Fred Kaplan at Slate has another perspective on the Chas Freeman withdrawal: He thinks that Obama made the right decision in letting Freeman go, not because Freeman was unqualified to be the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, but because his status as a contentious figure would have made him a lightning rod for any of Obama’s foreign policy that the pro-Israel lobby (and possibly the anti-China lobby, I guess) didn’t like.
On Tuesday, Adm. [Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence] testified that the Iranians have neither enriched their uranium to the point where it can be used as a weapon nor decided whether to enrich it any further—that is, whether to build nuclear weapons at all. Blair is respected in all quarters. Some senators may not have liked this assessment—it implies that the Iranian threat isn’t so clear, much less urgent—but they had to treat it seriously, given the source. However, if Freeman were NIC director, Blair’s words would have been received with cocked eyebrows and howls of protest over “the politicization of intelligence.”
If Obama wants to change foreign policy in controversial ways, intelligence will play a supporting role—and that means it will have to be, and appear to be, purer than usual. Can anyone name the last two or three NIC chairmen? (I can’t.) They aren’t high-profile figures, and there’s a reason for that.
Fred Kaplan is a great journalist. I always read his columns in Slate and trust him. But he sometimes sound as though he thinks Obama can do no wrong. (Frank Rich is the same way.) It’s possible that he’s right about the President dropping Freeman because he wants as much political capital as he can have as he tries to restore the role of diplomacy in the Middle East. It’s also possible that the White House just didn’t want to deal with controversy.