THE PLANK MARCH 4, 2009
TNR Contributing Editor Eli Lake breaks some important news in the Washington Times today: an independent inspector general will be investigating the selection of Chas Freeman--former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, president of the Saudi-funded Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), and enthusiastic proponent of the Tiananmen Square massacre--as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The investigation follows bipartisan congressional calls for an explanation as to how and why Freeman would be chosen for such a sensitive, high-level position.
While it's known that the MEPC received a $1 million donation from the Saudi prince whose money Rudy Giuliani famously refused after 9/11, Lake reveals that the Council's 2006 tax forms show eleven donors who contributed more than $2.7 million that year. The Council refused to share the names of those donors with Lake, but it'll be interesting to see what the inspector general turns up in his investigation.
Nor will Freeman's ties to the Saudi government be the only subject under examination. As Marty mentioned a few days ago, Freeman sits atop the board of the China National Offshore Oil company, a government-owned company with major investments in Sudan and Iran.
On Tuesday, Robert Gibbs gave a very mealy-mouthed response when questioned about the selection, and there's some reason to believe, especially in light of Lake's story, that it will not go through. For instance, Lake reveals that National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair did not seek White House approval before making the appointment, leaving open the possibility that more senior level administration officials could scotch it.
In thinking about the selection, I'm reminded of how Obama and many of his supporters responded to Charlie Black, a high-ranking McCain foreign policy advisor who had done consulting work for the Burmese military junta. Liberal critics demanded that McCain fire Black and any other McCain aides who had consulted for unsavory regimes (and not unsavory ones as well; contemptibly, the Obama campaign repeated Kremlin talking points about Randy Scheunemann, who has worked on-and-off for the government of Georgia). Here, however, we are not talking about campaign advisors but the soon-to-be lead author of intelligence reports for officials in the highest reaches of government. And the individual in question, aside from his frankly odious and objectively pro-totalitarian political sympathies, had and has very clear pecuniary relationships with foreign governments that do not exactly share the values of the country he's been tapped to serve. Meanwhile, the reaction from the left to all this, with the exception of a few people at this publication, has ranged mostly from silence to enthusiastic support. One can only hope that the White House will do away with this "ideological fanatic" by giving him the Zinni treatment.