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May 17, 2009
New NIC chief tapped?
After the brouhaha over the selection of Charles "Chas" Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council settled down following his withdrawal from the process, the situation on the ground has been quiet. The usual speculation about who would be next to serve in this powerful position has been next to non-existent.
Now comes news that this hole may be about to be filled. From the highly-regarded Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy:
Christopher Kojm, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence policy and coordination (and former deputy director of the 9/11 commission), will be named chairman of the National Intelligence Council, associates told The Cable. Kojm, another former Lee Hamilton aide on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, served as a senior advisor to the Iraq Study Group, and as a member of the national security policy review team for the Obama-Biden transition. He didn't respond to a query.
The influence of Lee Hamilton, former Congressman from Indiana, in the Obama administration is becoming more visible as the days go by. Kojm's ties to Hamilton are far more extensive than Rozen appreciates. The 9/11 Commission was co-chaired by Lee Hamilton; Kojm served on the staff of the Committee on Foreign Affairs for fourteen years under Hamilton.
David Ignatius of the Washington Post has identified Hamilton, who has no official role in the administration, as the one man that President Obama listens to on Iran. I recently wrote about Hamilton's eminence grise role in this administration. His influence will continue to widen and deepen if Kojm becomes chair of the NIC - one of the top intelligence posts in the nation. The NIC is the group that collates and synthesizes the findings from the myriad of intelligence agencies in America and prepares the final findings for the President in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The report is supposed to represent the collective wisdom of our intelligence services.
The NIC can also be politicized. Two years ago, the group produced a report dismissing concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. The report was heavily criticized for being too unconcerned about Iran - even by European nation's standards who have led the way in trying to appease the mullahs. Later, the report was found to have been drafted by a small group of people with political agendas who were opposed to George Bush's policies and wanted to pursue an appeasement approach towards Iran.
Iran is the number one geopolitical challenge facing America and its allies (including not just Israel but Arab nations, as well). The hegemonic aspirations of this nation are clear. It sponsors Hezb'allah, props up the closely allied Syrian regime, is supporting Hamas, has tried to destabilize Iraq, and is moving towards destabilizing Bahrain (site of a vital US naval base on the Persian Gulf, and a Shiite dominated nation ruled by Sunni royalty). It is also working with Hamas to serve as a spoiler in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and is even trying to destabilize Egypt - one of our closest allies in the Arab world - by its support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Foremost among the concerns regarding Iran is, of course, its never-ending quest to develop a nuclear arsenal. That would be a game-changer throughout the region and the world.
What might be the inclination of Kojn be towards Iran? Will he agree with Lee Hamilton, his mentor? Did Hamilton have a role in the tapping of Kojm for this important post? Undoubtedly yes. A maxim of Washington is that personnel is policy: one works to have ideological allies appointed to ensure policy outcomes.
Lee Hamilton has made clear his appeasement approach towards Iran.
Will his former aide follow suit?
There are insights regarding Kojm's views on foreign policy that can be gleaned from Kojm's role in formulating the Iraq Study Group report. The Iraq Study Group was chaired and led by Hamilton (and James Baker) *. The final report that was published in 2006 contained a collection of proposals to guide policy making (all of which, Baker said, had to be adopted). One of the key "recommendations" was to engage Iran and Syria in diplomacy.
Also, the ISG expanded beyond its mandate to focus solely on Iraq and sought to push the reset button for our foreign policy throughout the region.
From a previous column of mine:
While the Group was charged with analyzing the situation in Iraq, some were surprised and disturbed that the focus shifted to Israel and did so in hostile way. For example, the superb Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens took note of the fact that while most of the policies towards the "players" involved in the Middle East were couched in the language of suggestions ("should") those directed at Israel were seemingly mandatory and were characterized as orders (as in "Israel must").
The final report issued by the Iraq Study Group outraged other advisers and experts who were involved in its formulation. They felt snookered. The final report did not reflect the views of the experts and injected issues that were not even discussed by the group.
Several advisers to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group were surprised and upset by the decision of panel leaders to argue that American success in Iraq depended in part on progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.. Was anyone fingered as the "culprit (s)" behind this maneuver and manipulation?
From the Forward:
In interviews with the Forward, several of the experts who advised the panel said they were shocked that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was included in the final report, since they had been told not to address the matter in their recommendations. According to several advisers, the staffers who wrote the chapter in question were Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel with close ties to Baker, and Christopher Kojm, a former aide to Hamilton who held senior positions in the State Department and the 9/11 Commission.
Was Kojm complicit in changing the Iraq Study Group final report in ways that outraged experts who advised the group and that served to promote a particular agenda? Did these changes reflect his own views?
Will there be similar views reflected in future National Intelligence Committee findings? Will the progress of the Iranian nuclear program be minimized or ignored (the Iranian nuclear program was not touched upon in the ISG report) going forward? Will there be "findings" that become a tool to pressure Israel and that will ease the pressure on Iran? If so, these findings will certainly receive support from within the administration -- including Defense Secretary Robert Gates.**
Should it concern anyone that an important report was written to reflect the political views and agenda of a few key people? Wasn't this what happened with the previous NIC report that sought to absolve concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program? Will history repeat itself at the hands of a person who has allegedly been involved in a similar tactic in the past?
We shall see.
* The group also has been alleged to have been jerry-rigged to produce the outcome desired by its chairmen . A non-trivial bit of trivia: Chas Freeman was one of the experts relied upon to help the ISG develop their recommendations. One of the experts chosen, Ray Close, had previously made clear his views that "neo-cons" were fabricating the charge that "the evil Iranian mullahs inspired and instigated the radical Shia Islamist insurgency"(this assertion was absurd then, and even more so now. It is abundantly clear that Iran was stoking the Shia insurgency in Iraq).
** Robert Gates, now Defense Secretary, was on the eight member board of the Iraq Study Group. He has advocated engagement with Iran, has said that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon (a position at odds with a wide swath of experts), and has taken the military option for dealing with the mad mullah's nuclear program off the table. He has also warned Israel of pursuing such an option.