Obama pick quits over Israel lobby
Date : 13/03/2009
The candidate for a leading US intelligence post has withdrawn his nomination after accusing the country‘s Israel lobby of plumbing "the depths of dishonour and indecency" to assassinate his character.
Charles "Chas" Freeman, a former US ambassador who is now president of the Middle East Policy Council think-tank, had initially agreed to chair the US National Intelligence Council that produces assessments of security issues.
But on Tuesday he withdrew his nomination following what he called a "barrage of libellous distortions" of his record by the Israel lobby in the US.
"The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired," Freeman said.
"The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the wilful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.
"The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favours."
Setback for Obama
Opponents were quick to point out that Freeman‘s withdrawal was merely the latest in a string of personnel setbacks for Barack Obama as the president struggles to staff his administration.
Pete Hoekstra, the leading Republican on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said this was "yet another breakdown in the Obama administration vetting process - one more in a long series of missteps".
Freeman, who in 2007 said "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending", was criticised by some in the US congress for remarks seen as critical of Israel.
But he countered in an email to supporters on Tuesday: "It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends."
Max Blumenthal, a blogger and journalist for the Daily Beast website who has been following Freeman‘s nomination process, told Al Jazeera that his withdrawal was "a catastrophic defeat for the Obama administration".
"What happened is the Israel lobby won," he said.
"What [Freeman] said that I think is most remarkable in his statement, is that apparently the Obama administration will not be able to dictate its own Mideast policy and he places the blame for this squarely on the Israel lobby."
Blumenthalsaid that the Israel lobby had "been furiously emailing sympathetic reporters, smearing him [Freeman] in public" and that "political decisions came into play with respect to [Freeman‘s] views on Israel and essentially his appointment was torpedoed".
This was the Israel lobby‘s "first all-out fusillade and they succeeded because they knew that Freeman would be dispensable to political elements in the White House that needed to court the Israel lobby, needed their money for senate races", he said.
Freeman is a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has also served as an assistant secretary of defence and a senior US diplomat in China.
Admiral Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director who chose Freeman for the council position, had defended him in congress on Tuesday as a man of "strong views, of an inventive mind and the analytical point of view".
Blair said he preferred that to "pre-cooked, pabulum judgments".
But Freeman‘s perceived criticisms of Israel along with his ties with China and Saudi Arabia, stirred controversy.
Freeman served on the international advisory board of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation when it made its 2005 bid for US oil firm Unocal that was thwarted by US congressional protest.
His Washington-based Middle East Policy Council think-tank received funding from Saudi Arabia.
Freeman said he had resigned from all his private positions when he decided to accept the intelligence council post.
After Freeman‘s withdrawal, Blair‘s office said he accepted his decision "with regret".
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies