Chas Freeman

March 8, 2009 7:10 p.m.

I do not think this issue has been raised anywhere in our news coverage or here at my blog. But I wanted to briefly enter into this debate about President Obama’s decision to make Chas


Freeman chair of the National Intelligence Council, a somewhat out of the way Intelligence Community panel which has the key role of overseeing the production of National Intelligence Estimates.

Indulge me for a moment for a bit of background for those not familiar with this controversy; because it’s important. Freeman is firmly in the Realist school of foreign policy. He was a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and is close to the Saudis. The real rub, the basis of the whole controversy, however, is that he has been far more critical of Israeli policy than is generally allowed within acceptable debate in Washington. That is the crux of it. And because of that he’s become the target of a spirited campaign to get his appointment rescinded.

I have no particular brief for Freeman. I’ve never met the man. And for what it’s worth — and it ain’t worth much — on a totally different topic he once referred to an article I wrote as “disgusting” and to me as a purveyor of “slime journalism.” Basically I’d written an extremely critical article about a friend of his. So, whatever.

But the whole effort strikes me as little more than a thuggish effort to keep the already too-constricted terms of debate over the Middle East and Israel/Palestine locked down and largely one-sided. James Fallows argues here for the need for contrarian thinkers in general, of which Freeman is certainly one. Joe Klein reviews the issue here, arguing that it’s not the time to be enforcing groupthink on Israel or other critical policy issues. And Andrew Sullivan has been doing great blogging on this topic in general and in this timeline in particular, which shows the whole storm being whipped up by neoconservatives upset over Freeman’s positions on Israel. Finally, 17 former Ambassadors — including Thomas Pickering — have now come forward to support the appointment and defend Freeman’s worthiness for the position if not agree with all his views.

These other posts are each worth reading because they’re good and go into more detail than I am. And I could go into a deeper discussion of foreign policy questions involved. But the gist is that campaigns like this are ugly and should be resisted. Not just on general principles, but because the country needs more diversity of viewpoints on this issue right now.

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