It is May 2000. You are Bill Clinton, contemplating what you still might achieve in the Middle East in your last eight months in the White House. You call in one of your intelligence chiefs, and ask a bottom-line question. Where is the Middle East headed? Your wise man gives you this answer:
I believe that over the coming year there will be some sort of Arab-Israeli peace. Israel will then reach out first to Iran and then to Iraq, in its own interest. If Israel does that, it will partially cure the frontal lobotomy that we are about to inflict on ourselves with this election. Then possibilities for movement in American relations with first Iran and then Iraq may well emerge.
You shrug off the bit about the lobotomy—it’s just his colorful way of describing the effect on Washington of every change in administration. But the rest is eye-popping—enough that you say to yourself, maybe I should throw my presidential weight into getting that Arab-Israeli peace. After all, you’ve just been told that it’s coming, and that anything is possible if you can get it. Israel will reach out to Saddam’s Iraq! And even to Iran! Think of the possibilities. So you say to yourself: if the Israelis come with a plan for the big breakthrough, I’ll run with it. Keep Camp David stocked with non-alcoholic beverages.
One year later, you’re out of office, nursing a massive regret that you ever allowed yourself to believe that any of this fairy tale was true. You pushed, alright—and you helped to push Israelis and Palestinians into the abyss. They weren’t ready for a peace deal, especially that jerk Arafat. And Saddam and the Iranians? Your failure has emboldened them. You scratch your head, wondering where you first heard that fantastic sky’s-the-limit prognosis.
From Chas Freeman. No, he wasn’t an intel chief in May 2000, he was just running his Middle East Policy Council. I made up the scenario—but not the quote. Freeman made that exact prediction on a panel he chaired in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 4, 2000. The National Intelligence Council (NIC)—which Freeman has been appointed to chair—is the nation’s chief crystal-baller. The NIC is supposed to look into the future—sometimes as far as fifteen years. It would be good to have someone with an unbroken record of on-spot predictions in that job. Freeman is freethinking, alright. Maybe that’s why his record is broken.
Update, late afternoon, March 10: This announcment is just in: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”