It’s quite clear that a major battle has erupted over the appointment of Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which, among other things, is charged with putting together the consensus judgments, called National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on key issues of the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Today, in what was described as upping the ante, the seven Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed their “surprise” at the appointment in a letter to the man who appointed Freeman, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Adm. Dennis Blair, and threatening to “devote even more oversight scrutiny to the activities of the NIC under (Freeman’s) leadership.” (The wording — and the fact that the seven didn’t mention the alleged conflict of interest regarding Freeman’s ties to Saudi Arabia, but only his “highly controversial statements about China and Israel” — suggested to me that they believe that Blair has no intention of seeking Freeman’s withdrawal, which is perhaps an overly hopeful interpretation on my part.)
In any event, as readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of Chris Nelson, who puts out the highly regarded insider newsletter, The Nelson Report. Well, Monday’s edition of the Report reports that Freeman’s controversial statement about the repression of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989 — which was apparently leaked to Freeman’s critics from a subscriber to a private listserv — has been taken completely out of context. Here is what Nelson wrote this evening:
“Unscrupulous opponents have given sections of the memo to gullible commentators with the lie…no other word for it…that it is Freeman talking for himself, with his personal views and analysis of Chinese government actions in 1989.
“In fact, as any reputable China person could have told the non-expert commentators, the Freeman memo, on a now-defunct China listserve, was Chas’s very accurate summation of CHINESE government analysis of what happened, why, and what lessons should be drawn from it.
“And as the conclusion of the memo makes clear, Freeman was personally heart-broken with the policies implemented, and the deaths, possibly in the many thousands, which ensued.”
Now, I haven’t seen the memo myself, so I must take Chris’ word for what it said. But I also have no reason to doubt that he has reported Freeman’s original message accurate. And knowing Chris’ remarkably generous and forgiving nature toward Washington players of all ideological stripes and hues, I would have to say that his use of words like “unscrupulous” and “lie” to describe, respectively, the character of those who have distorted Freeman’s message and how it has been distorted, fairly leaped out at me from my computer screen as I was reading the Report. This is not Chris’ standard fare.
The notion that Freeman would indeed feel downcast, realist though he may be, by the 1989 repression also does not strike me as unlikely, based on my own much more limited knowledge of and contact with him. I know that one of the diplomatic achievements of which he is most proud was his role in the late 1980’s in negotiating the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of South African forces from what had previously been its colony, a major step not only in pacifying and stabilizing a violence-torn region (Cuban troops were required to withdraw from Angola as part of the agreement), but also toward the abandonment of apartheid by the Afrikaaner-led government just a few years later. Freeman’s interest in decolonization, which, as I understand it, dates from his graduate studies in Latin America, may to some extent help explain his ability to empathize with Palestinians, even as he clearly worries, as any close reading of his statements on that issue would indicate, about the ultimate fate of Israel if it proves unable or unwilling to make peace with all of its Arab neighbors.