As first reported by Laura Rozen and subsequently confirmed by Chris Nelson, it appears that Chas Freeman has been appointed chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the body that is charged by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) with synthesizing the analyses of the entire U.S. intelligence community and producing National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) — the most famous of which was the December 2007 NIE on Iran’s nuclear program that put paid to the hopes of hawks who favored a military action against Tehran — that are used to guide policymakers on critical issues facing U.S. security.
To me, this is a stunning appointment. There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded (just look at this bio here), knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman. He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so. But, more to the point, he was probably the most direct and outspoken — and caustic — critic of the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror,” especially of the influence of the neo-conservatives — of any former senior member of the career foreign service. His appointment constitutes a nightmare, for the Israeli right and its U.S. supporters, in particular, (and for reflexive China-bashers, as well).
For a taste of both his rhetorical style and his politics, see, for example, this speech he gave to the U.S. Information Agency Alumni Association two years ago or, better yet, this one to the Pacific Council on International Policy in October 2007 in which he says:
“In retrospect, Al Qaeda has played us with the finesse of a matador exhausting a great bull by guiding it into unproductive lunges at the void behind his cape. By invading Iraq, we transformed an intervention in Afghanistan most Muslims had supported into what looks to them like a wider war against Islam. We destroyed the Iraqi state and catalyzed anarchy, sectarian violence, terrorism, and civil war in that country.
Meanwhile, we embraced Israel’s enemies as our own; they responded by equating Americans with Israelis as their enemies. We abandoned the role of Middle East peacemaker to back Israel’s efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations. We wring our hands while sitting on them as the Jewish state continues to seize ever more Arab land for its colonists. This has convinced most Palestinians that Israel cannot be appeased and is persuading increasing numbers of them that a two-state solution is infeasible. It threatens Israelis with an unwelcome choice between a democratic society and a Jewish identity for their state. Now the United States has brought the Palestinian experience – of humiliation, dislocation, and death – to millions more in Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel and the United States each have our reasons for what we are doing, but no amount of public diplomacy can persuade the victims of our policies that their suffering is justified, or spin away their anger, or assuage their desire for reprisal and revenge.”
He doesn’t pull punches.