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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Check out this article by UPI's Eli Lake on the growing split between the US and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), particularly as that rift came out into the open in New York this week.

This question has so many moving parts -- who should have authority over the ministries, who doles out the contracts, whether the IGC really has that much more legitimacy than Bremer -- that it's awfully hard to make heads or tails of. But I'm quite skeptical that a quick move to devolve control to this IGC would be a good idea.

On this issue, if on few others, I think the administration is right.

Presidents can do a lot worse than 49% approval a year before they face reelection -- as NBC is reporting for President Bush tonight.

In fact, I'm pretty sure the last two presidents who won second terms (Reagan in 1983 and Clinton in 1995) were doing worse a year out. But the key here is that the president's numbers seem to be in something close to free-fall. His approval ratings have fallen roughly 20 percentage points in four months. And both Reagan and Clinton were on the rebound at the time.

Even with all the context which may be fairly provided (like the fact that the 70+ numbers were part of a post-war spike), the president's rapid descent is undeniable. And it's not clear he's hit bottom.

I'm hearing many conservatives say now that the White House political office is off their game. But I see no real evidence of this. The problem is more fundamental. For quite some time this White House has functioned like a heavily leveraged business, an overextended investor that suddenly gets a margin call. To extend the business metaphor, the White House has been surviving not on profits but expectations of future profits or, in other words, credibility. The White House has been able to get the public to sit tight with a lot of objectively poor news (a poor economy, big deficits, bad news from abroad) on the basis of trust.

But a combination of the manifest incompetence of the planning for post-war Iraq and the dishonesty of the build-up for the war have become increasingly difficult to defend or deny. And that's struck a grave blow against the president's credibility.

Credibility of course is unitary. And the erosion has ricocheted from foreign policy to domestic policy and back again in escalating fashion. Suddenly the White House's explanations for why the country has fallen back into half trillion dollar deficits are ringing hollow.

As we've seen recently, a hollowed-out company can push along for some time so long as no one takes a good look at the books or calls in their loans. But when it happens the fall can be dramatic.

More talk, more diversion.

In President Bush's speech at the UN yesterday many took note of his call for a "new anti-proliferation resolution" to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Now it's becoming clear that that was just a throwaway line meant for domestic consumption, one fashioned by speechwriters rather than policy-makers and intended to give Americans the impression that the president was pushing some sort of new UN-friendly, multilateral intitiative.

Not true. Apparently the policy-makers and diplomats knew nothing about it until the words came off the president's lips.

As the AP noted with gentle understatement: "U.S. and British diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were surprised by Bush's call for a weapons resolution and that Tuesday was the first time they had heard about the idea."

(We'll be linking to another story soon with further reporting on this.)

What's more, the actual counter-proliferation experts say such a resolution would be close to meaningless since the key controls and restrictions are already covered by existing treaties.

Needless to say, the folks in the hall knew this. This was for domestic consumption, some padding spun up by speechwriters to balance out the speech.

More talk, more diversion, more denial.

Don't miss this post at Juan Cole's site about the new plan to privatize Iraq's economy.

More on the UN speech and a White House in denial -- my new column in The Hill.

Or maybe not ...

David Kay is in charge of our effort now, with some 1,500 inspectors and analysts and experts. He will provide an interim report later this month, and I am confident when people see what David Kay puts forward they will see that there was no question that such weapons exist, existed, and so did the programs to develop one.

Colin Powell
Meet The Press
September 7th, 2003


David Kay is not going to be done with this for quite some time. And I would not count on reports. I suppose there may be interim reports. I don't know when those will be, and I don't know what the public nature of them will be.

Condi Rice
Press Briefing
September 22nd, 2003


Can we call this a credibility issue yet?

It's come to this. A US Congressman, Jim Marshall, Democrat from Georgia's 3rd District, says media bias is responsible for US troop deaths in Iraq.

From a column he penned the Atlanta Journal Consitution earlier this month, some of the highlights: "I found myself wondering whether the news media were somehow complicit in [Sgt. Trevor A. Blumberg's] death ... We may need a few credible Baghdad Bobs to undo the harm done by our media. I'm afraid it is killing our troops."

It really doesn't get much lower than that.

The backdrop to the Clark-bashing from the White House and its helpers. This from Charlie Cook's weekly newsletter "Off To The Races" ...

For the White House, it is particularly important that Clark's credibility be impeached as soon as possible. President Bush now has a 40 percent disapproval rating on "handling foreign policy and terrorism." That is without a Democrat with any credibility in national security having thrown a punch. A credible Clark could inflict some very serious damage on this president, particularly after Bush's admission last week that there was no direct connection between the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Saddam Hussein. That was news to 69 percent of Americans, who told Washington Post pollsters in August they thought a connection was likely. The Bush campaign cannot afford to have a credible Clark throwing fastballs at them for the next 15 months, whether he is the nominee, running mate or sitting on the sidelines.


This isn't rocket science, people. This is how they operate. Don't think it's random. If you go over to the Fox News website, you can see their featured video clip (page down on the left) with Brit Hume repeating the ridiculous Standard-peddled phone log canard : "White House phone logs suggest Wesley Clark is telling tales once again." You've seen this before. As I say, it's how they operate. The only question is whether the legit press gets dragged into it, as they have in the past. It's a test for them.

As promised, Vice President Dick Cheney's Public Financial Disclosure Report for calendar year 2001. (Before downloading the pdf file, note that it's a big file -- almost 5 megs. But a high resolution is necessary to read certain parts accurately.)

Wanna see the journalistic equivalent of friendly fire? It ain't pretty. But here goes.

This week Howard Fineman leads his column on Wes Clark with an anecdote about how Clark allegedly tried to get into the Bush administration, got shot down by Karl Rove, and then in spite became a Democrat.

Fineman's evidence is the say-so of Colorado's Republican Governor Bill Owens and one of his appointees, Marc Holtzman.

"I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls," they say Clark told him.

Clark told Fineman he had just been kidding around. But Owens and Holtzman assured Fineman that Clark was dead serious.

Now, Owens is a Republican and he's close to Karl Rove and President Bush. So I don't think you've got to use your imagination too creatively to see what agenda Owens might be advancing -- especially since the story doesn't really add up on several other counts as well.

However that may be, this afternoon The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti chimes in with a quick bit of investigative reporting.

Says Continetti ...

Unfortunately for Clark, the White House has logged every incoming phone call since the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001. At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove. The general hadn't. What's more, Rove says he doesn't remember ever talking to Clark, either.


Continetti goes on to say that "this isn't the general's first whopper [and that] Clark's latest tale bears little resemblance to reality," trying, to true to form, to nail down the Clark as fabulist meme -- a la Al Gore and every other Democratic presidential candidate.

But wait a second. Do you see the problem here? Right. Clark isn't the one who's saying he put in calls to Karl Rove. Owens and Hotzman are saying it.

So to the extent this means anything -- and that's highly debatable -- it discredits them, not him.

In other words, the canard floated by one group of Rove's pals on day one gets shot down by another group of his friends on day two. Like I said, journalistic friendly fire on the right.

To my friends at the Standard I can only say that the next time you put something like this together on the fly you might want to hash it out with a Venn Diagram or a flow chart or something before you go to press.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum asks an awfully good question about how the White House suddenly became so forthcoming about phone record searches.

And look how they fall in line. Andrew Sullivan's response to the phone call idiocy ...

HOW LOOPY IS CLARK? The answer, I fear, is that he's Ross Perot without the emotional stability. So now his previous remark that he'd be a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his calls is just a metaphor, or a fabrication, or a dream, or something. Or maybe he called Rove on a cell-phone or an email. Will he respond to these discrepancies?


Ahhh the discrepancies. Someone else needs a flow chart.

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