Subscribe To our E-Newsletter
The Freeman Defeat: It Turned Out to Be an Inside Job
David Broder of The Washington Post, one of the nation's pre-eminent political columnists, said that the Obama administration "suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands" of pro-Israel lobbyists and "their friends on Capitol Hill" when Charles "Chas" Freeman withdrew his nomination as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
Sorry David, you've got it all wrong. The defeat was an inside job. If Freeman would like to confront his enemies, then he should buy a mirror.
While a couple of conservative Jewish organizations are taking credit for Freeman's demise and the "Lobby" is celebrating because his charges only enhanced its reputation for power, the real credit goes to Freeman, his friend Adm. Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director who picked him, and the White House for failing once again to properly vet a nominee for financial conflicts and temperament.
There was a legitimate debate in Washington over Freeman's views, as well as his fitness for a job whose main responsibility is collecting information from the intelligence community and compiling the National Intelligence Estimate.
Then he opened his mouth and removed any doubt that he was unfit. His vitriolic rant against the "Lobby" turned what could have been an intelligent policy discussion into an emotional attack on the loyalty of American Jews.
I don't expect administration officials to be Likudniks, nor do I expect them to be channeling Pat Buchanan. Just as the Jews were not the "amen corner" responsible for the Iraq war, U.S. support for Israel was not responsible for 9/11, as Freeman has suggested, and the Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, not a Goldberg.
Freeman's nemesis is the "Lobby" -- not just the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (the major group registered to lobby on behalf of U.S.-Israel relations), but a plethora of other primarily Jewish organizations as well. Yet there's no evidence that most of them did anything to oppose his nomination.
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said that had the opposition to Freeman's nomination "simply been a dispute about Middle East policy, he would have survived." Instead, the damage was done by Freeman's "ever-expanding financial conflict of interest involving foreign powers," most notably China and Saudi Arabia.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) called Freeman's charges of an elaborate conspiracy against him "disingenuous," and challenged the nominee's "questionable associations and inflammatory statements about China and Tibet."
He said that Freeman's $10,000-a-year seat on the advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp, with ties to Sudan's oil sector, "would have undermined the policy of U.S. divestment from the genocidal regime in Sudan," which is responsible for the tragedy in Darfur.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), according to Newsweek, was "incensed" about Freeman's remarks "that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square," and took her complaint directly to the president.
But the media largely kept the focus on the "Lobby," and that's the direction Freeman fired all his guns, especially once he decided to withdraw.
Freeman may indeed be "a rare, provocative thinker," and "a wry, outspoken iconoclast" possessing a "stellar résumé," but the man who showed up in the past couple of weeks, especially in public outbursts, looked more like a paranoid, narrow-minded, ill-tempered bigot suffering from chronic clientitis.
His rant against "unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country" wasn't aimed solely at Jews and other supporters of Israel. The Washington Post's Charles Lane said that it "was also a not-very-implicit indictment" of President Obama because it suggested that he was afraid to stand up to the lobby.
The president took hits from all directions. For one, the failure to thoroughly vet another major appointment made his White House look inept.
Freeman's screed against Israel and its supporters gave more ammunition to those on the far right in the Jewish community, whose agenda is to paint Obama as hostile to Israel.
To the Arab media, Obama was in Israel's pocket. Abu Dhabi's National saw the Freeman incident as a sign of "the supremacy of pro-Israel hawks in determining U.S. foreign policy." To Beirut's Daily Star, it was "a significant victory" for pro-Israel hard-liners and a blow to Obama's "new approach." Saudi Arabia's Jeddah Arab News called it "a great victory for Washington's Israel lobby."
Those reviews are probably being framed and hung on the walls at AIPAC because by barely lifting a finger -- or phone -- the group has seen its image of power and the threat it poses to politicians who ignore its wishes greatly enhanced. They're probably preparing another fundraising drive to notify supporters that the cause is once again under assault from Israel's enemies, and so it's time to pull out your checkbook.
They should pause and give thanks to the one man who made it all possible: Chas Freeman himself. Everyone else just played a supporting role.
Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist based in Washington.