Charles Freeman's withdrawal from consideration to lead the National Intelligence Council (NIC) has plenty of tongues clucking in Washington, not the least of which is Freeman's.
Critics expressed concern about Freeman's suitability for the intelligence job and pointed to a series of past statements and associations that they argued should give the administration pause. Among them, his criticism of Israel, his ties to the Saudi Arabian government (where he used to serve as U.S. ambassador) and his statements about China's handling of the 1989 Tiananman Square protests ("a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action").
Leaders of the Tiananman Square protests wrote to President Obama to "to convey our intense dismay" at Freeman's selection.
In a statement published by the Wall Street Journal, Freeman said he was victimized by an "effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility." Leading that campaign? The Israel lobby, Freeman said.
True, supporters of Israel from Charles Schumer (D-NY) to former American-Israel Public Affairs Committee director Steve Rosen criticized the Freeman selection and worked to undermine it. But the criticism was far more widespread than Freeman and his allies care to acknowledge.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote to President Obama, citing Freeman's work on an advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. The company, in which the Chinese government holds a significant stake, has a "substantial investment in Sudan's oil sector has served as the lifeline to the regime of President Omar al Bashir, recently indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity."
A dozen other congressmen and women wrote to the Inspector General in the office of the National Intelligence Director seeking a review of Freeman's ties to the Saudi government. The Saudis provided financial support to the Middle East Policy Council, which Freeman previously led. That review likely won't be completed now.
In his statement, Freeman insisted he was beholden to no government or interest. But, in a Journal column before the withdrawal, Brett Stephens expressed skepticism:
"Whatever the case, Mr. Freeman has been among the Kingdom's most devoted fans, going so far as to suggest that King Abdullah 'is very rapidly becoming Abdullah the Great.' No sycophancy there."
Washington Times reporter Eli Lake quoted Tom Malinowski, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, criticizing the administration for failing to "weigh the message sent by choosing someone who has so consistently defended and worked for the clenched fists the president so eloquently challenged in his inaugural address."
Freeman had plenty of supporters and critics. Their motivations were quite varied.