A recent New York Times Magazine article quoted President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, boasting of the administration’s ability to manipulate the media into creating an “echo chamber” to sell the Iran Deal. Rhodes also caused a stir by caustically dismissing the putatively hawkish foreign policy establishment in the capital as “the Blob” – prompting a debate about Obama’s record in foreign affairs which was the focus of a Financial Times story on May 13th (Barack Obama’s camp tilts at foreign policy – pay wall).
The article, by FT journalist Geoff Dyer, quoted a few US foreign policy experts to contextualize the debate over Obama’s view on the Washington foreign policy establishment, including the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman:
Chas Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, believes Mr Obama is right to talk about an ineffective playbook, especially on Middle East policy. “Those who argue for more of the same must explain why what we have been doing has not made things better,” he says. “We need a better answer than the usual Beltway one of reinforcing failure with more money and redoubled effort.
“It is probably true of continental powers that their capitals become a bubble where external reality becomes less important than internal political balance,” says Mr Freeman, whose views on Israel cost him a nomination to a senior position in the Obama administration.
However, the issues which forced Freeman to withdraw his candidacy for chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in 2009 did not merely pertain to his views on Israel. Questions about his nomination were raised over the fact that he had praised former Saudi King Abdullah as “Abdullah the Great” and reportedly maintained financial ties to the country. Even more troubling to those following the saga, were comments he made about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which he actually criticized the Chinese government…for showing too much restraint on demonstrators!
Concerning Israel, contrary to what Dyer suggests, objections centered around more than just his views on Jerusalem’s policies. Freeman was widely criticized due to his suggestion that the attacks on 9/11 were brought about by US support for Israel and his suggestion that the Israel lobby controls debate in Washington. Questions were also raised over his reference to Hamas as a “legitimate movement for Palestinian independence” that has shown “principled and disciplined restraint.”
Tellingly, Freeman’s forays into antisemitic tropes were not one-offs.
Upon withdrawing from consideration for the job of Chair of the NIC, he again decried the Israel lobby’s supposed control over the US political process and accused American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty in decrying their putative efforts to enforce “adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Further, in a post he published at the extremist blog Mondoweiss in 2010, Freeman implicitly justified global antisemitism, characterizing it as merely the inevitable response to Jewish support for Israel’s “apartheid” policies.
As commentator Jon Chait observed about Freeman at the time of his nomination, summing up his views on China, Saudi Arabia and the ‘Israel lobby’, the problem wasn’t due to his views on Israel per se – as the Financial Time now claims – but that he was shown to be something of an “ideological fanatic”.