Obama’s NIC pick raises eyebrows

Obama’s NIC pick raises eyebrows

Last week, FP‘s Laura Rozen broke the story that former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman is the Obama administration’s pick to head the National Intelligence Council, the internal think tank for the intelligence community responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates.

Since Laura’s story hit the Web, critics have been attacking the appointment over Freeman’s views on Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia. Former AIPAC staffer (himself a pretty controversial guy) Steve Rosen, now of the Middle East Forum, is leading the charge against the appointment. Here’s one controversial comment of Freeman’s from a 2005 speech:

As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent.

He’s also committed the unforgiveable sin of saying nice things about our colleague Steve Walt and publishing the original “Israel Lobby” article in his organization’s journal.

There’s also the fact that his organization, the Middle East Policy Council operates “thanks to the generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia” (his own words) and that he’s an advocate of improved U.S-Saudi relations.

The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg argues:

It would be inappropriate to appoint an official of AIPAC to run the National Intelligence Council (though it must be said that AIPAC doesn’t receive any funding from the Israeli government) and it seems inappropriate to give the job to a Saudi sympathizer as well.

On the other hand, as Ben Smith notes:

Other appointees have worked for policy groups that accepted money from foreign governments — though perhaps few as domestically unpopular as the Saudis. Ross, for one, is still listed as the chairman of the board of directors of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israeli government arm.

As General Zinni learned the hard way, no appointments are final until they are confirmed and the politics of this certainly don’t bode well for Freeman. It would be a shame if he were spiked. Freeman’s an experienced and highly qualified foreign-policy practitioner and one would hope that his critics can do a little better if they really hope to prove he’s the agent of a foreign government. At the same time, one would also hope the Obama team anticipated the possible controversy and have good answers to some reasonable questions about Freeman’s views and affiliations.

Want more Freeman? Check out this interview about the Taiwan Strait (he’s also an old Asia hand who served as Richard Nixon’s translator in China) that he gave to FP in 2007.

Photo: The Middle East Policy Council