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Chas Freeman's Psychic Defenders

Newsweek has an important story today providing new details on why the Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Chas Freeman was dropped as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The reason seems to be not, ultimately, his views on Israel, but his even more controversial statements on China. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report that:

Chas Freeman, the Obama administration's choice to serve in a key U.S. intelligence post, abruptly withdrew Tuesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous other congressional leaders complained to the White House that he was too closely tied to Saudi and Chinese government interests...

A former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Freeman has faced questions over the past two weeks about financial ties between members of the Saudi royal family and the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a Washington think tank he heads that has been critical of U.S. support for Israeli government policies. But Pelosi's objections reportedly focused on Freeman's ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human-rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman's views were "indefensible" and complained directly to President Obama about his selection...

Good on Nancy Pelosi for saving the country from this man, who, judging by the ugly statement he released last night accusing his critics of harboring dual loyalties (a pretty rich charge coming from a guy on the payroll of at least two foreign governments), confirmed the worst fears of those of us who were troubled by his appointment. That missive alone demonstrates why Freeman could not be trusted in such a sensitive intelligence position.

Of course, none of this information will dissuade Chas Freeman's defenders, who really know that it was the Israel Lobby and its shills who ultimately won the "scalp" of this upstanding civil servant, in the words of Joe Klein (who subtly titles his post on the matter, "Assassination.") These writers already have a narrative about how things work in Washington, and they won't let inconvenient little things like facts get in the way of propounding upon it. "Chuck Schumer is taking credit, which will be no surprise to readers aware of his career-long interest Chinese democracy promotion," snarks Ezra Klein. "Chinese human rights activists everywhere are high-fiving," wrote Matthew Yglesias (actually, at least 87 were). “This is clearly a win for advocates of Chinese human rights and liberalism and empiricism, and not other issues; Chuck Schumer is obviously playing for votes in Chinatown," said Spencer Ackerman. The purpose of this argumentative tic is to impugn the motives of those who opposed Freeman by portraying us all as a bunch of Israel-obsessed McCarthyites, and that the real reason we opposed him was not some newfound aversion to people who defend the slaughter of 2,400 unarmed democracy protestors, but because he had a few not nice things to say about Bibi. I was unaware that these men posessed mind-reading capabilities. (That one could oppose Freeman for his views about Israel and China -- not to mention his dubious financial dealings with the Saudis -- never figured into these writers's semiotic analyses).

It should be noted here that Nancy Pelosi (long known to people in Washington as a neoconservative Israel hawk) was not the only Member of Congress troubled more by Freeman's apologetics for Chinese Communists than by his views on Israel. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia and the most outspoken critic of the Sudanese government's genocide in Darfur and China's suborning of it, was so incensed by this outrage that he sent Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair "a pair of socks made by Tiananmen protesters in a Beijing prison" that he visited in 1991 and "a videotape of two women from a Darfur refugee camp describing how they were raped by Sudanese forces." Presumably, Pelosi and Wolf were lying -- just like the rest of us Likudnik "Israel-firsters" were -- about the real reasons for their displeasure over Freeman's appointment. 

Stephen Walt asserts, based entirely upon unnamed "well-placed friends in Washington," that AIPAC "leaned hard on some key senators behind-the-scenes and is now bragging that Obama is a '"pushover.'" For what it's worth, the New York Times reports today that AIPAC did not even take a position on Freeman and did not lobby a single person on the Hill to oppose his nomination. And for all their conspiratorial insinuations, none of Freeman's defenders have been able to produce a shred of evidence to back up their claim that Freeman's undoing was the result of the dread Israel Lobby's efforts. But, again, facts don't really matter here. A self-satisfied sense of victimization is manna for these people, and so the meme of an all-powerful Israel Lobby squashing dissent and ruining people's careers -- and, more importantly, the perpetuation of their reputations as heroes standing up to this perfidious force -- will live another day.

--James Kirchick