The nomination of Charles “Chas” Freeman to serve as the next chairman of the National Intelligence Council has created a new bout of controversy for the Obama administration regarding its personnel choices to serve in key positions. This one comes with a bit of a twist. Cabinet nominees must be confirmed by the Senate. When several of President Obama’s choices had their pasts catch up with them, they bowed out rather than face the prospect of a challenging confirmation hearing. However, the position that Freeman would fill does not require Senate confirmation. Regardless, he will probably be compelled to withdraw his name from consideration for the post in the days ahead.
It might be worthwhile to just briefly review why Freeman has become a bit of an albatross for Barack Obama.
He formerly served as an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. As is true of many former ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, he later became a de facto ambassador from Saudi Arabia to America. As head of the Middle East Policy Council (a think tank based in Washington, funded in part by the Saudis), he has served as an apologist for Saudi Arabia, has worked to publish textbooks for American children that are actually pro-Arab propaganda, has been a fierce critic of Israel, and has supported the attacks launched by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer against supporters of the U.S.-Israel alliance here in America.
But wait, there is more. He serves on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Company, which is owned by the Chinese government. He also seems to have become a de facto ambassador for the Chinese regime. He has gone so far as to suggest the regime was being too soft for not moving swiftly enough and more harshly to deal with the pro-democracy protesters in Tienanmen Square back in 1989.
These ties, as much as a litany of other questionable actions and statements, will come back to haunt him in the days ahead. The National Review recently published an editorial regarding Freeman:
The National Intelligence Council is a “a center of strategic thinking within the U.S. Government, reporting to the Director of National Intelligence … and providing the President and senior policymakers with analyses of foreign policy issues that have been reviewed and coordinated throughout the Intelligence Community.” The NIC plays a crucial role in determining what specific intelligence the president consumes from the torrents of information gathered by 16 different agencies. As chairman, Freeman will decide how that intelligence is framed.
With that in mind, it is unsettling that Freeman will play a key role in determining what intelligence the president sees — and what he doesn’t. As NIC chairman, he will have a strong hand in the production of National Intelligence Estimates, reports that are pivotal in determining the direction of U.S. policy. An errant NIE can be a dangerous thing. Recall the disastrous 2007 NIE that concluded, against the evidence, that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Though quickly abandoned, that NIE helped soften our national resolve to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, even as the mullahs ramped up production.
Three of the major foreign-policy challenges the United States faces today involve the survival of Israel, the Saudis’ promotion of radical Islam, and the ambitions of China. To navigate them, Obama has chosen a fierce critic of Israel — our only reliable ally in the region where threats to the United States are most immediate — whose track record is one of kowtowing to our enemies in the Mideast and our rivals in Beijing.
But opposition has not just been found in the conservative media. The New Republic — a left-of-center, well-respected magazine — has published a number of articles outlining the problems that Freeman would pose as chairman of the NIC. Even one of its most pro-Obama journalists, Jonathan Chait, famous (or infamous) for writing an article declaring his hatred for George Bush, took to the pages of the Washington Post to express his dismay that Freeman would be considered for the post (see “Obama’s Intelligence Blunder”).
The idea that a Saudi “mole” or Chinese “Manchurian candidate” might serve as chairman of the NIC has begun to cause waves of consternation in Congress.
Interestingly enough, the opposition has begun to migrate from members of the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Steve Israel (D-NY) have been in the forefront of efforts to investigate Freeman ever since his nomination came to light. Initially, though, opposition was weighted towards the red end of the spectrum. But lately, more members from Obama’s own party have expressed qualms. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada) has signed on to a letter drafted and signed by a number of Republicans requesting that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s inspector general investigate the financial ties Freeman may have with Saudi Arabia (it was just announced on Thursday that the inspector general would start an investigation into the extent of these ties).
On the other side of the Capital, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has expressed concern about Freeman to Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff.
When both conservative and liberal media and members on both sides of the aisle criticize a president’s nominee for a post, a critical mass may be seen as having developed.
Others have begun to point out the hypocrisy of Freeman serving in this position under this president; and charges of hypocrisy can wreak political damage even to Barack Obama, especially so when the charges come from liberal sources. James Kirchik notes in the New Republic that Obama and many of his supporters subjected John McCain to withering attack for having on his foreign policy staff Charles Black, who had done some consulting work for the Burmese military junta. How can Obama justify having Chas Freeman serve in such a crucial capacity when Freeman enjoyed a very generous amount of support from Saudi Arabia — a regime that has harmed American interests in the past?
This is especially true when Obama has raised the issue of human rights as being a principle that his administration has vowed to embrace. Freeman has served the interests of those who deny their own people basic human rights.
There is one more angle of attack that has just begun to emerge. The Chinese oil company that Freeman serves on the advisory board of is on the verge of completing a multibillion dollar oil deal with Iran. This would flout the sanctions regime that America has worked to impose on Iran’s energy sector as a method to dissuade it from pursuing its development of nuclear weapons. When Barack Obama was in full campaign mode, he routinely touted his work and support for sanctions on Iran.
As president, will he reward a man who worked to help a company that is intent on evading those sanctions with one of the most plum spots in the field of national security.
The latest revelation may be the smoking gun that dooms the Freeman appointment. Ironically, the gun was held by none other than Chas Freeman. Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard found an email from Freeman encouraging the Chinese to engage in more lobbying on Capitol Hill.
When you do the math, it looks like almost all of the $19 million figure for cumulative lobbying expenditure “on behalf of China” since 1997, is Hong Kong-generated or related. And to put the figure in perspective, over $3 billion is spent annually on lobbying activities in this town. (I don’t know how much of that is foreign government-related.) This goes a long way toward explaining why our government decision-making processes are generally considered by international investors and businessfolk to be both venal and corrupt, producing the best government policy decisions money can buy.
Why shoud foreign government hire a lobbyist? To ally the foreign ambassador or appear to ally him to a US domestic interest with the ability to make campaign contributions or otherwise affect electoral realities. To advise the ambassador on the pet peeves and domestic political circumstances and agendas of the congresscritter in question so as to facilitate flattery, concrete gestures with possible impact on the electorate in question, or arrange a pseudo-event at which the congresscritter can claim credit for one his/her district’s companies having made a sale to the country represented by the lobbyist. To do research on the congresscritter so as to expose duplicity, where and when it exists, as it almost always does.
He then concludes with a description of Congress (using a quote from Mark Twain) as the “closest thing to a native American criminal class.”
Congress may ignore sharp comments on our allies, entangling ties with foreign tyrannies, faulty judgments, stupid comments, and the spreading of propaganda to our children — but Congress will not be mocked.
I feel and hear a bus coming towards Chas Freeman.