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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Newspaper stories see the light of day for all sorts of strange and inscrutable reasons. Often the nominal 'story' is like the calm or slightly rippled surface of a lake in which all sorts of hidden business is taking place beneath.

Why are you hearing about a given story now? Who dropped a dime on who? The surface story is often at least as important as the backstory. But the backstory is something you want to know too.

Here's one of those cases.

You've likely already seen or will soon see the story running in several major news outlets this evening about apparent last minute overtures that Iraq made to the US, looking for a deal just before the outbreak of the war.

The story centers on an apparent back channel (or attempted back channel) using a Lebanese-American businessman who had a relationship with an analyst in Doug Feith's shop at the Pentagon, Michael Maloof. (Richard Perle was part of the potential back channel too.)

In aftermath of 9/11, Maloof and David Wurmser were each part of a two-man team tasked by the Pentagon with finding links between Shi'a and Sunni extremist groups as well as between Islamist terrorists and secular Arab regimes. They reported finding lots of evidence. But the folks at the CIA never bought it.

Down deep in the New York Times article, there's this line contained in a parantheses: "In May, Mr. Maloof, who has lost his security clearances, was placed on paid administrative leave by the Pentagon."

There's your ripple.

And that's where I think you'll find a lot of the backstory for why we're hearing now about this business with the last-minute overture.

To start getting a feel for that backstory, see this piece from Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel from August 1st ("U.S. revokes security clearance for Pentagon employee.")

This issue of security clearances and the revocation of security clearances and investigations in the depths of the bureaucracy is an important story of which we're only getting the vaguest hints.

Late Update: Let me be a bit more clear about what I'm getting at here.

Let's say I'm a career defense bureaucrat struggling to get my security clearances restored because it's very hard for me to be a defense bureaucrat without them. And let's say one of the reasons I can't get them restored is because of some unauthorized contacts I had with a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation for running guns to Liberia. And let's further add to the mix that my whole mess with the security clearances is part of a larger struggle between different factions in the national intelligence bureaucracy. Oh, and one last thing: let's say I'm a protégé of Richard Perle.

Okay.

Now, if I'm on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn't it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?

And if that's the case, wouldn't it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?

(And as long as we're on the subject, look at all the contradictions between the Times' piece and Strobel's piece.)

Word was spread about today that the president would be giving a major speech tomorrow about democracy in the Middle East. It turns out that it'll be at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Everybody's for democracy in the Middle East these days, so far as it goes. But the question isn't what you're for so much as what and who you're against. And the word that was being bandied about was that the president would say that the longstanding US policy of supporting the region's autocracies had failed and would be ended.

That's the kernel of the neocon faith (or rather what we might call the Neocon Faith 3.0 or 3.2 or something like that) and there's more than a little to be said for it.

But who would the president call out? The Saudis? The Egyptians? We've always been against the anti-American autocracies. How about the pro-American ones? At the current moment, in a tough battle in Iraq, that would certainly be the all-or-nothing approach.

The AP has a run-down out now. And it seems it's going to be a rather more tepid affair.

Still, I think this speech will be worth reading, if only to get a glimpse into the factional in-fighting in the White House today.

See this interesting post on Muqtada al-Sadr on Juan Cole's site. An example of some seemingly successful carrots and sticks applied by the CPA. Cole's site is one of the few places online -- in English at least -- where you can find good sustained reporting on these nitty-gritty details of what's going on over in Iraq. Invaluable.

We've made our way through all the entries for the TPM 'imminent threat' contest. And we'll be announcing the winner on Friday. (So if you entered the contest a lustrous, new TPM T-shirt may be in your future!)

But to get things started, here's my new column in The Hill on the effort to convince us that all those administration leaders didn't say what everyone remembers them saying less than a year ago.

In other words, the 'imminent threat' mumbo-jumbo.

TPM tonight on the Aaron Brown show on CNN at 10 PM -- talking about the Reagan miniseries ridiculousness.

As promised in the previous post, here's a copy of the letter about possible voting irregularities in Mississippi today which Secretary of State Eric Clark sent today to Attorney General Mike Moore and the state's two US Attorneys.

The irregularities include reports that poll watchers are videotaping voters in predominantly black neighborhoods.

The Kentucky governor's race is down to the wire, with Republican candidate Ernie Fletcher having a clear, though not insurmountable, advantage going into today's voting. Says uber-election-maven Charlie Cook ...

In Kentucky, Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher appears to have a low single-digit lead over Democratic state Attorney General Ben Chandler. While a win for Chandler is still possible, the odds are higher that Fletcher, who has been the favorite, will win.


Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the other state holding a gubernatorial election today, there are reports of voting irregularities, including poll watchers videotaping voters in predominantly black neighborhoods, in direct violation of the law.

More on this in a moment.

Let's file this one <$NoAd$>under 'saving private nethercutt' ...

A couple weeks ago Congressman George Nethercutt (now running for Senate) stuck his foot in his mouth about up to his ankle when he said that the good news in the reconstruction of Iraq was "a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

Here's how the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reported it ...

Rep. George Nethercutt said yesterday that Iraq's reconstruction is going better than is portrayed by the news media, citing his recent four-day trip to the country.

"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

"It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

He added that he did not want any more soldiers to be killed.


(TPM had this comment at the time.)

Now, rather than saying he'd mischosen his words, Nethercutt's campaign spinmeisters seem to have told him that the best approach was to go on the offensive. So Nethercutt first demanded an apology and then ran a bunch of ads accusing the paper of having "massacred" his words, engaging in "deliberate distortion" and "slander[ing]" him.

And what was the full quotation, according to Nethercutt?

So the story is better than we might be led to believe in the news. I’m just indicting the news people, but it’s, it’s a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day which, which heaven forbid is awful.


Slander?

Frankly, it sounds to me like the Post-Intelligencer is mainly guilty of not being Nethercutt's flack, of not bending over backwards to save Nethercutt from his own clumsy and over-zealous repetition of the White House party line (viz, that the press is hiding the good news.)

It's awfully hard to get around his statement that the Iraqi schools reopening and other similar stuff is a "bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple soldiers every day" even if he did tag on a throwaway line about American fatalities being a terrible thing.

Today, Andrew Sullivan uses the whole imbroglio to attack Paul Krugman. Go figure ...

Okay, some follow-up on the ‘sees’ versus ‘seeks’ matter in the president’s speech before the Australian parliament last month, which is noted below.

I’ve done a little digging and here’s what I’ve found out --- some of it helpful to the White House, some not.

According to a trusted source, the prepared remarks the White House handed out at the time did indeed include the word ‘seek.’

But when the president delivered the speech he pretty clearly said ‘see’, thus changing the meaning of the statement and creating a small international hubbub. (Listen to the audio feed here.)

The White House released the transcript of the president’s speech saying ‘see.’ The official record of the Australian parliament records it as ‘see.’ Perhaps most revealing, when asked about it by members of the press, administration officials traveling with the president in Asia defended the ‘see’ statement and made no mention of the president’s having meant something different from what he said.

At some point people at the White House realized that the president had just committed a gaffe. He said ‘see’ but they had told him to say ‘seek’. And the folks at the White House seem to have reasoned, ‘hey, why are we defending this line when it’s not what he was supposed to have said in the first place?’ So they just changed the transcript to say what the president was supposed to have said rather than what he did say.

Now, is this a federal case or the end of the world? Of course not. But this White House does have a bit of a record of massaging transcripts. And at the end of the day there’s something to be said for the transcripts actually saying what the president said rather than what he was supposed to say.

Call me old-fashioned ...

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