The War on Chas Freeman


I haven’t given perhaps all the attention I should to the ongoing campaign to undo the appointment of Chas Freeman to be Chair of the National Intelligence Council. Laura Rozen sums it up:

Reports from Politico and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, along with commentary and blog posts from The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz, the Witherspoon Institute’s Gabriel Schoenfeld (in the Wall Street Journal), and former AIPAC official Steve Rosen have conveyed the charge that, in the judgment of some pro-Israel activists in the United States, Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is too sympathetic to Riyadh’s worldview and has frequently spoken outside the traditional Washington discourse on Israel.

Recently there was some discussion online of whether or not it’s actually true that angering the “pro-Israel” establishment is bad for one’s career. The fact that Steven Walt and other commentators who’ve made some very aggressive comments are doing just fine came up. And that’s quite true. But things are very different for people who are interested in working in the government. Just ask Robert Malley or Zbigniew Brzezinski. Or now Freeman. I’m not sure whether or not the Obama administration will ultimately stand behind Freeman. I hope they will. But whether or not they do, I think it’s very clear that the lesson here is that if you’re a veteran policy hand who hopes to return to government one day and you believe something that you think AIPAC wouldn’t approve of, that the smart thing to do is to keep those views to yourself.

And I think you’d have to judge the anti-Freeman campaign to be more about trying to maintain a chilling effect on the overall discourse and extract a pound of flesh than about any particular policy issue. The post in question is not especially important in the scheme of things, and has no particular relationship to Israel. Despite fairly heated disagreements about the substance of the conflict, I think we can pretty much all agree that the Israel-Palestine conflict doesn’t hinge on intelligence issues. And I don’t think anyone could seriously deny that Freeman has the basic experience and qualifications to do the job. Meanwhile, that the anti-Freeman charge would be led by Rosen, who’s a “former AIPAC official” because he was charged with espionage crimes, is slightly bizarre.