When President Obama, during his period of transition, announced that he was appointing onetime Nixon White House aide Leon Panetta to head the CIA, the former Clinton chief of staff’s appointment, after a few initial stirrings of dissatisfaction, sailed through the Senate with no problems to speak of. But the Obama White House’s latest choice from that era – Charles W. “Chas” Freeman Jr., who, as a young State Department official, acted as RN’s chief interpreter during the historic 1972 trip to China – has met with far greater trepidation all round.
Freeman, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War and later spent a number of years heading the Saudi-sponsored Middle East Policy Council, is Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s choice to head the National Intelligence Council. But Freeman’s expression over the years of foreign-policy views so thoroughly in the “realist” camp that they make Brent Scowcroft sound like Paul Wolfowitz has stirred passionate disagreement in recent days, especially from supporters of Israel. Fox News has a helpful article on the controversy, though it could use a little more background detail.
For example, Harvard University’s Stephen Walt is quoted as comparing Freeman’s critics to Sen. Joe McCarthy, but the article fails to mention that the MEPC, when Freeman was in charge of it, was responsible for the first American publication of Walt and John Mearshimer’s incendiary essay “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” But the Freeman issue is shaping up as a major battlefield for Obama’s foreign policy aims, and this article, such faults aside, is a useful introduction to it.