I had dinner last week with a former student who worked for Obama’s campaign and now, like millions of others, is in town to try to land an administration job. His complaint was that the administration’s vetting procedures were so thorough that they were slowing him up, a complaint that made me choke on the excellent Pomerol we’d ordered.
I thought of his complaint again today, when a friend pointed out an interesting item in the February 26, 2009, New York Review of Books: a petition calling on the U.S. to withdraw immediately and totally from Afghanistan. One signatory, predictably, was Norman Finkelstein. Another, equally predictably, was Chas Freeman. That petition was published weeks before Freeman’s name was put forward as the arbiter of U.S. intelligence assessments. Now, naturally, it would never for a moment compromise Freeman’s objectivity that his self-declared political opinions are wildly at odds with those of the administration he sought to join. Nor is there anything even slightly unseemly about a candidate for such a position publicly stating preferences that would immediately put him at partisan odds with the President. Nor, of course, need we wonder at the fact that Freeman found himself politically at home with a conspiracy theorist like Finkelstein.
But I do have to wonder about those vetting procedures. Freeman wanted the job, but it seems unlikely that he informed the administration of his publicly-expressed views. And amazingly, no one in the administration noticed them. The press doesn’t get a pass here: it’s astonishing that this publicly-available petition wasn’t immediately brought up as a reason why he was profoundly unsuited for the intelligence job.
Of course, all that may be too generous. Perhaps it’s not true that no one in the administration noticed his views about their policy. Perhaps, instead, they noticed and didn’t care. In that case, we have to ask not about the competence of their vetting process, but about the sincerity of their commitment to the war in Afghanistan.