Charles Freeman fails the loyalty test

Under attack for his insufficient devotion to Israel, the long-time diplomat's appointment is withdrawn.

Published March 10, 2009 8:58PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)

Obviously, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are rabid, hateful paranoids -- total bigots and anti-Semites -- for having suggested that there are powerful domestic political forces in the U.S. which enforce Israel-centric orthodoxies and make it politically impossible to question America's blind loyalty to Israel.  What irrational lunacy on their part:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.

In situations like this, it is often impossible to know whether the appointee really did voluntarily withdraw or whether he was forced out and is merely being allowed to say that he withdrew.  To his credit, Adm. Blair was in the Senate this morning defending Freeman from the likes of Joe Lieberman, but everything that is publicly known about Freeman makes it seem unlikely that he would have voluntarily withdrawn due to the shrieking criticisms directed at him.  If he were forced out -- and there's no basis for assuming he was until there's evidence for that -- then that reflects quite badly on the Obama administration's willingness to defy the Bill Kristols, Marty Peretzes, and National Reviews of the world when it comes to American policy towards the Middle East.

In the U.S., you can advocate torture, illegal spying, and completely optional though murderous wars and be appointed to the highest positions.  But you can't, apparently, criticize Israeli actions too much or question whether America's blind support for Israel should be re-examined.


UPDATE: Prior to the announcement that the Freeman appointment was terminated, Max Blumenthal documented that the man leading the anti-Freeman assault was Steve Rosen, the long-time AIPAC official currently on trial for violations of the Espionage Act in connection with the transmission of classified U.S. information intended for Israel. Blumenthal also quotes foreign policy analyst Chris Nelson as follows:

Freeman is stuck in the latest instance of the deadly power game long played here on what level of support for controversial Israeli government policies is a "requirement" for US public office.  If Obama surrenders to the critics and orders [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] to rescind the Freeman appointment to chair the NIC, 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 of the fight now under way.

Blumethal also suggested that right-wing Israel fanatics in the U.S. are particularly interested in controlling how intelligence is analyzed due to their anger over the NIE's 2007 conclusion that Iran had ceased its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“It’s clear that Freeman isn’t going to be influenced by the lobby,” Jim Lobe, the Washington bureau chief of Inter Press Service, remarked to me. “They don’t like people like that, especially when they’re in charge of products like the NIE. So this is a very important test for them.”

Blumenthal further noted that the leader of the anti-Freeman crusade in the House, Rep.  Mark Kirk, is Congress' top recipient of AIPAC donations.   Identically, Greg Sargent previously reported that, in the Senate, "concern" over Freeman was expressed by Sen. Chuck Schumer directly to Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Does anyone doubt that it's far more permissible in American political culture to criticize actions of the American government than it is the actions of the Israeli Government?   Isn't that rather odd, and quite self-evidently destructive?


UPDATE II: Andrew Sullivan on "The Freeman Precedent":

Obama may bring change in many areas, but there is no possibility of change on the Israel-Palestine question. Having the kind of debate in America that they have in Israel, let alone Europe, on the way ahead in the Middle East is simply forbidden. Even if a president wants to have differing sources of advice on many questions, the Congress will prevent any actual, genuinely open debate on Israel. More to the point: the Obama peeps never defended Freeman. They were too scared. The fact that Obama blinked means no one else in Washington will ever dare to go through the hazing that Freeman endured. And so the chilling effect is as real as it is deliberate.

Actually, Obama's DNI, Adm. Blair, did defend Freeman, but only today, and it's true that no other Obama officials did.  As usual, it was a bipartisan onslaught of government officials marching in lockstep loyalty to AIPAC mandates, with nobody outside of some bloggers and online writers defending Freeman.  Though I was just arguing yesterday that the rules for discussing Israel in the U.S. have become more permissive, and I still think that, this outcome was probably inevitable given the refusal of virtually all influential Beltway factions to deviate from mandated loyalty to the right-wing Israel agenda.  That it was inevitable doesn't make it any less grotesque.


UPDATE III: Chuck Schumer -- who supported Bush's nomination of Michael Hayden for CIA Director despite his key role in implementing Bush's illegal eavesdropping program, and supported Bush's nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General despite his refusal to say that waterboarding was torture -- is now boasting about the role he played in blocking Freeman's appointment, all based on Freeman's crimes in speaking ill of the U.S. Israel:

Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.

That's certainly evidence that (a) Freeman was forced out, and (b) his so-called "statements against Israel" were the precipitating cause.


UPDATE IV: Lynch mob leader Jonathan Chait of Marty Peretz's magazine, who spent the last week denying that Israel was the driving force behind the attacks on Freeman, brings himself to acknowledge the truth now that Freeman has been vanquished for his blasphemy:

Of course I recognize that the Israel lobby is powerful, and was a key element in the pushback against Freeman, and that it is not always a force for good.

What I find most mystifying is that Israel-centric fanatics actually think it is a good thing for Israel to impose these sorts of Israel-based loyalty tests and orthodoxies on American politics.  Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly want the U.S. Government to be "even-handed" in the Israel/Palestinian dispute and substantial portions of Americans do not favor American policies towards Israel.  Isn't it rather obvious that at some point, there will be a substantial and understandable backlash as Americans watch people like Chuck Schumer openly boast that anyone who makes "statements against Israel" that he deems "over the top" will be disqualified from serving in our Government, despite a long and distinguished record of public service and unchallenged expertise?


UPDATE V: Good for Charles Freeman for going down with a fight, issuing an impassioned and highly persuasive statement/warning about what the failure of his appointment, which he says he terminated, means for the U.S.:

I am not so immodest as to believe that this controversy was about me rather than issues of public policy. These issues had little to do with the NIC and were not at the heart of what I hoped to contribute to the quality of analysis available to President Obama and his administration. Still, I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The 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, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.

The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment 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. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.

Freeman's full statement is here.  How anyone thinks that it is helpful to Israel to impose these blatant litmus tests of Israel-loyalty on American politics is truly mystifying.  Foreign policy expert Larry Rothkopf says that the failure of Freeman's appointment "cost the United States intelligence and policy communities the benefit of a truly unique mind and set of perspectives" and "have also contributed to what can only be characterized as a leadership crisis in the U.S. government."  Judging by Freeman's statement today, Rothkopf is absolutely right.

By Glenn Greenwald

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