Debating Chas Freeman

Mar 9, 2009 9:48am

The son of Chas Freeman, President Obama’s pick for National Intelligence Council chairman, has a message for his father’s detractors: I want to punch you in the nose.

"They are low-lives," Charles Freeman writes of his dad’s critics. "And if you’re among them and by chance read this: I still want to punch you in the face. You’d deserve it, you schmucks."

More to the point, the younger Freeman says "the attack by groups interested in issues about which he’s been impolitic in the past doesn’t particularly surprise him (or me). My Dad has been vocal on the dangers of established maxims about blind faith (in Israel) and blind antagonism (with China). That will get you in trouble quick, and it has, if you have any political sensibility. The problem with — and the great virtue of — my Dad is that he has no political sensibility at all."

The editors of the National Review, apparently not afraid of the younger Mr. Freeman’s fist, write an editorial critical of the appointment of Freeman, calling the elder Mr. Freeman "a Saudi apologist, and a savage critic of Israel. He also argues that Beijing did not strike down the Tiananmen Square protesters with sufficient swiftness. Barack Obama proposes to make him head of the National Intelligence Council. It’s an abominable appointment."

Freeman, the NR writers say, "has distinguished himself as a rabid Israel-hater who regards the Jewish state’s defensive measures as the primary cause of jihadist terror. He is a shameless apologist for Saudi Arabia (where he once served as U.S. ambassador) despite its well-documented record of exporting terrorists and jihadist ideology. And he is a long-time sycophant of Beijing, where he served as Richard Nixon’s interpreter during the 1971 summit and later ran the U.S. diplomatic mission."

Freeman in 2006 wrote of the U.S.-Israel relationship, "We have paid heavily and often in treasure for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home. We are now paying with the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on battlefields in several regions of the realm of Islam, with more said by our government’s neoconservative mentors to be in prospect."

Is Mr. Freeman, President Obama’s New National Intelligence Commission Chair, asserting that al Qaeda attacked on 9/11 because of the U.S.’s support of Israel?

That would be a remarkable assertion for a U.S. policymaker to make, considering the myriad reasons al Qaeda has given for the attack. (In his 1996 fatwa, for example, Osama bin Laden railed against all sorts of U.S. allies, including the Saudi regime.)

Freeman has his supporters, including Joe Klein, Jim Fallows, and Andrew Sullivan, all of whom argue it’s precisely Freeman’s contrarian nature that will enable him to be good at questioning group-think in the intelligence community. Seventeen former ambassadors wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal arguing that the "free exchange of political views is one of the strengths of our nation. We know Chas to be a man of integrity and high intelligence who would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments. We categorically reject the implication that the holding of personal opinions with which some disagree should be a reason to deny to the nation the service of this extremely qualified individual."

Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair — who picked Freeman — says "Director Blair selected Ambassador Freeman because he thought he would be the best person for the job. He is a distinguished public servant with a wealth of expertise in defense, diplomacy and intelligence — all skills that are necessary to producing first rate assessments."

Still, many wonder about Freeman’s ability to produce first rate assessments, especially given his long relationship with the rulers of Saudi Arabia (whom Mr. Freeman has not held accountable in recent years, as far as I can tell, for the rise of al Qaeda or for that terrorist organization’s wrath).

In that 2006 speech, Freeman said that "Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace."

Israel, Freeman said, has had for 40 years "land beyond its previously established borders to trade for peace. It has been unable to make this exchange except when a deal was crafted for it by the United States, imposed on it by American pressure, and sustained at American taxpayer expense. For the past half decade Israel has enjoyed carte blanche from the United States to experiment with any policy it favored to stabilize its relations with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors, including most recently its efforts to bomb Lebanon into peaceful coexistence with it and to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle."

Critics calls this a rather one-sided view of the problems in the Middle East.

"Despite all the advantages and opportunities Israel has had over the fifty-nine years of its existence, it has failed to achieve concord and reconciliation with anyone in its region, still less to gain their admiration or affection," Freeman said.

Of a peace proposal floated by Saudi Arabia, Freeman said, "history and the Israeli response to date both strongly suggest that without some tough love from Americans, including especially Israel’s American coreligionists, Israel will not risk the uncertainties of peace. Instead, it will persist in the belief, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that it can gain safety through the officially sanctioned assassination of potential opponents, the terrorization of Arab civilians, and the cluster bombing of neighbors rather than negotiation with them."

What do you think?

– jpt

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