by James M. Wall
In his new book, The Inheritance, David E. Sanger describes the impact of a 140-page NIC-produced National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Bush White House just before Thanksgiving, 2007. The report was not what the war-oriented forces in the White House wanted to see. The NIE brought to a screeching halt, perhaps for years to come, any US military action against Iran.
As President Bush’s national security team gathered in the Situation Room they were given the news that the NIE had found that while Iran was indeed “racing ahead to produce fuel that would give it the capability to build a bomb, it had suspended all of its work on the actual design of a weapon in late 2003”.
We now know that much to the disappointment of the “bomb Iran” crowd in Washington, there was no longer any chance of mustering sufficient public support for any attack or invasion of Iran during 2008, the crucial presidential election year.
A previous NIE report, a disastrously wrong-headed one on Iraq in the fall of 2002, provided the Bush team with a steady drumbeat of caution. Sanger concluded that “no future NIE on weapons on mass destruction could escape from under that cloud”.
Sanger describes the National Intelligence Council (NIC) as a “small organization charged with putting together classified, consensus ‘estimates’ about the long-term security challenges facing the nation.The NIC pulls together all the intelligence data US spy agencies produce to guide the president in decisions affecting the nation’s security.
It is a little known, but extremely important part of the intelligence community.
Washington’s war-minded crowd looks at the Middle East from an Israel-centric perspective where force, not negotiations, prevail. This crowd takes its cues from US neoconservatives and the Israeli right wing political leaders, none of whom wants to hear news that discourages militant responses.
A more reasonable response to intelligence reports demands that neither opinion nor ideology should determine what the NIC delivers to the president. When intelligence data is either flawed, or distorted, the result is a tragic mistake like the invasion of Iraq.
That timely 2007 NIE report, drawn from extensive research by the intelligence communities, gave the Bush White House no option but to hold back. There would be no October surprise.
With the war drums softened, there is even better news. It now appears President Obama has decided to name Charles W. Freeman chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
Jim Lobe described the news of Freeman’s pending appointment as “stunning”. He explains why on his blog:
There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded, knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman. He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so.
But, more to the point, he was probably the most direct and outspoken — and caustic — critic of the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror,” especially of the influence of the neo-conservatives — of any former senior member of the career foreign service. His appointment constitutes a nightmare, for the Israeli right and its U.S. supporters, in particular, (and for reflexive China-bashers, as well).
Lobe cites this excerpt from a Freeman speech:
In retrospect, Al Qaeda has played us with the finesse of a matador exhausting a great bull by guiding it into unproductive lunges at the void behind his cape. By invading Iraq, we transformed an intervention in Afghanistan most Muslims had supported into what looks to them like a wider war against Islam. We destroyed the Iraqi state and catalyzed anarchy, sectarian violence, terrorism, and civil war in that country. Meanwhile, we embraced Israel’s enemies as our own; they responded by equating Americans with Israelis as their enemies. We abandoned the role of Middle East peacemaker to back Israel’s efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations.
We wring our hands while sitting on them as the Jewish state continues to seize ever more Arab land for its colonists. This has convinced most Palestinians that Israel cannot be appeased and is persuading increasing numbers of them that a two-state solution is infeasible. It threatens Israelis with an unwelcome choice between a democratic society and a Jewish identity for their state.
Now the United States has brought the Palestinian experience – of humiliation, dislocation, and death – to millions more in Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel and the United States each have our reasons for what we are doing, but no amount of public diplomacy can persuade the victims of our policies that their suffering is justified, or spin away their anger, or assuage their desire for reprisal and revenge.
Richard Silverstein writes on his blog Tikum Olam that the Freeman appointment represents
. . . the Israel lobby’s worst nightmare–that an honest broker will actually have a senior position in the administration and be able to impact U.S. policy, even in an indirect way, toward Israel.
And lest the lobby and Israel’s supporters attempt to paint any misleading picture of what this means, we need to remember that AIPAC’S boy, Dennis Ross, is about to be appointed U.S. special envoy regarding Iran. Obama has not sold his soul to the Arabs or anything like that. He’s merely attempting to do what previous U.S. presidents should do–keep a level playing field.
Israel is not used to this. It’s used to getting its way when it comes to U.S. presidents and U.S. policy. It’s used to having virtual veto power over personnel appointments it sees as potentially threatening to its interests. But it didn’t get its way on this one. And this won’t be the last time.
Politico’s Ben Smith found negative reactions to Freeman within the American Jewish community :
The pro-Israel wing of Obama’s supporters has generally been pretty happy with the state of the administration, from Hillary’s appointment to Dennis Ross’ role with Iran. George Mitchell, by downplaying Israeli settlements and stressing Iran policy yesterday, won raves from hawkish Jewish leaders.
But former AIPAC Policy Director Steve Rosen sounded a more strident tone yesterday at Laura Rozen’s report of a new head for the National Intelligence Council, calling the reported choice of Charles Freeman “alarming.”
In an Update, Smith adds: “A well-placed pro-Israel source says there’s “no amount of good will” that would soften reaction to that appointment because “they might as well have appointed Bandar.”
Freeman’s thinking is presented in a more nuanced perspective in a speech he gave on October 4, 2007, to the Pacific Council on International Policy at The American Academy of Diplomacy, in Los Angeles, California. An excerpt:
. . . The United States is the richest and most powerful nation in history. The terrorists who threaten us are a loose network of crazed fanatics inspired and sometimes directed by unkempt men living in caves in Waziristan. Remarkably, the cavemen think they’re winning. Even more remarkably, they may be right. For the United States and the American people, the world is now an increasingly dangerous place.
A good part of the reason for this is that our enemies have a strategy and we do not. Their objective is to expel us from the Middle East so that they can overthrow Arab regimes they believe depend on us and end what they regard as the corruption of Islam by the ideas of the Western Enlightenment we have traditionally exemplified. Our objective remains unclear. And the means by which we have answered our terrorist foes – with a diplomacy-free foreign policy that relies almost exclusively on military means – is demonstrably not working. Worldwide, the production of anti-American fanatics is up. . . for the full text of the speech, click here.
It is good to know that an experienced diplomat like Charles Freeman could soon be running the National Intelligence Council.