What killed the Saudi/Manchurian candidate?

Like others lamenting the withdrawal of Chas Freeman from his appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, veteran CIA officer Paul Pillar assumes a point that is not at all clear. According to Pillar, Freeman’s withdrawal “demonstrates anew the strength of the taboo against open and candid discussion in the United States of policy involving Israel.”

Pillar’s lament is consistent with the view of Freeman et al. that a shadowy Israel (i.e., Jewish) Lobby controls the government of the United States. As Paul Mirengoff notes in his comment on Pillar’s lament, the Washington Post editorial on Freeman’s withdrawal finds this proposition inconsistent with the evidence.

This somewhat demented proposition is at the core of Freeman’s parting shot regarding his withdrawal. Freeman’s parting shot is valuable as symptom and evidence of the nature of his derangement. He is preoccupied with Israel and the Jews. The Post editorial therefore rightly holds that Freeman’s parting shot perpetrates “a grotesque libel” and frankly denounces it as a “crackpot tirade.”

By contrast, Pillar finds Freeman’s parting shot “characteristically lucid[.]” (If so, that by itself would explain a lot about Freeman’s demise.) Pillar’s long career in the CIA suggests that holding crackpot views such as Freeman’s is not exactly an impediment to success in the intelligence community. Indeed, it stands as evidence against it.

All of which raises the question: what killed Freeman’s appointment? The circumstances leading to Freeman’s withdrawal are in fact somewhat mysterious.

Late last week Eli Lake reported in the Washington Times that Freeman had not been vetted prior to his appointment. The typical vetting of senior administration appointments had yet to occur in Freeman’s case and an independent inspector general was to look into Freeman’s foreign financial ties. Lake reported that Freeman had not yet even submitted the financial disclosure forms required of all candidates for senior public positions

On Tuesday morning DNI Dennis Blair appeared on the Hill adamantly defending Freeman’s appointment before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That afternoon Blair posted a statement accepting Freeman’s withdrawal “with regret.” What happened?

The answer is not at all clear, except to those like Freeman (and apparently Pillar) for whom “the Israel Lobby” is an all-purpose explanation. Pillar’s comment on Freeman’s withdrawal plants the axiom that it was “the Israel Lobby” (whatever that is, you know who you are). Nevertheless, serious reporters who have looked into the question have found that the answer lies elsewhere. They do not attribute Freeman’s withdrawal to “the Israel Lobby” or to Freeman’s crackpot views regarding “the Israel Lobby.”

Before Pillar’s lament congeals into conventional wisdom, interested readers should take a look at the accounts of Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball in Newsweek and Alexander Bolton in the Hill.

UPDATE: In his interview with Robert Dreyfuss, Freeman clarifies his parting shot. He expresses his “only regret,” which is that he used the term “Israel Lobby.” Rather, Freeman says, he has decided that he is “going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby.”

Lieberman is of course the head of the Israel Beteinu Party. According to Freeman, however, “It’s the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with.” Rep. Frank Wolf, however, takes the position that Freeman did himelf in without any assistance from the Lieberman Lobby.

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