Feature

Chas Freeman and the ‘Israel Lobby’

The withdrawal of Obama’s choice for chief intelligence analyst

A “ferocious” debate over the alleged power of “the Israel Lobby” raged in 2006, after two professors wrote a book of the same name, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The furor re-erupted when President Obama picked former Ambassador Charles (Chas) Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council. He withdrew Tuesday, blaming what he called the dishonorable and dishonest “tactics of the Israel Lobby.”

Not the Israel Lobby “conspiracy theory” again, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Freeman—who said the Chinese should have crushed the Tiananmen Square protesters sooner and offered “sycophantic paeans” to Saudi King Abdullah—was always a bad choice. But his “crackpot” departing “screed” against the mythical “shadowy and sinister ‘Lobby’” made it clear how bad.

Anti-China and, yes, pro-Israel lobbyists did sink Freeman, said David Broder in The Washington Post. And they deprived us of a very able and “smart as hell” intelligence analyst. Freeman’s abrupt pullout is an embarrassment for Obama and for his intelligence chief, Adm. Dennis Blair, who picked and defended Freeman, but it’s also “the country’s loss.”

Freeman is indeed very capable, and his critics did use his statements out of context, “in some cases wildly so,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate. But Obama was right to cut him loose. Freeman was a polarizing distraction, and by his own choice a high-profile figure. The NIC should be neither. Fairly or not, he would have been a “lightning rod” for Obama’s foreign-policy critics.

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