A couple of weeks ago, Robert Dreyfuss predicted in The Nation that friends of the Israeli far right would attempt to torpedo Barack Obama's pick for Chairman of the National Intelligence Council: Charles (Chas) Freeman.
It was an easy prediction because it was already happening. The smears started months earlier on the right wing blog of Steve Rosen and then in February moved mainstream to the Wall Street Journal. Now, the anti-Freeman smears have worked their way up to the Halls of Congress, threatening Freeman's selection.
Freeman is an expert on Middle East policy and an outspoken critic of some of our recent foreign policy decisions. Yet for reasons not clearly articulated, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has a problem with him.
Yesterday, Greg Sargent reportedthat Schumer has been raising doubts about Freeman to the Obama Administration.
"It was in a phone call to Rahm," the source says, adding that Chuck expressed reservations about Freeman’s positions on Israel. "It was about Freeman’s positions on the Middle East."
The source added that Chuck isn’t "threatening to block him" yet, but wanted to weigh in to the White House about his concerns. Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon declined comment on the call.
So, what's wrong with Chas Freeman? I'll let Dreyfuss fill in the details.
First, understand what the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council does: oversees intelligence from 16 agencies and helps shape defense policy.
Now understand who Steve Rosen is -- a guy caught stealing and selling U.S. intelligence. As Dreyfuss points out, Rosen is "the former official of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee who's been indicted for pro-Israeli espionage in a long-running AIPAC scandal."
So, you can see why Rosen has interest in who heads NIC. And Freeman, Obama's pick, has excellent credentials. Dreyfuss describes Freeman as a "one-of-a-kind choice" and lists his qualifications for the job as:
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.
So, what's the problem?
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.
Sargent predicted that Schumer's opposition would make it easier for other Congressmen to oppose Freeman. And that's what's happening.
In a follow-up, Sargent reports:
* I’ve just obtained a letter from two key members of the House — Dem Steve Israel and GOPer Mark Kirk — demanding that the Inspector General, who’s probing Freeman, deepen his investigation to look at Freeman’s work for a Chinese oil company that did business with countries that have at times been at odds with the U.S.
* Separately, I’m also told that Freeman is holding a meeting with a key GOP Senator tomorrow — Kit Bond, the ranking GOP member of the Intelligence Committee — that could help determine his fate.
What's in the balance here? Dreyfuss puts it this way:
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?
Given these developments, it wouldn't be a bad idea for NYers to call their representatives -- Schumer and Steve Israel -- to let them know you support Obama's pick for NIC, Chas Freeman.