Freeman reaction roundup (UPDATED)


Everyone’s writing about Charles Freeman’s decision to turn down his appointment as National Intelligence Council chairman, and his remarkable statement blaming the "Israel Lobby" for his departure. Here’s a sampling of what people are saying:

ABC News’ Jake Tapper says Freeman was treated no differently than any other controversial nominee, and his attack on the "Israel Lobby" is misguided:

What’s perplexing about this that so much of what critics objected to were Freeman’s statements, in full context. His record was picked apart like that of any other controversial nominee — sometimes fairly, sometimes not so — but only in Freeman’s case does the nominee make an allegation that a foreign power was lurking nefariously somehow behind it all. 

The Atlantic’s James Fallows calls Freeman’s departure statement "intemperate, but even calmer people might sound testy if they had been acccused of ‘hostility toward Jews generally’ without, to my knowledge, any evidence for that claim." (It is true that The New Republic’s Martin Peretz did write that about Freeman, but the overwhelming majority of criticism of Freeman in the media and in Congress was based on Freeman’s strong opinions on Israel, China and Saudi Arabia and his financial ties with the latter two governments.) Fallows also writes:

As I initially pointed out, I do not know Freeman and had never paid attention to him before this controversy. But it turns out that nearly twenty people I know well enough to respect and trust have themselves known and worked with Freeman. Every one of them supported his nomination. And — as it is unfortunately relevant to point out in these circumstances  — most of them are Jewish.

Fallows also quotes extensively from David Rothkopf at, who says Freeman’s critics should be careful:

We have lost perspective on what the criteria for selecting and approving government officials ought to be. Financial trivia, minutiae from people’s personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside. Ridiculous threshold obstacles stand alongside obscene ones and when taken with the relentless personal attacks associated with high level jobs in Washington — the low pay, and the extreme difficulty of getting anything done — we are seeing even those selected for senior jobs turn away in droves. We are at a moment of not one but an extraordinary array of great crises and challenges for America and we are effectively keeping the people we need most out of the positions we most need filled. 

The United States will get along fine without Freeman and without each and every one of the casualties of this latest hiring cycle. But we will ultimately suffer irreparable damage if we do not reverse this pernicious trend. Further, those who celebrate keeping out Freeman or any others whose views do not align with theirs or who feared his associations would do well to remember that the same kind of criteria can be applied by other groups. The result is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman. But for the record, the most compelling reason I found for believing Chas Freeman would have been a superb Chairman of the National Intelligence Council was one that seldom came up in all the articles I read. I actually know him.

Jonathan Chait at the New Republic notes that a few days ago, Freeman backers like Stephen Walt were saying that the failure of Freeman critics showed "how evil the Israel lobby is." Now that Freeman is out …

The new spin will be that Freeman’s, ahem, resignation shows the Israel lobby is even more powerful and sinister than we thought. Any event involving The Lobby, win or lose, further proves its sinister role in American life.

(Non-snarky note: 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. I just don’t ascribe to it the singular, Manichean, different-category-than-any-other-lobby status that its more fevered critics imagine.)

Freeman defender MJ Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum says his withdrawal may "come at a cost" to his opponents:

What does it all mean? That is hard to say although an insider I spoke to last night said: "This was a real pyrrhhic victory. One, the administration is pissed off. And, two, Obama is going to be more determined than ever to take a strong stand on settlements, Gaza relief, and negotiations. They shot their wad on Freeman. They will not think that was so smart a few months from now."

Matthew Yglesias, at Think Progess, mocks the assertions of Freeman critics that the problems with the nominee went beyond Israel to his comments on China, accompanying an announcement of Freeman’s withdrawal with the comment "Chinese human rights activists everywhere are now high-fiving." But he apparently didn’t read this piece, in which Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write that Freeman’s views on China did play an important role:

Chas Freeman, the Obama administration’s choice to serve in a key U.S. intelligence post, abruptly withdrew Tuesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous other congressional leaders complained to the White House that he was too closely tied to Saudi and Chinese government interests. …

Pelosi’s objections reportedly focused on Freeman’s ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human-rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman’s views were "indefensible" and complained directly to President Obama about his selection.

Freeman supporter Andrew Sullivan talks about 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.

When Obama told us that the resistance to change would not end at the election but continue every day after, he was right. But he never fought this one. He’s shrewder than I am.

The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb says Sullivan and others surprised him in this debate by their advocacy of a "Walt/Mearsheimer view of U.S.-Israel relations":

What’s also a bit amazing is that the battle over Freeman, which played out almost entirely outside the view of the mainstream media, seems to have exposed more sympathy for a Walt/Mearsheimer view of U.S.-Israel relations than one might have expected to be out there. People like Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan are now fairly indistinguishable from Stephen Walt and Glenn Greenwald — and they all defended Freeman less because they were persuaded that he was the right man for the job and more because his critics were (allegedly) “Zionists” and "neocons.” That alone was enough to rally much of the left in the defense of a man who is an apologist for the House of Saud and the Chinese regime. That’s unfortunate.

He also points out that the Freeman debate played out while being virtually ignored by some major newspapers:

The only thing everyone can agree on is that the New York Times, and to a lesser extent the Washington Post, failed to give this story the coverage it deserved. The New York Times didn’t have a single report or op-ed on the Freeman debacle prior to today, when the paper reported that he’d withdrawn his name from consideration. Supporters like Sullivan and critics like Marty Peretz commented how remarkable it was that our allegedly major sources of information could have avoided this story for so long. And as Ben Smith points out, the Freeman controversy proves that a story "doesn’t need ever to cross into more traditional media precincts to play out with congressional involvement and executive action." The New York Times looks ridiculous, which always makes me happy, but you really have to wonder what their role in our political debates is anymore.

And in a post entiteld "Assassination," Time’s Joe Klein says Freeman’s statement was "a bit too hot for my taste," but adds that he was being "imprecise" in his blame of the "Israel Lobby’:

He was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives–abetted by less than courageous public servants like Senator Chuck Schumer, who has publicly taken credit for the hit. This was his statement:

"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."

Schumer should  know that he has taken a scalp in the name of closed-mindedness, which is not a well-known Jewish tradition. He has made Washington even less hospitable for those who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, for those who are reflexively contentious, who would defy the conventional wisdom.

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