Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is a serious discussion of U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli zone possible in Washington? Chas Freeman's exit

As you may now be learning, yesterday Chas Freeman withdrew his name as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Ambassador Freeman has been pelted for weeks by a number of predictable accusations and fabrications, most of them hurled by right-wing pro-Israel journalists, politicians and other self-appointed guardians of America's special relationship with Israel. That many of these figures have also expressed their skepticism about the appointment of former Senator George J. Mitchell as a Presidential Envoy is instructive.

Of course, what these vigilantes most feared was that the irascible and brilliant Freeman would shed the rose-tinted spectacles that obscure the not infrequent divergence of U.S. and Israeli interests. In my experience, Chas Freeman is one of those rare Washington figures who combines a first-rate mind with a willingness to call it like it is, even when it is impolitic to do so. His fiery departure statement is required reading. Freeman raises important questions about the limits of debate in Washington as well as the survival of the smear and slander campaigns that became so familiar during the unfortunate presidency of George H. Bush.

The distressing Freeman episode does not augur well for President Obama's announced quest for a settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This episode reveals that a serious discussion of U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli zone may no longer be possible in Washington. (See Salon for some of the cast of players in the smear campaign.)

Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, showed a strong backbone in naming Freeman to the NIC and sticking with him to the end. He may mitigate the damage that has been done by naming a new chair of the NIC who also approaches Arab-Israeli issues with realism and with a commitment to protecting U.S. interests, first and foremost.

See the thoughful early comment James Fallows: The end for Freeman - James Fallows

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