Archive for the ‘National Intelligence’ Category

Off His Game

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

It is becoming clear that Barack Obama, off the teleprompter, is a genuine danger to himself and to others, notably Democrats. During the campaign, Senator Obama was mostly spot-on with his stump speeches and was adequate in the debates. Now President Obama is still in a campaign mode. But his choice of communication channels – for example Jay Leno, town hall meetings – has led to recent embarrassing gaffes.

The Los Angeles Times Not bowled over by Obama’s Special Olympics joke tells of one Obama supporter that takes umbrage with his Leno appearance

When she met Barack Obama two years ago, Caitlin Cox proudly wore the two bronze medals she had won at the Special Olympics. The then-Illinois senator grinned as she showed him pictures of her signature bubble-gum-pink bowling ball and posed for photographs with her.

Cox, who has Down syndrome, excitedly recalls that meeting each time she sees Obama’s photo on a magazine cover or hears him mentioned on TV. Her ears perked up again Friday morning as her parents discussed the president at breakfast.

Her mother, Suzanne Thompson, told her that Obama had made a joke about the Special Olympics on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday and that it might have hurt a lot of people. Cox, 21, dropped her head on the table and, after a brief silence, said the news made her sad.

Makes me sad, too. I had hoped for more. And later

Obama’s comment also hit close to home for David Axelrod, the president’s top political guru and a senior White House advisor.

Axelrod’s daughter, Lauren, is a longtime Special Olympian who has competed in swimming and track and field events.

Oh snap! Good one there, Barack.

Then, recently at a town hall meeting in California, speaking of AIG

“We had to step in, it was the right thing to do, even though it is infuriating,” Obama said, explaining why the government needed to bail out the troubled banks.

“The same is true with AIG,” he said. “It was the right thing to do to step in. Here’s the problem. It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger.”

This comes on the heels of Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) ill-advised suggestion that AIG executives commit suicide. Let’s not forget that people in the same tax bracket as AIG executives pay, by far, the lion’s share of all individual income taxes. So I’d hate for all these executives to commit suicide. It would almost certainly increase the taxes I would have to pay.

Let’s leave the “rhetorical flourishes” to Joe Biden. He has had a lifetime to perfect his standup routine. Sure Joe sticks his foot in his mouth on a routine basis; but he remains an affable figure. One or two more comments such as the Special Olympics “joke” and Obama will have to spend considerable time and energy to shake the notion that he is a complete asshat.

Crackpot Or A Loss To The Country?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Last Thursday’s Washington Post carried Intelligence Pick Blames ‘Israel Lobby’ For Withdrawal. The article tells of Charles W. Freeman, Jr.’s withdrawal for the post of chair of the National Intelligence Council. The chair is responsible for preparing reports that consolidate the views of the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. According to the article

[Freeman] decried in an e-mail “the barrage of libelous distortions of my record [that] would not cease upon my entry into office,” and he was blunt about whom he considers responsible.

“The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East,” Freeman wrote.

Referring to what he called “the Israel Lobby,” he added: “The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views.” One result of this, he said, is “the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics.”

Ahh, the conspiracies are running deep. If in doubt, blame the Israel lobby. There has been a lot of on-line chatter over the choice of Freeman by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair. Most cannot see how Blair could have possibly chosen Freeman. The main reason for this incredulity is that Freeman is on the Saudi payroll and has commercial connections to China.

But most of the online attention focused on Freeman’s work for the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that is funded in part by Saudi money, and his past critical statements about Israel. The latter included a 2005 speech he gave to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, where he referred to Israel’s “high-handed and self-defeating policies” stemming from the “occupation and settlement of Arab lands,” which he called “inherently violent.”

Is it too much to ask that the person we entrust to consolidate national intelligence is not a shill for the Middle East, which is a source for many of our threats and, presumably, the source of much of the intelligence developed by those 16 agencies?

On the same day, in the same Washington Post, there was the editorial Blame the ‘Lobby’. The Washington Post, not exactly a bastion of conservative thought, felt compelled to weigh in.

FORMER ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. looked like a poor choice to chair the Obama administration’s National Intelligence Council. A former envoy to Saudi Arabia and China, he suffered from an extreme case of clientitis on both accounts. In addition to chiding Beijing for not crushing the Tiananmen Square democracy protests sooner and offering sycophantic paeans to Saudi King “Abdullah the Great,” Mr. Freeman headed a Saudi-funded Middle East advocacy group in Washington and served on the advisory board of a state-owned Chinese oil company. It was only reasonable to ask — as numerous members of Congress had begun to do — whether such an actor was the right person to oversee the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates.

It wasn’t until Mr. Freeman withdrew from consideration for the job, however, that it became clear just how bad a selection Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair had made. Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister “Lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel — and his statement was a grotesque libel.

For the record, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee says that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman’s appointment and undertook no lobbying against him. If there was a campaign, its leaders didn’t bother to contact the Post editorial board. According to a report by Newsweek, Mr. Freeman’s most formidable critic — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — was incensed by his position on dissent in China.

But let’s consider the ambassador’s broader charge: He describes “an inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics.” That will certainly be news to Israel’s “ruling faction,” which in the past few years alone has seen the U.S. government promote a Palestinian election that it opposed; refuse it weapons it might have used for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and adopt a policy of direct negotiations with a regime that denies the Holocaust and that promises to wipe Israel off the map. Two Israeli governments have been forced from office since the early 1990s after open clashes with Washington over matters such as settlement construction in the occupied territories.

What’s striking about the charges by Mr. Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists is their blatant disregard for such established facts. Mr. Freeman darkly claims that “it is not permitted for anyone in the United States” to describe Israel’s nefarious influence. But several of his allies have made themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such charges — and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always had an eager audience here and around the world. The real question is why an administration that says it aims to depoliticize U.S. intelligence estimates would have chosen such a man to oversee them. [emphasis added]

Again, this the Post editorial board speaking here. Not some right-wing or pro-Israel blog. But there are some milling around the Washington Post that see it a little differently from the editorial board.  In The Country’s Loss, op-ed columnist David S. Broder is downright depressed at the thought of a great American such as Freeman being denied the post.

The Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place, and their friends on Capitol Hill. The country has lost an able public servant in an area where President Obama has few personal credentials of his own — the handling of national intelligence.

And later

I know it was a sudden decision because I had breakfast with him that morning. He said then that he thought he could ride out the storm caused by his outspoken comments on policy toward China and the Middle East — and the enmity that he had incurred from lobbies supporting Israel and human rights in Tibet.

And later still

As retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who appointed Freeman, told me the night before Freeman’s withdrawal, “We are so fortunate, with the challenges we face in Asia and the Middle East, that he could be persuaded to come back to government.”

None of that mattered much to the lawmakers — mostly Republicans but also some key Democrats — who joined the lobbyists in running him off. They flooded blogs and fed reporters Freeman quotes — many of them pretty startling. He once referred to a clash between Tibetan demonstrators and Chinese guards as a “race riot” and talked about Israeli efforts “to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle.”

Startling? Why, yes. And words should matter, even if we are only talking about national security. But why no mention of being on the Saudi payroll? I think that David Broder might just have a little case of man love for Freeman.

Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman