumer, D-New York, led Lobby boasting just minutes after the
Freeman debacle was announced. Schumer was clear: "His [Freeman's]
statements against Israel were way over the top. ... I repeatedly urged
the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing."

And, as Glen Greenwald has noted, "Lynch mob leader Jonathan Chait [of The New Republic and author of an influential op-ed
for the Washington Post] who spent the last week denying that Israel
was the driving force behind the attacks on Freeman," now concedes the

Greenwald quotes
Chait: "Of course I recognize that the Israel Lobby is powerful, and
was a key element in the pushback against Freeman."

Neoconservative Daniel Pipes offered an anatomy of the crime, blog-bragging about how it was conducted:

you may not know is that Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East forum was
the person who first brought attention [on Feb. 19] to the problematic
nature of Freeman's appointment. ... Within hours, the word was out and
three weeks later Freeman has conceded defeat. Only someone with
Steve's stature and credibility could have made this happen."

same Steve Rosen who is currently on trial for violations of the
Espionage Act involving the transmission of classified information
intended for Israel? One and the same! This has to be the purest brand
of gall that ever came down the Pipes.

"morning after," I find myself wondering when White House chief of
staff Rahm Emanuel - another staunch supporter of the Lobby who
reportedly was Schumer's go-to guy on the get-Freeman campaign - saw
fit to let Admiral Blair in on the little secret that no way could he
have Freeman. And why Blair tucked tail.

In a March 8 letter
to Admiral Blair, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
(VIPS) endorsed his appointment of Freeman and decried the campaign to
derail it.

We seven
signatories (with cumulative experience of 130 years) noted that the
Freeman case was the first time we witnessed such a well-coordinated
campaign to reverse the appointment of an official to an intelligence
job not requiring Senate confirmation.

In other words the influence of the Israel Lobby is seeping ever deeper into the ranks of the intelligence community.

Military Mind-Set

seems altogether possible that Admiral Blair, accustomed to military
command authority, assumed he had the right to appoint his senior staff
and did not think to check the naming of Freeman out with politicians
sensitive to such pressures.

this points up a host of other problems. One is that of having military
officers, active or retired, running national intelligence. It appears
to be beyond their ken to consider resigning on principle.

imagine it never occurred to Blair that he should have quit on the spot
as soon as he learned that Freeman was being jettisoned. Or at least
Blair might have threatened to quit if the Obama administration let
itself be bullied in this way.

is no neophyte, but he clearly underestimated the power of the Lobby
vis-a-vis his own. The White House seems to have told Blair to treat
the Freeman appointment as though in the subjunctive mood - long enough
to "run it up the flagpole and see who salutes," as the saying goes.

when the Lobby made sure there were no salutes, but rather the
strongest and most scurrilous spitting, Freeman was hauled on down.

Freeman flip-flop is merely the latest sign that Obama is afraid to
take on the Lobby - and the world is watching. Most will interpret the
new President's acquiescence in this outcome as a sign of weakness - of
his not being his own man.

is a distinct liability as Obama prepares to meet next month with the
likes of Vladimir Putin who will be taking his measure.

encounter with Putin brings to mind another young President's encounter
with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961.
Khrushchev had studied the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961; he
would have understood if Kennedy had left Castro alone or destroyed him.

Kennedy was rash enough to approve a strike on Cuba but not bold enough
to finish the job, in Khrushchev's view, the latter decided he was
dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated and
blackmailed - one who would shrink from hard decisions.

later said of his encounter with Khrushchev in Vienna, "He beat the
hell out of me." The meeting led Khrushchev to believe that Kennedy
might well back down if the USSR put missiles in Cuba.

for Israel, the Russians were better able to understand Washington's
"passionate attachment" to Israel in strategic terms, as the Cold War
played out in the Middle East and Washington had a perceived need to
have Israel as a permanent "battleship" there.

the Russians see the power of the Israel Lobby for what it is - who can
miss it? The Obama administration is seen as caving under political

Although the
Russians continue to be amazed at the Lobby's strong influence over
U.S. policy, the Russians are happy as clams to sit back and watch as
the identification of the U.S. with Israeli policy inflicts
incalculable damage to U.S. interests throughout the region and beyond.

a sportsman, Putin is best at chess. He is likely to shy away from
playing basketball with our new President. Obama will have to beat
Putin at his own game - and Obama now has shown himself easy to push

Israeli Adventurism

Freeman's withdrawal, there is surely much gloating among the
politically aware in Israel. However, gloating is one thing; dangerous
miscalculation is another.

danger is particularly high as Benjamin Netanyahu takes over as Israeli
prime minister. Netanyahu and his close "neoconservative" friends in
the U.S. have made no bones about their preference for a
Bush/Cheney-style preventive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

As Gareth Porter and I write in the Miami Herald,
the specter of such a strike takes on more reality with Netanyahu as
prime minister. He, too, is taking the measure of our young President
and may draw very dangerous conclusions from Obama's subservience to
the Lobby.

The effect of the Freeman affair on the intelligence community is easy to predict.

who were looking forward to fearless integrity will be deeply
disappointed. They may seek honest work elsewhere, if they perceive
that Blair is only the titular head of intelligence and that pro-Lobby
political operatives are calling the shots.

the other hand, those intelligence managers and analysts who were
pleased as punch to be sent over to brief the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy (WINEP), created by the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), will be delighted with the news on Freeman.

briefing practice, which was encouraged by the Bush/Cheney
administration, was highly irregular for a non-partisan intelligence
community to be engaged in. It can be expected to flourish now, with
the abject object lesson of Freeman's demise.

On Oct. 5, 2007, I published an article
about Israel's deliberate attempt on June 8, 1967, to sink the USS
Liberty in international waters off the Sinai, killing 34 of the
Liberty crew and wounding over 170 in the process.

The lead was:

Who's Afraid of the Israel Lobby? Virtually everyone: Republican,
Democrat - Conservative, Liberal. The fear factor is non-partisan, you
might say, and palpable. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee
brags that it is the most influential foreign policy lobbying
organization on Capitol Hill, and has demonstrated that time and again,
and not only on Capitol Hill."

point? In June 1967, the Israelis learned that they could get away,
literally, with murder and still not endanger their influence in

Events of the past
weeks demonstrate that they and their Lobby are equally good at
character assassination. It is embarrassingly shameful to watch
President Obama acquiesce in all this.

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