Freeman Out as Intel Panel Chair; Controversy unlikely to end

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Just as I was getting set to write yet another blog item on the Chas Freeman controversy, word came that he is turning down his appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council.

Freeman’s defenders are no doubt busy writing their own blogs, describing how his nomination was torpedoed by pro-Israel forces, and they won’t be entirely wrong.

But it’s also true that while activists like former AIPACer (and Espionage Act trial defendant) Steve Rosen ignited the Freeman controversy, it was unquestionably fanned into a political inferno by his long associations with the Saudi government and his positions on the role of human rights in foreign policy decision making.

His strange statement about how the Chinese government was “overly cautious” in its response to pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square didn’t’ help, either.

The controversy quickly became a cipher for strident opponents of the pro-Israel lobby who see its malevolent hand in every foreign policy decision and those on the right who are convinced the Obama administration is secretly intent on selling Israel down the river, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), an early opponent of the Freeman appointment, had this to say about today’s surprise development:

“Ambassador Freeman has every right to his opinions, however those opinions would have no place in our National Intelligence Estimates. We learned from eight years of the Bush Administration that intelligence cannot be cherry-picked. It cannot be colored by opinion or even the appearance of conflict. With Ambassador Freeman’s departure, we have preserved the impartiality of U.S. intelligence.”

What’s not yet clear: did the White House throw Freeman under the bus?

A longtime pro-Israel lobbyist who opposed the nomination but also rejected the strident rhetoric of some of its critics said “the big loser in this is Dennis Blair,” referring to the new director of national intelligence who appointed Freeman. “It’s looking more and more like he sandbagged the White House and didn’t vet the appointment.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.