Is This Last Gasp for the Israel Lobby and the Neocons?
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Though Blair strongly defended Freeman, the two men got no support from an anxious White House, which took (politely put) a hands-off approach. Seeing the writing on the wall -- all over the wall, in fact -- Freeman came to the conclusion that, even if he could withstand the storm, his ability to do the job had, in effect, already been torpedoed. Whatever output the National Intelligence Council might produce under his leadership, as Freeman told me in an interview, would instantly be attacked. "Anything that it produced that was politically controversial would immediately be attributed to me as some sort of political deviant, and be discredited," he said.
On March 10th, Freeman bowed out, but not with a whimper. In a letter to friends and colleagues, he launched a defiant, departing counterstrike that may, in fact, have helped to change the very nature of Washington politics. "The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth," wrote Freeman. "The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views."
Freeman put it more metaphorically to me: "It was a nice way of, as the Chinese say, killing a chicken to scare the monkeys." By destroying his appointment, Freeman claimed, the Israel lobby hoped to intimidate other critics of Israel and U.S. Middle East policy who might seek jobs in the Obama administration.
On Triumphs, Hysterias, and Mobs
It remains to be seen just how many "monkeys" are trembling. Certainly, the Israel lobby crowed in triumph. Daniel Pipes, for instance, quickly praised Rosen's role in bringing down Freeman:
"What you may not know is that Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East Forum was the person who first brought attention to the problematic nature of Freeman's appointment," wrote Pipes. "Within hours, the word was out, and three weeks later Freeman has conceded defeat. Only someone with Steve's stature and credibility could have made this happen."
The Zionist Organization of America, a far-right advocacy group that supports Israel, sent out follow-up Action Alerts to its membership, ringing further alarm bells about Freeman as part of a campaign to mobilize public opinion and Congress. Behind the scenes, AIPAC quietly used its considerable clout, especially with friends and allies in the media. And Chuck Schumer, who had trotted over to the White House to talk to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, later said bluntly:
"Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing."
Numerous reporters, including Max Blumenthal at the Daily Beast website and Spencer Ackerman of Firedoglake, have effectively documented the role of the Israel lobby, including AIPAC, in sabotaging Freeman's appointment. From their accounts and others, it seems clear that the lobby left its fingerprints all over Freeman's National Intelligence Council corpse. (Indeed, Time's Joe Klein described the attack on Freeman as an "assassination," adding that the term "lobby" doesn't do justice to the methods of the various lobbying groups, individuals, and publications: "He was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives.")
On the other hand, the Washington Post , in a near-hysterical editorial, decided to pretend that the Israel lobby really doesn't exist, accusing Freeman instead of sending out a "crackpot tirade." Huffed the Post, "Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister 'Lobby'... His statement was a grotesque libel."