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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The most salient point to emerge from the president's recent speech on Iraq was the new rationale he put forward for continuing to support him and his policies: effective management of his own failures.

Consider the trajectory.

Originally, the case for war was built on claims about the Iraqi regime's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its support for terrorist groups like al qaida. To a lesser degree, but with increasing force as these other rationales faded way, the case was made on the basis of democratizing and liberalizing Iraq.

As that prospect too has become increasingly distant and improbable, President Bush has taken a fundamentally different tack. His emphasis now is seldom on what good might come of his Iraq policy but rather the dire consequences of its unmitigated 'failure' or its premature abandonment.

In other words, the president now argues that he is best equipped to guard the country from the full brunt of the consequences of his own misguided actions, managerial incompetence and dishonesty.

Strip away the chatter and isn't that pretty much the argument? Who will best be able to avert the worst case scenario end result of my policy?

It has now become close to a commonplace that John Kerry's policies differ little from President Bush's. Where is the difference, we hear, since both candidates are for an openness to greater troop deployment, a fuller role for the United Nations and the country's traditional allies, and dropping support for the exilic hucksters who helped scam the country in the first place.

This is a weak argument on several grounds. But the most glaring is that what we see now isn't the president's policy. It's the president's triage -- his team's ad hoc reaction to the collapse of his policy, the rapid, near-total, but still incomplete and uncoordinated abandonment of his policy.

The president's actions, if not his words, concede that Iraq has become the geopolitical equivalent of a botched surgery -- botched through some mix of the misdiagnosis of the original malady and the incompetence of the surgeon. Achieving the original goal of the surgery is now close to an afterthought. The effort is confined to closing up as quickly as possible and preventing the patient from dying on the table. And now the 'doctor', pressed for time and desperate for insight, stands over the patient with a scalpel in one hand and the other hurriedly leafing through a first year anatomy text book.

Next up, what does 'failure' in Iraq mean?

Tomorrow's edition of This Week on ABC will have Tony Zinni debating Richard Perle on Iraq. That will definitely be worth seeing and, I expect in Perle's case, parsing.

Also note this article in Saturday's Times on the Iraq-hawk delegation which visited Condi Rice a week earlier (May 22nd) to demand an end to the administration's 'vilification' of Ahmed Chalabi. Among others, the group include Perle, Jim Woolsey and Newt Gingrich.

My kingdom to be a fly on that wall ...

I continue to think that something very important happened in this selection of Iyad Allawi. Precisely what, though, remains unclear. After all the twists and turns over the last 24 hours it seems to have been something very close to what I suggested early yesterday afternoon, a coup de main by the IGC. Or, more specifically, a coup de main launched by Allawi himself and either helped along, or facilitated or encouraged by the other members of the IGC.

Now, if the IGC were either a representative or popular body -- in other words, if it were perceived as legitimate -- that would probably be a good thing. It would be good to have them take the lead. For any sort of transition to be successful in any way, the people who become the new Iraqi government cannot simply be handed power in their own country. They must take it, assert it, probably even in some degree over and against us. If nothing else this is just a matter of national dignity, which is a key part of what we're dealing with here.

The problem is that the IGC isn't perceived as a legitimate body at all. Nor do the folks on it -- particuarly the ones most identified with us, like Chalabi and Allawi and others -- have any large followings.

So who is taking over here? And is their assertion a product of our disarray?

The Times and the Post are now out with two articles each on the still-obscure acclamation of Iyad Allawi as the soon-to-be-appointed Prime Minister of Iraq. With all the new facts contained in these four pieces, the real picture remains deeply muddled.

Some mix of Allawi himself and at least some actors in the US governmnet appear to have been behind the unexpected turn of events. The one thing that seems clear was that Brahimi was sidelined. And thus the Brahimi 'process' on which the White House placed so much importance only days ago is, if not out the window, then at least fundamentally changed.

More on this soon.

Still the more confusion over <$NoAd$>Allawi.

The latest from Reuters appears to directly contradict the report from the New York Times ...

From the Times, filed two hours ago ...

The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, and the governing council was then summoned to be informed of the choice. The council more or less showed its approval, some officials said, with one member saying the decision was unanimous. But other people said a vote did not really take place, because the decision had already been made.


From Reuters, posted 30 minutes ago ...

The United Nations, called in by Washington to help shape the new interim government, was caught off guard when the Governing Council announced Allawi had been chosen, but said it respected the decision.

"It's not how we expected it to happen," chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

"(U.N. envoy Lakhdar) Brahimi respects the decision and is prepared to work with this person on the selection of the other posts in this interim government," said Eckhard.

An official in President Bush's administration said: "We thought (Allawi) would be an excellent prime minister. ... I think that this is going to work."


How do we square these two stories?

Late Update: Not only does the center not hold. Dexter Filkins doesn't either. Here's the revised version of that graf from the Times story ...

The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made with the approval of Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, though it was unclear how enthusiastic his support was. At United Nations headquarters in New York, officials contended that they were caught unawares by the announcement but said that they endorsed the choice.


So this was foisted on Brahimi, though he seems to have consented to it.

So whose idea was this? Where did the push come from? And who are the sources for the multiple conflicting stories?

This still seems strange.

As the Allawi story has progressed over the course of the afternoon, it now seems clear not only that Brahimi and the US approve the choice but that Brahimi may have dictated the choice to the IGC.

Here is the key graf in a new article out in the Times ...

The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, and the governing council was then summoned to be informed of the choice. The council more or less showed its approval, some officials said, with one member saying the decision was unanimous. But other people said a vote did not really take place, because the decision had already been made.


Now, here's what strikes me as odd about this.

First, Brahimi had made clear he didn't <$Ad$>want a 'politician' for the slot and that he wanted to sideline people from the IGC.

Of course, things change. If nothing else, the last year in Iraq has demonstrated that fairly clearly. And the US government seemed to be making some headway in arguing that an apolitical technocrat simply wouldn't provide the sort of ballast for a caretaker government that will be needed in such a moment of crisis and instability.

So, in itself, that he would shift gears in this way is not so difficult to believe.

But there's something else that seems still stranger. One thing that is almost universally acknowledged is that the IGC is unpopular. It's seen as a proxy for the Americans and in that sense a tool of the occupation. Indeed, that seemed to be at the forefront of Brahimi's thinking.

If that's so, why would he introduce his pick for Prime Minister, not by announcing it himself, but by having it rubber-stamped (as the Times suggests) by the IGC, and then letting the news dribble out that he -- i.e., Brahimi -- was behind the decision? That seems like something you would do if the group doing the rubber-stamping had a great deal of legitimacy or popular support. In that case, the endorsement would add to the legitimacy of the pick.

But we've been led to believe that Brahimi believes just the opposite. Thus, introducing his pick of Allawi in this way seems like a good way to hobble or delegitimize him.

I'm not doubting the Times' reporting. Nor am I questioning that this is what happened. Something, though, just doesn't seem to fit.

The story changes. An updated article from the Post says that: "Officials of the United States, the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council appear to have settled on Ayad Allawi, a leader of one of the major Iraqi exile organizations, as Iraq's interim prime minister."

The key line comes four grafs in: "The vote followed a private endorsement of Allawi by Lakhdar Brahimi ... according to a U.N. official who requested anonymity because no formal announcement has been made yet."

Clearly something is amiss with this announcement that the IGC has nominated Iyad Allawi to be the new Iraqi Prime Minister after June 30th.

The country could do far worse than Allawi. But the Brahimi plan was supposed to push aside members of the IGC for key posts in the new government. And, more pointedly, not one article I've seen has the same set of facts about just what happened.

This late article from Reuters says that the IGC has spoken, and that the US and Brahimi have endorsed the choice.

MSNBC runs an AP story which says that the US is not endorsing the choice, while a spokesman for Brahimi says he "welcomes and respects the choice of Mr. Allawi" but would not say that he endorses it.

The Washington Post, in a story posted about 90 minutes ago, said that Bremer and Brahimi were there during the vote and congratulated Allawi. But in most respects the Post follows the MSNBC/AP line.

A spokesman for the IGC said Brahimi and the US were on board. Brahimi seems to deny that. And a UN spokesman in New York said he couldn't confirm whether or not Brahimi had endorsed Allawi. In other words, he didn't seem to know quite what had happened.

Needless to say, with such conflicting accounts, it is hard to say quite what transpired. But the contradictory accounts suggest confusion and uncertainty among the key players over just what happened and precisely how to respond.

In other words, they were caught off-guard by an IGC coup de main, a sort of media-political putsch on the part of the IGC. With the US-Brahimi process stumbling over the UN representative's inability to find candidates acceptable to all parties, the IGC jumps into the breach, pushing one of their number, hoping to make that nomination stick, knowing that the Brahimi-US plan seems to be foundering and that time is running out.

Is that really how it is?

There are a handful of articles out yesterday or today in which various partisans of Ahmed Chalabi claim that top level government officials say that the spying charges against Ahmed Chalabi are not to be taken seriously --- they're merely the product of bureaucratic infighting within the US government, payback from his enemies at State and CIA.

I have sources too. And I hear quite the opposite. From what I'm told, what really cooked Chalabi's goose was that the evidence against him was sufficiently damning that his one-time advocates and protectors inside the government -- folks very high up the ladder -- simply washed their hands of him, wouldn't try to defend him.

Another point: look at these sorta-kinda defenses of Chalabi and you'll often see the argument that Chalabi's main enemies at the State Department and the CIA -- particularly at State -- are hopeless hypocrites because, while attacking Chalabi for his contacts with the Iranians, they are the very ones who endorse fuller engagement with the Iranians. (A finger is often stuck in the eye of Armitage at State.) So why can't Chalabi talk with the Iranians when these jokers have been saying we should do that for some time?

Why do inane arguments like this even catch flight out of the mouths of their proponents?

This is a logic that can't distinguish between Alger Hiss (notorious spy) and Henry Kissinger (signature detentist). Does this one even require explanation?

Let's remember that nothing is proven against Chalabi specifically at this point. Even the charges and claims are coming to us through the press. And engagement or non-engagement with Iran is a legitimate question of policy. But can't we all agree that there is a rather clear-cut distinction between a policy of 'engagement' with the Iranians on the one hand and acting as double agents for them on the other?

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