March 10, 2009

A first for freeman

Jennifer Rubin observed:

First, how long can the rest of the mainstream media hold out without reporting on an embarrassing debacle for the Obama administration? This is the John Edwards story on steroids -- a virtual conspiracy of silence with little if any journalistic justification. And here the issue is really important -- the appointment of a key intelligence official who is alleged to harbor serious conflicts of interest and extreme views. I have made inquiry at two prominent, national newspapers about the lack of coverage and have received one "I'll pass it on" from the ombudsman and only an automated response acknowledging receipt from the other.

I think that part of the issue is that the MSM doesn't regard the choice of Freeman as an embarrassment. In the area of foreign policy there is a divide. On the one side there are the ideologues who can be identified as being conservative, Republican or pro-Israel and then there's everyone else. Since Freeman cannot be clearly identified as one of those three groups, he is, therefore, implicitly non-partisan and beyond suspicion. Never mind that an appointee who is as close to Israel as Freeman is to Saudi Arabia would get plenty of scrutiny. Chalk it up to an implicit "Israel lobby" bias.

Rubin was praising Jake Tapper for his thoughts on the Freeman controversy. Tapper (via memeorandum) shows a capacity for critical thought.

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).

And if one read Freeman's interviews with the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, one would wonder who's this guy whose supporters call a contrarian thinker. Here's an excerpt from Freeman interview last year:

The Saudis have done a very good job, frankly, in dealing with their internal terrorist problem. There is an obvious problem when people who have little familiarity with the Kingdom are making judgments on the basis of whatever erroneous impressions they derive from other ignorant people in the United States about Saudi Arabia. So corporate legal counsels continue to be a brake on investment. But, in the end, the Gulf is going to be a place in which more and more of the worlds financial liquidity will be concentrated and that will have a large attraction. Among destinations in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia will be particularly attractive because of growing energy shortages and the prospect of continued high oil production and escalating prices for oil and gas in the future.

This isn't a statement from a professional skeptic. This is the statement of an unapologetic booster. How good has the Saudi Arabian anti-terror program been? Well if one refers to their deprogramming techniques, the results of those efforts have been, shall we say, inconsistent. And Freeman's last sentence about "escalating" oil prices hasn't exactly been prescient.

And in 2006, he had an even more revealing interview with SUSRIS:

Frankly, I'm delighted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, after a long delay, begun to make serious public relations efforts. I applaud this, but I have to say, unexciting as the Middle East Policy Council may be, we have been around a long time -- close to 30 years. We are constant. We are like the faithful wife. We will be there whether the money is there or not, as long as we can survive. We do what we do because we believe in it.

Notwithstanding the current difficult atmosphere, with the help of my colleagues at MEPC -- a very lean organization, only a few staff -- but with their help I am hopeful that we can put this effort on a sustainable long-term basis. It's clear that 50 or 100 years from now some similar effort will still be necessary. If the Middle East Policy Council were to disappear it would not be easily replaced.

This is Freeman in his own words. He sees himself as an advocate for Saudi Arabia. One would think someone this admittedly partisan shouldn't be considered for a post that requires objectivity.

However the Washington Post today has its intelligence reporter, Walter PIncus pick up on the controversy.

All seven Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee yesterday joined a small chorus of voices on Capitol Hill criticizing the choice of a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia for a senior intelligence position, concerned about his views on Israel and his past relationships with Saudi and Chinese interests.

Pincus, not surprisingly, reduces the controversy to a partisan issue. But here's what looks problematic:

Since 1997, he has presided over the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is funded in part by Saudi money. In that role, Freeman has occasionally criticized the Israeli government's positions and U.S. support for those policies. In 2007, for example, he said, "The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending," adding, "American identification with Israel has become total."

The problem with his stewardship of MEPC isn't that he criticized Israel in that capacity. That's a feature of his tenure. The problems is, as noted above, that he saw himself as an advocate for Saudi Arabia. How would the same folks who claim that Freeman's critics are "smearing" him describe it if the head of AIPAC was tapped for the same post? Would they simply allow the appointment to pass without comment? Would they question his objectivity as Freeman's critics are mostly doing? Or would they question the loyalty of the appointee?

Pincus also, incredibly, lets Freeman off the hook for his comments on the Chinese government's response to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Pincus writes:

Freeman has also been faulted for statements about the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. Critics have said that he faulted the Chinese for not acting earlier in putting down the demonstrations, but Freeman said the remarks were his assessment of how Chinese leaders had seen things.

However, as the e-mail that was discovered by Michael Goldfarb shows no such detachment.

I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at "Tian'anmen" stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action.

For myself, I side on this -- if not on numerous other issues -- with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.

Even if Freeman's saying that what's plausible - though not necessarily acceptable - is what the Chinese authorities felt, how does he explain his statement starting "I do not believe it is acceptable....?" That sounds like Freeman's endorsing the official Chinese regret about being "overly cautious."

So the MSM, in the form of a Wasington Post article, has finally covered the Chas Freeman nomination. But the incurious treatment that Walter Pincus has given the nominee suggests that the MSM is working from the premise that there is nothing compromising about his ties to Saudi Arabia and China, and that the main news is that a bunch of pro-Israel neocons object.

UPDATE: Today, the news broke that Freeman withdrew his name for consideration for the post as head of the NIC. Two observations: it took until the very end of the process for either the NYT or WaPo to cover this appointment. Why not? Also, the administration did not appear to fight very hard for Freeman. Again, why not?

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at March 10, 2009 5:58 AM
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Posted by: Consul-At-Arms at March 23, 2009 11:40 PM
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