Freeman is forced out

So Chas Freeman withdrew his nomination to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The people who fed the debate that led to his withdrawal have cost the United States intelligence and policy communities the benefit of a truly unique mind and set of perspectives. They have also contributed to what can only be characterized ...

So Chas Freeman withdrew his nomination to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The people who fed the debate that led to his withdrawal have cost the United States intelligence and policy communities the benefit of a truly unique mind and set of perspectives. They have also contributed to what can only be characterized as a leadership crisis in the U.S. government.

The genesis of that crisis is that we have lost perspective on what the criteria for selecting and approving government officials ought to be. Financial trivia, minutiae from people's personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside. Ridiculous threshold obstacles stand alongside obscene ones and when taken with the relentless personal attacks associated with high level jobs in Washington -- the low pay, and the extreme difficulty of getting anything done -- we are seeing even those selected for senior jobs turn away in droves. We are at a moment of not one but an extraordinary array of great crises and challenges for America and we are effectively keeping the people we need most out of the positions we most need filled. 

The United States will get along fine without Freeman and without each and every one of the casualties of this latest hiring cycle. But we will ultimately suffer irreparable damage if we do not reverse this pernicious trend. Further, those who celebrate keeping out Freeman or any others whose views do not align with theirs or who feared his associations would do well to remember that the same kind of criteria can be applied by other groups. The result is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman. But for the record, the most compelling reason I found for believing Chas Freeman would have been a superb Chairman of the National Intelligence Council was one that seldom came up in all the articles I read. I actually know him.

So Chas Freeman withdrew his nomination to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The people who fed the debate that led to his withdrawal have cost the United States intelligence and policy communities the benefit of a truly unique mind and set of perspectives. They have also contributed to what can only be characterized as a leadership crisis in the U.S. government.

The genesis of that crisis is that we have lost perspective on what the criteria for selecting and approving government officials ought to be. Financial trivia, minutiae from people’s personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside. Ridiculous threshold obstacles stand alongside obscene ones and when taken with the relentless personal attacks associated with high level jobs in Washington — the low pay, and the extreme difficulty of getting anything done — we are seeing even those selected for senior jobs turn away in droves. We are at a moment of not one but an extraordinary array of great crises and challenges for America and we are effectively keeping the people we need most out of the positions we most need filled. 

The United States will get along fine without Freeman and without each and every one of the casualties of this latest hiring cycle. But we will ultimately suffer irreparable damage if we do not reverse this pernicious trend. Further, those who celebrate keeping out Freeman or any others whose views do not align with theirs or who feared his associations would do well to remember that the same kind of criteria can be applied by other groups. The result is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman. But for the record, the most compelling reason I found for believing Chas Freeman would have been a superb Chairman of the National Intelligence Council was one that seldom came up in all the articles I read. I actually know him.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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