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More On Freeman

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 [1]


This is similar to my original thoughts on the controversy [2]. 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 [3] 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.

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9 Comments To "More On Freeman"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 6, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

Your comments are wise as usual.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that Freeman is an Israel-skeptic, which is why the Lobby’s minions are out to get him. The Saudi and Chinese issues are simply protective coloration, although on the whole the neocons would like to stir up something between us and China if they could. Dennis Ross working for the “Jewish People Project,” funded by the Jewish Agency, doesn’t raise their hackles.

With Freeman filtering intelligence, they’re afraid they won’t get their war with Iran. Such a war, of course, could well be a leap into the abyss, especially in a time of economic collapse.

High stakes. Interesting times, in which we are condemned to live.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On March 6, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

My guess is that it is Freeman’s reported aversion to groupthink and moralistic cant that led him to be critical of Israel in the first place, and that this inclination probably became stronger as time has gone by. I am also inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt inasmuch as I am rather familiar with how one posting or one statement can be taken out of a much larger body of work and be made to stand in for your entire worldview.

There does seem to be some considerable overlap between those making the most noise about Freeman and those preoccupied with the “Iranian threat.”

#3 Comment By Maximos On March 6, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

The Iranian Threat… Make that the “Iranian Threat”. How obviously must these hacks and frauds declare that they will only accept intelligence ‘products’ with pre-arranged, foreknown conclusions? The NIE concludes that there is no Iranian nuclear weapons programme, propagators of the meme remain heedless of the difference between the low-enriched uranium that Iran possesses, and is capable of processing, and the highly-enriched material required for the manufacture of weapons, which they do not possess – and still, we hear about the “Iranian Threat”!

#4 Comment By WRW On March 6, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

Another interesting test of Obama. His personnel choices in foreign policy to date seem to more indicate a lack of courage to challenge the status quo than “changing the mindset” that led to the Iraq War. If Freeman is dropped/rejected what will that indicate? (Assuming, it’s not actually because of any conflict.)

#5 Comment By jetan On March 7, 2009 @ 7:30 am

I don’t mean to sound like a total hack and Obama apologist but I WRW underestimates the power of the Israeli lobby within the Democratic party….I mean, Chuck Schumer already basically said “No F***ing Way” to the Freeman appointment and Hillary’s very mild gestures toward some form of even-handedness with respect to Palestine have been greeted with shrill indignation. So, given the already daunting list of foreign policy and domestic challenges on-deck, I think he has wisely decided that this is a big tar-baby hassle he doesn’t need. Even if he holds the line and seats Freeman he will have to pay back the pro-Israel types back down the line, probably with interest. That ain’t the way it should be, but it’s sho’ nuff the way it is.

#6 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 7, 2009 @ 8:32 am

Jetan, alas you may be right. If we pay for it by war with Iran, it will be a colossal crime and disaster. Can BHO–will BHO–control the odious Netanyahu?

#7 Comment By jetan On March 7, 2009 @ 9:42 am

Well, Grumpy Old Man – and thanks for giving me the chance to say that to someone – even Israel can’t control Netenyahoo. Doesn’t he remind you of Santa Anna in that, no matter how dramatic and egregious his errors, he gets returned to power anyway? He’s like Castro…he’ll outlive all of us.
I’m not too worried about war with Iran because I think we lack the money….and the money…and the military power and diplomatic pull that a conventional war would require. The Victor Davis Hanson types who like to fantasize about their unipolar superpower Jedi Matrix trip are just grooving in their own Private Idaho.

#8 Comment By TGGP On March 7, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

An exception to the correlational trend is Thomas Barnett. His basically imperialist vision of one world liberal-democratic capitalist order seems straight out of Fukuyama neoconservatism, but he also constantly pushes for friendlier relations with China & Iran.

#9 Comment By WRW On March 9, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

You may well be right about Obama picking his battles. As for the rest of your response to Grumpy, you’re way too hip for me.