11 March 2009

Way to Vet, Obama (Resumed)

Amid the gunfire and stock market hysteria people may not have noticed the fall of another Obama administration appointee. This was Charles W. Freeman, who had been named to chair the National Intelligence Council. That appointment caused alarm in pro-Israeli circles, as Freeman has long been a critic of Israel, as well as a patron of Israeli Lobby authors Mearshimer and Walt. Some people may stop here and fulminate against said lobby or their neocon allies for driving Freeman from a deserved post, but the more one learns about Freeman the more dubious a choice he seems to have been.

He was Nixon's interpreter during the president's famous 1972 trip to China, and George HW Bush's ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and seems more than naturally inclined to take the Saudi view of things. Some have also accused him of being too sympathetic toward China, but there's not as much evidence of Chinese patronage of Freeman's various organizations as there appears to be in the Saudi case. In any event, there's no point in crying over the influence of an Israeli lobby, as Freeman has himself, if the only alternative offered so far is an anti-Israel or a pro-Saudi lobby. Obama's goal should not be to replace pro-Israeli views with pro-Arab ones, but to adopt an objective (rather than moralistic) view of United States interests in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to damn all sides if necessary. How such a consistent Republican came into Obama's orbit is mysterious, though the first President Bush's reputation as a Middle East "realist" may have made one of his men attractive to the new regime. Obama's National Intelligence Director seems to have had primary responsibility for choosing Freeman, but the President is responsible for his man's decisions. Freeman was probably not as much a bonehead call as some of Obama's other aborted appointees, but this is another case where it's hard to see the "change" we were all promised last year.

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