The one thing I've learned about Obama is that he's smarter - both intellectually and politically - than most of us. He knows that a central test of his time in office will be managing the Middle East. He knows too that any grand bargain will require some push-back on Israel's occupation of the West Bank. But at every time, the Israel lobby has challenged him directly to reassert that no change will occur in the US-Israel relationship, he has backed the AIPAC line 110 percent.

He did so by firing Robert Malley; he did so by hiring Dennis Ross on the Iran question; by hiring Clinton as secretary-of-state; and by humiliating his own intelligence chief, Dennis Blair, on Freeman.

But if you know Obama, you know he always gives away the shop-window to his opponents, while retaining the store for his own counsel. I believe he has the national interest at heart and genuinely wants to assess intelligence with as much open-mindedness as possible. He will be denied a true contrarian to challenge the old way of thinking, but I have faith that he will not be bamboozled by groupthink the way Bush was.

Dennis Blair has also been humiliated - publicly, by both the Israel lobby and by the White House. He may react to that humiliation by surrendering independent judgment, or by being even more skeptical of the forces that demanded Freeman's smearing and removal from government. I suspect the latter. Be careful what you ask for ...

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