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National Intelligence Council Pick May Be In Real Trouble

I haven’t written anything about Chas Freeman, the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia whom Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair tapped to head the National Intelligence Council, the long-term-intelligence-analysis shop that also supervises the writing of National Intelligence Estimates. Why? Primarily because there’s a lot of bad-faith criticism of Freeman. Basically, Freeman’s major sin is that he doesn’t take a simplistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a number of mostly-right-wing Jewish writers at Commentary, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic and The New Republic have been arguing that he’s not fit to serve. Reporter friends of mine have told me that AIPAC has been shopping oppo research on Freeman around.

But even so, it appears that, as my friend Eli Lake reports today for The Washington Times, that Freeman’s alleged financial ties to China and Saudi Arabia are under investigation by the DNI’s inspector general. It’s unclear what, if anything, Freeman actually did wrong, but that’s how these things go.

Now Greg Sargent reports for the Plum Line that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has expressed concern about Freeman’s views on Israel to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. This will get serious if Schumer makes a public statement. Sticking with Freeman is entirely at Blair’s discretion. But it’s an open question how much criticism the White House wants to take over an obscure retired ambassador who’s already under official investigation.

What’s also unclear is what the, uh, I don’t know what to call them, diplomatically — American-Israel-hardliners-plus-Jon-Chait actually have in mind for their strategy here. Freeman is small potatoes. On the horizon are very dicey U.S.-Israel negotiations with a far-right Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and a progressive U.S. administration that put George Mitchell, whom the, uh, American-Israel-hardliners-and-who-knows-about-Jon-Chait think is too “even-handed” (!) in charge of Israel-Palestine negotiations. That’s a massive battle, in which Netanyahu is going to want to tell President Obama “no” on all of these important issues without seeming to say “no.” Do Netanyahu’s supporters really want to spend political capital on Freeman with that on the horizon? What do they think their influence on Obama will be if they go all-out on one of his intelligence director’s officials?

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