Charles “Chas” W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, requested that his selection as chairman of the National Intelligence Council be withdrawn on March 10. Four days earlier, Washington Times columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave had defended Freeman against “the Israel lobby and the neocons.”
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, a retired Navy admiral, had nominated Freeman to head the NIC. The council prepares mid- and long-term assessments, based on analyses from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, for senior officials including the president.
From 1950 to 1980, de Brochgrave, 82, was a prominent international correspondent and editor for Newsweek magazine. In addition to editor-at-large status with The Washington Times and United Press International, he now serves as director and senior adviser of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a politically centrist Washington, D.C. think tank.
Regardless, his Op-Ed defense of Freeman’s appointment, “Intelligence analyst-in-chief” (Washington Times, March 6) demonstrated that experience is not synonymous with reliability. On the day de Borchgrave’s column appeared, The Times reported the inspector-general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (responding to concerns raised by 13 House members) would investigate Freeman’s Saudi ties for potential conflicts of interest.
Freeman served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to1992 and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 1993 to 1994. From 1997 on, he has headed the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington, D.C. non-profit funded in part by members of the Saudi royal family.
De Borchgrave’s commentary mentioned Freeman’s presidency of MEPC, but not the council’s Saudi funding, or its quarterly, Middle East Policy, “filled with disturbingly radical anti-Israel polemics,” or its Arab World Studies Notebook for American teachers that states “Muslims inhabited the New World in pre-Columbian times ….”
The columnist also was silent on the substance of Freeman’s post-foreign service ties to China, even though members of Congress had asked the ODNI’s I-G to examine Freeman’s service from 2004 to 2008 on the international advisory board of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp.
The Washington Times reported further (“Rights advocates attack Freeman pick,” March 8) that “advocates for Chinese human rights are urging President Obama to reject” Freeman’s nomination” because they claimed he “has a long-standing record of defending China’s authoritarian regime.” These critics’ letter to the president “challenges the narrative of many of Mr. Freeman’s defenders, who argue that pro-Israel groups have sought to torpedo the nomination ….” The Time’s reported.
But the “narrative” of Freeman the “iconoclast with a brilliant analytical mind that is anathema to the Israel lobby and the neocons” clouded de Brochgrave’s own analysis. He didn’t define the term, but used “neocons” (neo-conservatives) as a euphemism for supporters of Israel, of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and of a hardline against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Among pertinent quotes omitted by de Borchgrave:
* In 2005, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks that killed approximately 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C. and in Pennsylvania, Freeman claimed “what 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”
* In 2008, Freeman described Tibetan uprisings against Chinese occupation and repression as “race riots.” He added that “the level of patriotic indignation in China against posturing by American and European politicians over Tibet is already so high that a long-term clamp-down in Tibet seems inevitable.” As if 58 years of Chinese repression of Tibetan culture and society, and relocation of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, did not constitute “a long-term clampdown.”
* Reports of a leaked e-mail quoted Freeman on the Chinese government’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989: “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 ‘Tiana’anmen’ stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action ….”
The Washington Post reported that “Freeman said the remarks were his assessment of how Chinese leaders had seen things.”
De Borchgrave did highlight, but failed to deal seriously, with Freeman remarks the columnist says “incurred the wrath of AIPAC.” They were:
* The former ambassador’s 2007 claim that anti-American Islamic terrorism is due largely to “the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that has lasted over 40 years and shows no signs of ending.”
* “Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them.”
Osama bin Laden’s primary grievances were what he called the corrupt and impious Saudi ruling dynasty, the presence of “infidel” or “Crusader” troops on sacred Arabian soil during and after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the absence of an Ottoman-like caliphate.
Before al-Qaeda, before Israel’s re-establishment in 1948, the Egyptian-based but widely influential Muslim Brotherhood crystallized and incited hostility to modern, Western, secular influences in the Arab world. Like others of the mis-named “realist” school of foreign policy, including The Israel Lobby authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, Freeman sounds like a practitioner not of realism but of expediency, of status quo maintenance.
Reality, regarding Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, is that except for periods of high levels of anti-Israeli Palestinian aggression, especially the first and second intifadas, Israel’s “brutal oppression of the Palestinians” has been marked by higher standards of living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than in many Arab states, as a U.N. report in 2005 noted.
Reality regarding anti-American Islamic terrorism is that the 9/11 attacks came after the United States defended Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, fed them in Sudan and freed them in Kuwait.
“No signs of ending the occupation?” Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Instead of beginning to build the institutions necessary for self-rule and statehood, the Palestinian electorate choose Hamas. Hamas in Gaza intensified anti-Israeli incitement and terrorism. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank competed with Hamas for public support by continued anti-Israel vilification and simultaneous insistence on the non-existent “right of return” of Arab refugees not to a West Bank and Gaza state but to Israel.
I srael “no longer pretends to seek peace”? Despite chronic Palestinian violation of agreements to eradicate anti-Israel terrorism and end antisemitic and anti-Zionist incitement, Israel participated in the 2007 Annapolis conference and subsequent negotiations. Just as, despite Palestinian non-compliance and duplicity, it pursued the 1993 Oslo process and, with the United States, offered a West Bank and Gaza Strip state in exchange for peace in 2000 and 2001, violently rejected by the Arabs.
On examination, Freeman’s “iconoclastic brilliance” looks a lot like the conventional wisdom of the self-interested. And de Borchgrave’s commentary rests on superficiality, omission and innuendo. The Washington Times and UPI can do better.