If you ever doubt who controls American foreign policy, consider the case of Chas Freeman. Freeman was, until today, Barack Obama’s appointee to chair the National Intelligence Council. No more. Today Freeman was forced to withdraw from the position.
Why you ask? Because, as Josh Marshall puts it, Freeman has been “far more critical of Israeli policy than is generally allowed within acceptable debate in Washington.” So, the Isreal First crowd launched a furious campaign to make Obama bow to their will. Today, Obama bowed and Freeman pulled out.
Barack Obama should be ashamed of himself. Good luck trying to bring “peace” to the Middle East if you can’t even stand up to the Israel Lobby in Washington.
At least Chuck Schumer is happy. He was licking his lips today:
“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.”
Barack Obama’s rhetoric toward the Muslim world will not nearly earn him enough goodwill to overcome the actual reality that underpins American foreign policy. Until that reality changes, nothing on the ground in the Middle East will change. Washington is not even prepared to discuss the Middle East conflict honestly – even internally among policy makers. How is Washington going to convince the Muslim world that it is capable of solving it?
Barack Obama may as well concentrate on domestic issues. I am sure he will have his hands full. His foreign policy toward the Middle East is a joke – the same as it ever was.
Update (March 10, 2009 10:19PM): Chas Freeman has released a statement to Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy:
I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign.
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.
Prior to today’s withdrawal, Max Blumenthal wrote on the campaign against Chas Freeman:
The effort to dislodge Freeman still has the potential to impact the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel, however discredited its architect may be. This is, of course, the underlying objective of many of Freeman’s critics. “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…” foreign-policy analyst Chris Nelson wrote in his Nelson Report, an influential private daily newsletter read by Washington policy makers. “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.“