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2009-03-17

Washington Post Shows Its Hand


Philip Giraldi

The Washington Post is apparently losing lots of money and may close in the foreseeable future, barring a deus ex machina intervention by some foreign billionaire such as saved the New York Times. While the decline of newspapers worldwide is regrettable, the Post's troubles are really good news, and bankruptcy would be a richly deserved fate for a rag that has been an enabler of every neocon fantasy for the past 20 years. Imagine no longer having to enjoy Charles Krauthammer, Fred Kagan, John Bolton, Bill Kristol, and Robert Kaplan with your morning coffee.

The Post's particular veneration for all things Israeli goes back quite a ways. Long-time readers can well recall the odious Herblock cartoons depicting Arabs as Dracula clones dressed in bedsheets and carrying bloody knives, while Israelis were always depicted as pleasant-looking, peaceful chaps just like you and me. It was almost like having the movie Exodus on a printed page.

The paper's recent editions provide a number of excellent reasons why the good old WaPo should share the fate of the dodo. A major story on March 11 was the victory of the Israeli lobby in forcing Ambassador Charles Freeman to drop out of the running for head of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC's most important function is to supervise the production of the National Intelligence Estimates, or NIEs, which are the finished intelligence reports that policymakers can generally rely on to provide the best, most up-to-date information on specific issues and countries. Freeman, who is a polyglot with extensive experience in many parts of the world, including the Middle East and Asia, was nominated for the position by Adm. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence. Freeman was eminently qualified, and the job is not particularly political, but red flags immediately went up because he had been critical of Israel, noting, for example, that the national interests of the United States and Israel might not be exactly the same. This caused major heartburn in Congress and the media. Such stalwarts of liberty and free expression as Senators Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman and Representatives Steve Israel and Shelley Berkley immediately scented the blood in the water. Lieberman feared that Freeman would not be able to "separate his policy views from the analysis he's very opinionated."

National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and the other usual suspects all quickly climbed on board. A core group of Republican congressmen was not found wanting as the threat posed by an independent minded Freeman became evident, particularly as the congressmen in question are major recipients of pro-Israel money. And then there were the evangelicals, four-square for Israel as they wait for the Rapture. The crudity and viciousness of the attack on Freeman was unusual even for the Lobby and its friends, who are accustomed to character assassination and hardball tactics. To avoid the obvious conclusion that it was all about Israel, critics went after Freeman for his connections to Saudi Arabia, where he served as ambassador, and his views on China. It was alleged, inaccurately, that Freeman had taken Saudi money. To prove that Freeman sympathized with Chinese human rights violations, a personal e-mail he wrote some years ago was deliberately taken out of context and misquoted.

But anyone who followed the flood of criticism knew that it really was all about Israel in spite of the smoke being generated, bringing to the fore every congressman and media pundit who places Israel first. Freeman was not exactly accused of being an anti-Semite, but make no mistake, that argument would have come out soon enough in hints and nudges. After the fact, Freeman's resignation letter, in which he blasted the Lobby's plumbing "the depths of dishonor and indecency," was quickly denounced by AIPAC director William Daroff as anti-Semitic.

In the lead-up to the resignation, Rep. Israel (Steve, not the country) and Sen. Schumer went personally to the White House to explain to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the assignment would not be acceptable. When the withdrawal was announced, the congressman said the departure of Freeman would preserve the "impartiality of U.S. intelligence," by which he presumably meant that all information would henceforth be checked in Tel Aviv for accuracy and relevance. The senator, who only occasionally recalls that his constituency is in the United States, was not to be left out. He positively crowed on his Web site about Freeman's withdrawal, posting, "Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing."

So AIPAC wins big-time yet again and sticks it to the American people, or at least to those Americans who oppose an endless series of wars in the Middle East to defend Israel's right to punish the Palestinians in perpetuity. The Washington Post placed the March 11 article on Freeman on page A4 and assigned the demolition job to Walter Pincus. Lest there be any confusion, the article was headlined "Impartiality Questioned, Intelligence Official Quits," telling the reader that this was not a hatchet job by AIPAC but rather a question of the objectivity of the victim. In the Post's view, both it and the U.S. government have always been scrupulously neutral on issues relating to Israel, and anyone who questions the relationship must do so because he lacks "impartiality." The article cited numerous critics of Freeman while not once mentioning the sustained and vicious campaign that had been mounted against him by the Israel Lobby.

As is often the case, the Lobby was the 600-pound gorilla in the room that was apparently invisible to Pincus and the Post editors. But the Internet furor about the blocked appointment was such that the Post felt it necessary to follow up the initial coverage with a second piece by Pincus, "Intelligence Pick Blames 'Israel Lobby' for Withdrawal," the next day. In it, Pincus told some of the story that he studiously ignored before but maintained that the Freeman appointment was derailed due to China and Saudi Arabia: "the controversy was broader than Middle East politics." Pincus presented in full the Israel Lobby's protestations that it had nothing to do with it.

The Post featured separate editorials on the day the Freeman story broke, March 11, and the following day. The first was "Time to Call It Quits," subtitled "The Justice Department should drop its misguided prosecution of two former AIPAC officials." It argued that the Obama administration "should put an end to a criminal case that should never have been brought," and it expressed no regret about AIPAC's role in the violation of the Espionage Act through passage of information known to be classified to Israel. Ironically, with that editorial, that day's edition successfully came full circle, as it was about the man who spearheaded the drive to nail Charles Freeman. Steve Rosen, one of the indicted ex-AIPAC officials, should be going to jail for a long time. Instead, he turned himself into a political commentator, writing 17 blog posts in 19 days attacking Freeman.

An editorial on the following day, "Blame the Lobby," subtitled "The Obama administration's latest failed nominee peddles a conspiracy theory," continued the trashing of Freeman, calling him a "poor choice" while virtually denying that there is any such thing as an Israel lobby. To make sure readers got the message, the Holocaust and a nuclear-armed Iran were cited along the way. An op-ed two days later by Republican Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia repeated the editorial line, even alleging that Freeman is a supporter of Darfur genocide, Chinese human rights violations, and Islamic fundamentalism. This was followed by a Charles Lane opinion piece in the Sunday edition, which asserted that "the president needs to knock Freeman's insinuations down hard." Nowhere was there any suggestion that Freeman might have had a legitimate point about the Israel lobby and how it operates.

It is pathetic to witness how Steve Rosen was able to lead a lynch mob that went after a good and honorable man who believes that the United States' national interest should come before Israel's, but there is something even worse about a sanctimonious "newspaper of record" that aids and abets the crime. The story is all too characteristic of a Washington in which AIPAC calls the shots and the media willingly becomes an accomplice.

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  • Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and a fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance.

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