Commentary Magazine


We Know Nothing

Jake Tapper is the only mainstream White House reporter with the temerity to raise the Chas Freeman issue. The White House feigns ignorance about the objections to Freeman and says, via Robert Gibbs, ”I think people can be reasonably assured of where the president is on this and how he’ll be actively engaged in seeking Middle East peace.”

Well we aren’t assured of where he is because he placed someone in a high-level security role who, as Tapper points out, defended the Chinese crackdown on Tienanmen Square protesters and had a longstanding financial arrangement with the House of Saud. Throw in the fact that Freeman suggested that the U.S. bears responsibility for 9-11 and you can understand why people have questions about the president’s idea of credibility,

But aside from what Obama intends to do or not, Freeman’s appointment raises an issue that much of the press corps used to obsess over: the politicization of our intelligence agencies. The financial conflict of interest regarding Saudi Arabia is only one aspect. But more importantly, it is hard to believe that the president is going to get impartial, unpoliticized advice from Freeman. Is the man who published Mearsheimer and Walt’s screed on the “Israel Lobby” and who assessed responsibility for 9-11 as “exist[ing] in both directions” really the source of reliable judgment on national security matters? Or is he a propagandist for a particular viewpoint?

Gibbs can try a Scott McClellan “I have no clue what you mean” dodge for one presser, but I doubt the administration can successfully keep this up. For starters, there is a letter signed by nine congressmen, including the House Minority Leader John Boehner, asking the Inspector General to investigate Freeman’s financial ties to the Saudis. So if the president or Rahm Emanuel are asked directly, can they credibly deny knowledge of the controversy? The effort to appear clueless seems to be a strategy of limited utility.