The case of Charles Freeman has heated up now that he's withdrawn from consideration for becoming chairman of the national intelligence council, which drafts strategic assessments for the president. In its lead editorial today, the Washington Post lambastes Freeman for, in his words, fingering a nefarious Israel "lobby" that seeks to enforce "adherence to the policies of a foreign government." This, the Post says, "was a grotesque libel."
Is it? There clearly were a number of pro-Israel voices intent on squelching Freeman's appointment. The affair began with postings by Steven J. Rosen, a former AIPAC official, who sounded alarms about Freeman's suitability for the post. Then it migrated to the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times, among others, as neoconservatives depicted Freeman as anti-Israel or a stooge for the Chinese or a mole for Saudi Arab, or all three at the same time. Finally, Capitol Hill got involved, as everyone from Senator Joseph Lieberman to House majority leader Nancy Pelosi looked askance at Freeman.
To call this a coherent "lobby," however, is probably misplaced. Joe Klein may have it right when he says it's more akin to a "mob." The blunt fact is that there are plenty of monsters out there in the Middle East without having to turn Freeman into one. As David Broder puts it today, this is "an ignominious end to one of the most distinguished international careers in American government."
The Obama administration obviously figured that Freeman was too marginal a figure to battle for. But some of his most vociferous critics, particularly among the neoconservatives, may have feared that as head of the intelligence council he would have taken a very hard look indeed at the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions. Their real complain, then, wouldn't have been that he threatened to politicize intelligence, but would have politicized it enough.
President Obama would do well to ponder the implications of this ferocious battle over a seemingly trivial post. The Freeman dust-up may prove to be a harbinger of future battles over the Obama administration's outreach to Syria and Iran as well as its policies toward Israel. Freeman may be gone, but the rancor left behind by the gutting of his nomination will not go away quickly.