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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Post on Thursday has an <$NoAd$>article on the growing consensus that disbanding the Iraqi army was a fundamental error and how the CPA is now racing to build a new Iraqi army in its place to help bolster security now and defend a new Iraqi government in the not-too-distant future.

In the course of the piece there's this section with views from different players.

"This was a mistake, to dissolve the army and the police," said Ayad Alawi, head of the security committee of the Iraqi Governing Council. "We absolutely not only lost time. The vacuum allowed our enemies to regroup and to infiltrate the country."

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a vocal opponent of the war, calls the move the Bush administration's "worst mistake" in postwar Iraq.

Supporters of the decision counter that the army posed a potential threat to a fledgling Iraqi governing authority and U.S. forces -- and that it was so second-rate and so infiltrated with Baath Party figures that it could not be salvaged.

"The Iraqi army was a pretty sick organization in a lot of respects," said Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, who played a role in the demobilization decision. "There was quite a bit of cruelty -- abuse by the senior officers of the junior people -- and there was quite a bit of corruption."


Imagine that. Doug Feith thought (and still thinks) it was a good idea. And his judgment is usually so on the mark.

On the other hand, Chalabi convinced Cheney that disbanding the army was a dynamite plan. So he probably convinced Feith too.

Newsweek, in an article by Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, has come in to bat clean up on the Feith Memo and the whole purported Saddam-al Qaida link. They even note the same sputtering performance by Fred Barnes praising the thing on Fox over the weekend that TPM mentioned Sunday morning. (Hmmmm...) It's good stuff. Definitely take a look.

The first, admittedly lengthy and multistoried, sentence sums it up:

A leaked Defense Department memo claiming new evidence of an “operational relationship” between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s former regime is mostly based on unverified claims that were first advanced by some top Bush administration officials more than a year ago—and were largely discounted at the time by the U.S. intelligence community, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.


Meanwhile, some are expressing the thought that what’s happening here is that interested parties in the <$Ad$>Intelligence Community and national security bureaucracy are scheming to keep the truth from us about the existence of the Saddam-al Qaida link.

Now, anything’s possible in this fallen world of ours. One never knows what the future holds. And certainly every possibility deserves to be looked into.

But sometimes simple logic can help give us a preview of what we might find.

The White House and various administration appointees bullied, pummeled and cajoled various members of the Intelligence Community into signing off on all manner of shaky, disputed, unsubstantiated and downright bogus intel because it suited the White House storyline. Now the same White House can’t get the Intelligence Community to come clean about rock-solid intelligence demonstrating a Saddam-al Qaida link --- information which, if revealed, would greatly bolster the White House?

That make sense to you?

In an article today in Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why almost no media outlets outside the Murdoch media empire have picked up on Steve Hayes’ story in the Weekly Standard. That’s the story --- ‘Case Closed’ --- about the Feith Memo and the alleged Saddam-al Qaida connection.

Among the possible explanations Shafer puts forward is the notion that the mainstream press is too invested in the idea that there were no connections at all between Saddam and al Qaida.

But, to me, that explanation doesn’t even come close to passing muster. The big papers and cable networks have grabbed on to so many weak but sensationalistic Intel related stories about WMD and Iraq-al Qaida connections --- even since the revelations about the Niger-uranium story --- that I don’t find that remotely credible.

A more probable answer --- which I set forth in greater depth today in my column in The Hill --- is that this information is not at all new.

If you’ve been following the intel wars you know that the group that put together this dossier started working in Doug Feith’s office shortly after 9/11 and that they presented these findings --- absent a few details subsequently culled from detainee interviews --- at Langley in August 2002. The methods used by Feith’s Pentagon analysis shop were widely panned and the consensus within the intel community was that the findings didn’t pass the laugh test.

It is almost certain that the dossier --- or rather the memo summarizing it --- was leaked now because Feith and his ideological soul-mates at the Pentagon are profoundly on the defensive because of the WMD debacle and poor planning for post-war Iraq.

Indeed, even within his group, Feith’s stock is close to its nadir --- partly because of these sorts of mad-scientist shenanigans, but for other reasons too. The Senate intel investigation, of course, looms. And perhaps Sen. Roberts (R-Kans) won’t be able to force all the blame on the CIA.

For all these reasons, they are trying to push back anywhere and everywhere they can.

So that’s the main reason, I think, that people haven’t picked up the story. No liberal media conspiracy. Sorry. Rather, the people who are following the intel story know that this is raw intelligence which the people in a position to know, and with access to all the information, say is either unreliable or doesn’t amount to anything.

Part of the difficulty in reporting it out, I suspect, is that the memo includes, say, allegation X. On background people at the CIA might tell a reporter that the report is unreliable. But, because it’s all classified, the reporter can’t get the actual details which are that the report that Saddam and bin Laden were brothers separated at birth actually came from Ahmed Chalabi’s aunt’s maid’s doorman who offered the scoop in exchange for getting bailed out of prison in Cairo where he’d gotten arrested for fencing gold crenellated TV sets smuggled in from Yemen.

In any case, presumably a different sets of facts, but you get the idea.

Also, having gotten burned so bad on the WMD mumbo-jumbo and earlier al Qaida Saddam stories, reporters are wary of these guys, especially since the hawkers of this stuff are just much better, much more effectively political than their opponents.

Having said all this, let’s get it all out there. I agree with Andrew Sullivan when he says that it would be worthwhile to get out on the record which of the Feith-based claims are utterly without merit (most), which are shaky (some) and which may turn out to be true (a few).

(While we're at it, let's also do some decent reporting into the administration's strenuous and comical warping of the intel process and some decent investigations into the now-well-covered-up Valerie Plame story. Note to Mike Allen: get your source on the phone again. What happened to him?)

It seems clear that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaida during the 1990s. Yet, in the shadowy world of intel and global nogoodnikism all sorts of people meet up now and then. Meetings, contacts in themselves don't necessarily amount to much. And all that we have been able to verify has been extremely limited --- nothing to merit the claims of active collaboration the Iraq hawks made.

And when you consider that we now essentially own Iraq --- the regime leaders, most all the government records that survive, and so forth --- we shouldn’t need to go on hints and allegations. We should know something close to the whole story. And from what we know now, there's not much of a story.

For years -- literally years -- I've been writing about Astroturf organizing and that trendsetting operation in the trade, DCI -- home of that Johny Appleseed of the plastic and the green, Tom Synhorst.

Simply put, Astroturf organizers are in the business of creating phony grassroots support, or rather the appearance of grassroots support, for this or that cause.

You got the money and the cause? They'll bring the front groups, the push-polls, the oped payola, you name it.

(For more details, see this post from last year.)

The secret of 'turf is a simple one.

Advertisements and paid spokesman may influence us to some degree. We hear their opinions, see them on TV and such. But because they're paid, because they're essentially advertisements, we also tend to tune them out, or at least bracket them off in our minds.

If you're someone who wants to press an opinion, or get support for your company, what you'd really want is to have community groups coming forward to support your company line. Because if you or I see the Associated People of Podunk demanding this or that piece of legislation, then we'll probably think, 'Hey, there must be something to this.' Or if some respected scholar supports it, same thing.

For years, the trendsetter in Astroturf has been DCI. And a couple days ago, if you were watching really closely, a tiny sentence changed on an out-of-the-way page on the TechCentralStation website.

The sentence that read ...

"Tech Central Station is published by Tech Central Station, L.L.C."


now reads ...

"Tech Central Station is published by DCI Group, L.L.C."


It wasn't an accident. It was because this article -- 'Meet the Press' by Nick Confessore -- was about to be published by The Washington Monthly.

Imagine that. The wildly anti-Semitic article about George Soros ("Satan lives in George Soros") authored by James Hall and published at GOPUSA.com has been taken down off the site. (For the grisly details, see the prior post.) No explanation of why, no apology, just gone --- poof!

I should have known to make a copy before they snatched it from the site.

But that turns out not to be necessary since the author, James Hall, has the piece up on his own website, with the helpful addition of a caricature drawing of Soros sprawling out on a mountain of US currency.

Oh Boy ... Something pretty big is coming down the pike tomorrow apparently. The world of Astroturf organizing may be shaken all the way down to its phony-baloney roots.

A conservative website called GOPUSA.com (though, let's be clear, *not* affiliated with the Republican party) is running a column with these pleasant things to say about George Soros ...

No other single person represents the symbol and the substance of Globalism more than this Hungarian-born descendant of Shylock. He is the embodiment of the Merchant from Venice. His public reputation as an astute currency speculator is generous, while his skills as a manipulator and procurer of pain and suffering is shrouded in the footnotes of the financial journals. Claiming to be a philanthropist, his record is literally one of being a patron for indentured enslavement.

...

Double standards for an advocate of a permissive, yet regimented globe? If you think he is a friend of humanity, beware of his public attempt to influence his tribe, by insulting their benefactors. Before the Jewish Funders Network, he recently made these remarks: "There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that," Soros said. "It's not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti-Semitism as well. I'm critical of those policies." The inevitable outcry from the usual suspects, just illustrates the orchestrated nature of the Soros effort to rationalize his own social agenda, while deflecting criticism back to his ancestral blood line.


Hmmmm. Trafficking <$Ad$>in anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes? Wouldn't want to go out on a limb or anything. And that's actually the more temperate part of the piece.

Also, it's not like the site is some obscure outlet with no mainstream conservatives connected to it. In addition to the author of this particular column, James Hall, the site's other regular columnists include Austin Bay, Linda Chavez, David Horowitz (a TPM fav), Alan Keyes, and Star Parker.

Meanwhile, various other right-wing luminaries and Republican members of Congress, as Atrios notes, spoke at their conference just a couple weeks ago.

The new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows President Bush with a substantially higher approval rating than all the recent polls -- namely, at 57% approval and 39% disapproval. That contrasts with the slightly more recent Gallup/CNN/USAToday poll which showed him at 50% approve and 47% disapprove.

Last week CBS had him at 49% and NBC had him at 51%.

For the moment the new WaPo/ABC poll definitely looks like an outlier.

After dinner this evening I stopped by a fundraiser for Howard Dean in Washington, DC --- one to <$NoAd$>celebrate his 55th birthday. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him in person. But it was the first time I’d seen him speak to a campaign rally. And the event was very impressive.

The intensity and engagement of the crowd were palpable. And I could understand the enthusiasm Dean supporters have for what they’re doing and what they're a part of when surrounded by that energy.

Union representation was very much in evidence at the rally --- intentionally so, I suspect, but effectively so as well.

There were also endorsements from Congressmen Elijah Cummings and Jim Moran, which covers a lot of territory (in every respect but geographically) in the Democratic party.

In any case, after the speech, I wanted to ask Dean a few questions about Iraq and the recent turnabout in White House policy. But the place was raucous and crowded. And Dean was wielding this big metal utensil, cutting people pieces of his enormous birthday cake. So I eventually thought better of it.

I packed up my pen and notebook and slowly made my way to the door through the sardine-packed crowd of Dean-o-philes.

The Fox News clip with Wes Clark (noted below) was down temporarily. But now it seems to be back up. If you haven't seen it yet, definitely take a look. It's a wonder why the Clark campaign hasn't put it up on their site.

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