WASHINGTON — The brewing storm over President Obama's chosen Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is reviving a bitter battle from early in the president's first term: The intense and successful campaign against the appointment of veteran diplomat an foreign policy "realist," Chas Freeman, to head the National Intelligence Council.
Like Hagel, Freeman drew intense opposition from neoconservatives and Jewish groups concerned with his skepticism of the U.S. relationship with Israel, but in both cases the fight may be decided on other fronts. In Freeman's case, quotes that made him appear sympathetic to China's regime helped kill the nomination. Hagel has apologized for shots at gays.
Less well known is the fact that the men don't just share a narrative: They worked together at the same organization after Freeman dropped his bid for the intelligence board. Hagel served as chairman of the Atlantic Council, while Freeman returned to its board in 2000 and 2010. (Freeman was a longtime board-member, taking time off when he was under consideration for the NIC job, an official at the group said; his name appears on its IRS filings from both 2009 and 2010.) And the repetition offers a glimpse of the bitter, institutional fight underlying the battle over Hagel between two entrenched foreign policy world-views — and the extent to which Hagel's ascent offers traditional realists, who put national interest ahead of human rights or values, a chance to refight battles lost early in the first Obama term.
Freeman, who bitterly blasted the "Israel Lobby" in 2009, has Hagel's defense, telling the liberal foreign policy bloggerJim Lobe that "History is indeed repeating itself with Sen. Hagel; this time, as Marx predicted, as farce."
All of the elements I noted in my statement of withdrawal in 2009 are there: "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. 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, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors." None of this has changed, including the effort to make the campaign appear to be about something other than obeisance to Israel. (China in my case; so far gay rights — with more likely to come — in Sen. Hagel's.)
Freeman remains an intense critic of the Israeli government, and wrote last month that Israel's bombing campaign in Gaza was tied to the country's coming elections.
"It's popular in Israel to kill many Palestinians in Gaza…a war against Hamas wins votes," he said.
Last month he also criticized American Israel supporters being part of a "propaganda" effort.
In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a "fifth column" of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements. Israel makes intelligent use of the possibilities this creates for public-private partnership in propaganda."