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Memo To Obama: Bring Back Chas Freeman

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Cross-posted from Wallwritings

Less than a month after his 2009 inauguration, President Barack Obama made a move that quietly told the Israel Lobby there was a new sheriff in town.

He selected an experienced diplomat, Chas Freeman, to serve as the new administration's Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

In retrospect, it it is clear that this was one appointment he did not clear with any lobbyists, no matter how much the special interest crowd hung around the White House armed with their own suggestions for important assignments.

Laura Rozen wrote the first story about Freeman on February 19, 2009, in The Cable, a Foreign Policy blog. Since the position of NIC Chairman did not require Senate approval, it was largely unnoticed among the large number of appointments made by the President early in his first term.

This was how Laura Rozen broke the story of Freeman's appointment:

"Sources tell The Cable that Chas W. Freeman, Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will become chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the intelligence community's primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates.

"Freeman has told associates that in the job, he will occasionally accompany Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair to give the president his daily intelligence briefing."

Freeman's appointment was slow to surface in the mainstream media. But it was noticed by the Israel Lobby, which sprang into action. The new sheriff must not be allowed any deviation from the absolutist Washington obeisance to the Israel Lobby and its congressional loyalists.

One key call went from New York Senator Chuck Schumer to the newly-minted White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel: "This must not stand."

There was something out of kilter with this picture. Freeman's appointments had been in China and in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. Middle East ally. What could have riled the Lobby forces into such a fury?

Those who were keeping score as each new Obama appointee surfaced, were aware that Chas Freeman had made the occasional critical remark about Israel. This was, to the Lobby, unacceptable in the man who had been named NIC chair.

Few outside intelligence circles had even heard of the NIC, but in the close network of Israel's defenders throughout Washington, 100 percent purity was demanded of anyone holding even minimum power that might relate to Israel.

Attacks on Freeman were personal and some were ugly. The more benign attacks were veiled, as Richard Silverstein noted in his blog at the time:

"[Freeman's] critics veil their criticism in an attack on Freeman's close ties to Chinese and Saudi business and government interests, but make no mistake -- Freeman's sin is his outspokenness on Israel and his sympathies for Palestinian suffering."

In a Wall Writings posting I wrote after the Lobby-generated campaign against Freeman was launched (Yes Virginia, There is an Israel Lobby and It is Still Fighting Charles Freeman), I cited an excellent posting from Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, a scholar who "knows the Israel Lobby quite well."

Walt is the co-author, along with John J. Mearsheimer, of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. I later wrote my own longer essay on the Freeman appointment, for Link magazine.

In his posting, Walt "identifies the cast of characters in the 'get Freeman drama'":

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James Wall served as a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois, from 1999 through 2017. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced (more...)

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