But very recently I met with a friend who had worked years ago with Freeman — on China, not the Middle East — and was upset about what he called the “self-lobotimization” of US foreign policy that the campaign to discredit Freeman represented. As I’ve looked into it, I’ve come to agree.
His first point was that Freeman was being proposed for a post within the president’s discretionary appointment power, like one of his White House aides, and therefore didn’t have to reflect the Senate’s sense of who should be in the job. The more important point, he said, was that Freeman’s longstanding contrarian inclination to challenge conventional wisdom of any sort, far from being an embarrassing liability, was exactly what a president needed from the person in this job.
A president’s Secretary of State had to represent the country’s policies soberly and predictably around the world. His National Security Advisor had to coordinate and evenhandedly present the views of the various agencies. His White House press secretary had to take great care in expressing the official line to the world’s media each day. His Director of National Intelligence had to give him the most sober and responsible precis of what was known and unknown about potential threats.
For any of those roles, a man like Freeman might not be the prudent choice. But as head of the National Intelligence Council, my friend said, he would be exactly right. While he would have no line-operational responsibilities or powers, he would be able to raise provocative questions, to ask “What if everybody’s wrong?”, to force attention to the doubts, possibilities, and alternatives that normally get sanded out of the deliberative process through the magic known as “groupthink.” ~James Fallows
This is similar to my original thoughts on the controversy. Self-lobotomization is what we seem to do best when it comes to foreign policy. Obviously, what the IG investigation of Freeman’s ties determines will be decisive. If the investigation finds that he has serious conflicts of interest because of his connections to the Chinese oil firm and the MEPC, the appointment should not go forward, but if not he seems well-suited to the position to which he is being appointed.
The final point about Freeman’s willingness to break with groupthink is the crucial point, which is why this sort of complaint is so idiotic. The charge of “politicizing intelligence” was that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to interpret evidence in a way that fit the policy that had already been set. One of the problems with the use of intelligence before the war was that intelligence analysts interpreted what they found according to the false consensus that Iraq still possessed WMDs and WMD programs, and that the administration applied pressure to make sure that they did so. In other words, if you wanted someone who was very unlikely to fall in line with some new, politically convenient consensus about, say, Iran’s nuclear program, you might want to appoint someone like Freeman to run the NIC.