by Barry Rubin
Of course, the true answer is that Freeman did himself in. But aside from that, it is NOT true that the “Israel lobby” forced Freeman to quit. There was a very small group of private individuals with no institutional base who actually did interviewing and research to bring the facts to light. To this day, the name Projects International, Freeman’s own company that did questionable dealings with the Saudis, has not been mentioned in the mass media coverage.
Yet I believe that his inability to survive an investigation of its doings was the key factor in his downfall. I repeat that there are literally dozens of former U.S. diplomats or others who disliked or even hated Israel could have been nominated to the post and no one would have raised any objection.
Moreover, note that the Middle East establishment–neither academics nor former diplomats–came out in support of Freeman except for a handful of acquaintances. This was in no small part due to his self-chosen position as a friend of the Saudi elite while many of those who might have supported him otherwise are on the left, supporters of democracy, or advocates for the Islamists.
The real story here was the media’s refusal to cover the real story. They generally just kept repeating the mantras “anti-Israel” and “Israel lobby” while the real issue was a serious conflict of interest (not to mention his support for the Chinese government’s repression).
Note the pattern: Freeman served in high positions in two countries, then made a living out of catering to those regimes and expressing positions supporting them.
And the most damning testimony against him came from the man who might be called the highest-ranking anti-Israel official of modern American history, former Secretary of State James Baker, who was horrified by Freeman’s being an apologist for the Saudi government. (That’s something else that went unmentioned in the mass media almost without exception.)
If we contrast the real story to the media coverage, plus the media’s failure to do any real research or exposure of its own, we understand why good Internet sources are now often superior to the mass media. (Notice I said good Internet sources and not just Internet sources.)
Or as one of those involved in the Freeman issue put it, “Why can I discover this stuff out easily when highly paid full-time journalists at prestigious publications can’t seem to find out anything or even report it accurately?”
Freeman’s response to his defeat, far from being the gracious regrets of a polished diplomat, was a hate-filled, self-pitying tantrum.
Having known many current and former American diplomats, I cannot imagine one of them reacting in anything like this manner. They would have said they were sorry they were misunderstood, have always tried to serve their country to the best of their ability, and express the hope that they could show that their critics were wrong. If you read Freeman’s response, you can understand the character flaws that got him into this mess.
Whatever his personal abilities–and his friends have given him high praise for skill and intelligence–what is missing here is the professionalism that makes for an appropriate chief intelligence analyst.
Or put it this way: it doesn’t matter if someone loathes Israel, favors a strong U.S.-Saudi alliance (which I also do), or believes the U.S.-China relationship is so vital that human rights should not get in the way of it. What matters is that the person who believes those things can be trusted to evaluate information fairly and accurately, putting aside those views if U.S. interests or the facts require doing so.
Finally, let us please dispose of this urban legend that Freeman’s selection says something about the Obama Administration or the president. It does not. He was not appointed by President Obama or chosen by his personal staff. The White House distanced itself from Freeman almost immediately. That would not have happened if he was just being persecuted for anti-Israel views.
The White House knows that a complete investigation would have been a disaster for itself. In the end, the White House decided—and it was right—that this nomination was neither in its own best interests nor in the best interests of the United States. That is the only reason in the end that the nomination failed.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org