Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Well, I was ambling through Union Square in New York City this afternoon when I happened across an ANSWER rally against the war. I stopped and listened long enough to hear about US support for the feudal conditions in Saudi Arabia and the grand educational opportunities for women in Iraq. I guess this is one of those cases of running afoul of that whole 'the truth, THE WHOLE TRUTH, and nothing but the truth' thing.

A few points. What's most striking about this war so far is the extremely heavy reliance on multifaceted psychological warfare and propaganda. Every war uses psywar as one of its elements, but seldom I think has it been so integral to the effort. This whole effort about the fate of Saddam is of course a key point. For the US, if he's dead, great. If the US can get the word out that he might be dead, also great -- since it spreads doubt about the power of the regime. If the US can coax Saddam out into the open to prove he's alive, that's still good -- since it gets him out in the open for the US to take another hit at him.

A similar logic applies to all this talk about on-going surrender negotiations with elements of the Iraqi army.

Tony Karon at Time.com has a nice, short piece on this issue.

Now, some more from the TPM archives. Last year when I was reporting the article on Iraq that I wrote in the Washington Monthly, I interviewed General Najib al-Salhi, head of the Iraqi Free Officers Movement, an exile who now lives in Washington DC. In one portion of our interview, from last May, he argued that Saddam had actually been able to convince many around him that US, privately, actually wanted him to stay in power. The mix of my transcription of the interview, combined with the fact that Salhi was speaking through a translator, makes the text a bit choppy. But I think the gist comes through ...

They are waiting for a chance from outside so they can revolt against him. Saddam also makes propaganda with his own republican guard. "Don't worry about what you see on TV" [he tells them] "I have a special relationship with the US. I am very strong with them. They want me to stay as leader of Iraq, don't pay attention to all of this, this is just propaganda. Even today America wants me to stay as leader, I have a special relationship, quietly." People really believed in that … [But] after a few of those statements President Bush [made], people started doubting if there is that special relationship. That is the crack. [But they did believe he had that special relationship with the US] … "I'm here to protect the US interests in the region. The Arabian countries and Iran … I have been told to attack other Arab countries and to put them in their place. I am here as the protector of the US interests in the region. Just ignore what you see on TV and in the media." [Then others in Saddam's circle say] "We've heard this for the past ten or twelve years. When they got him out of Kuwait, they didn't do anything. Don't waste your time. He's gonna stay there until such time until the interests of the US is finished with him."
More soon.

I want to start this morning by issuing an uncharacteristic thank you to Richard Perle, AEI Senior Fellow, Defense Policy Board Chairman and all-around international man of mystery. My thanks is for bundling his disingenuousness in such a compact and neatly manageable form this morning.

(Just as a personal note, Dick. I know we've exchanged some words and all. But I do appreciate this, because I'm trying to take a few days of sort of light duty after finishing the manuscript. And this is a great help. So thanks. Or 'mega-dittos.' Or whatever it is you guys say.)

In the Guardian this morning, Perle writes an opinion column celebrating what he sees as the end of the UN. That's fine. That's his opinion and his desire. But look at this graf ...

Facing Milosevic's multiple aggressions, the UN could not stop the Balkan wars or even protect its victims. It took a coalition of the willing to save Bosnia from extinction. And when the war was over, peace was made in Dayton, Ohio, not in the UN. The rescue of Muslims in Kosovo was not a UN action: their cause never gained Security Council approval. The United Kingdom, not the United Nations, saved the Falklands.
The structure of the first three sentences is a bit jumbled. But Perle is saying explicitly in the case of Bosnia and implicitly in the case of Kosovo that these operations were the work of 'coalitions of the willing.'

Not really. The US bombings in Bosnia were done by the US but with the implicit go-ahead by the European powers who had shown in the early '90s their utter incapacity to end the slaughter. And the follow-on occupation is a NATO operation. The much more ambitious war waged in Kosovo in 1999 was, of course, a NATO operation from start to finish, not the product of a 'coalition of the willing'. And the fact that it was a NATO operation was, on various levels, critical to its success.

This omission, I think, is not an accident. It's an intentional fiddling with the facts. The absence of UN legitimation of this exercise, as I've said many times in the past, has never been the central issue. We didn't have that go-ahead in Kosovo. And that was fine. The issue is the cavalier indifference to our historic allies and alliances. And the happy trashing of the same.

(In an earlier passage in the column, he calls NATO -- in the context of defeating the Soviets -- the "mother of all coalitions." Perle seems incapable -- even to the point of diction -- of confronting the distinction between 'coalitions' and 'alliances.' This is a topic we'll address in a later post, hopefully this afternoon or this evening.)

What we're seeing right now is a dual story, two stories which are and in a significant respect will remain independent of each other. On the one hand, things look to be going quite well on the ground in Iraq. US and UK forces are pushing easily and rapidly into southern Iraq.

Now, it's important to say that it's always been assumed that we'd push easily through this part of the country. This is the region which has suffered most under Saddam and it makes no sense for Saddam to send quality forces out into the Iraqi desert to be destroyed with ease by American firepower. The question is and has always been whether the core of Saddam's forces would put up stiff resistance in urban warfare in Baghdad and Tikrit. Having said that, from a military point of view, things could not be going much better. And I have no doubt you're going to see tons of Iraqis who are genuinely thrilled to be out of under Saddam's regime.

At the same time, there are massive protests going on in almost every country in the world right now. The heads of state of virtually every great power are denouncing us. And the major countries in Europe are discussing whether the EU should start functioning as a geopolitical counterweight to the US rather than a partner.

One thing is very good and the other is very bad. And neither trumps the other.

There seems to be a few folks who misunderstood (perhaps willfully?) my earlier post about resolution 1441. I never said the US violated resolution 1441 -- the one passed unanimously by the Security Council several months ago -- by going to war. What I said is that 1441 gives no sanction for the attack, since the countries then on the Security Council were quite clear that 1441 could only be enforced by another vote of the Security Council. The US made it very clear it reserved the right to opt out of the Security Council process altogether -- which it eventually did -- if the Security Council later acted in a way that the US administration did not deem serious. The US has that right. Some folks don't think we have that right. I think we do. I just don't think it was wise in this case.

In any case, declaring a contingent intention to opt out of the UN process is, by definition, not a part of the UN process. If there's anyone who doesn't grasp this, I've got some square pegs and round holes I'd like you to take a stab at.

Now James Taranto over at the Wall Street Journal says my "hair-splitting legal analysis completely ignores Resolution 678 of Nov. 29, 1990, which authorized U.N. member states 'to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.'"

Now, I'm all for fig leaves in their place. We used one in Kosovo, if I recall correctly. And I'm glad we did. But let's know a fig leaf when we see one. For conservatives to hang this on 678 in any serious sense is sad and unseemly. Better just to have the courage of your own unilateralism -- since unilateralism has its place -- rather than resort to this sort of feeble caviling.

If you want to read a truly cartoonish column, I've got one for you. It's a piece by Daniel Pipes in yesterday's New York Post. Pipes argues that "the Left" really doesn't care that much about 9/11 and is actually quite admiring of Osama bin Laden since his outburst is the sign of a new global proletariat rising up to overthrow the United States. The same apparently applies to Saddam. "The Left takes to the streets to assure [Saddam's] survival, indifferent both to the fate of Iraqis and even to their own safety, clutching instead at the hope that this monster will somehow bring socialism closer." Who knew?

One of the nice things about having a blog is the ability to expand on points you've made in a more formally structured article or column. So let me expand a bit on my column in the current edition of The Hill. The piece says that we're missing a key point about what made the democratic transformations of Japan and Germany successful: the vast mauling of the civilian populations that took place prior to the war.

Now, let me touch on a few points. A few people seem to think I'm saying we should kill more Iraqis in order to get good democracies. I think it's pretty obvious that's not what I'm saying. A few other folks seemed to think I was arguing that suffering under carpet bombing somehow inculcates a democratic, pluralistic sensibility. Thus one reader tried to disprove my point by noting that Eastern Europe's civilian population had it even worse than most parts of Germany and they ended up being run by Communist dictatorships. Not what I mean. Yet another idea was that I was saying that too many of the militarists were dead to reconstitute themselves. Again, not what I'm saying.

In any case, this column seems to have generated a lot of attention, so let me say a little more ...

What got me thinking about this was actually a section of my dissertation, or rather an argument that runs all the way through it. That is, the conditioning effect both of overwhelming violence and also violence used as a weapon of terror. What happened back in New England back in 17th century is obviously very far afield from what we're talking about today. Equally so, from what happened in Germany and Japan sixty years ago. Still, there are parallels. Just as shattering violence affects people, it affects whole peoples, busting up the basic assumptions and givens in a society that usually prevent thoroughgoing change.

We normally think of people reacting to violence in a rational manner. So, for instance, when you hit them they either hit back or decide you're too strong and just decide to obey. But certain experiences of violence are so total that the reaction transcends either of these 'rational' reactions. It leads to something more like, well ... shock and awe. And not just for a few moments or a few days.

There's an additional point we might add. In a very general sense we can say that the wartime governments in both Germany and Japan were run by dominant but not-previously-unchallenged factions in these countries' political orders. Basically, in each case, the authoritarian, aggressively militarist parts of the country were in the saddle. The Nazis certainly cannot be equated with Germany's older blood-and-iron Bismarckian tradition. But there were deep affinities between the two. And something similar, at least at a very general level, applied in Japan -- though I know much less about Japan's pre-war history.

These forces led both countries to utter ruin. And in both cases, the result was a profound discreditation of those forces in the respective societies, in addition to a profound malleability and openness to transformation. That result, or that perception, was mediated by our subsequent denazification programs and also a degree of moral realization of the evils committed by those regimes.

Those situations are different from Iraq because large segments of the populations of Germany and Japan were deeply supportive of these regimes -- at least at the outset -- whereas almost no one thinks Saddam Hussein has any real following in Iraq behind his security services and cronies. Whether they want their country remade by us is an open question.

One final point, some people have made the point that the Iraqi people already have lived through a profound mauling, in the form of Saddam's rule and twelve years of UN sanctions. On Saddam's rule, there's no doubt that's been a horrible mauling. How it will play out in the context of democratization, I'm not sure. As for sanctions, though, I don't think it counts in this case. My reading of analogous cases tells me that grinding hardship -- as opposed to shattering violence -- produces rage and resentment rather than the sort of transformative openness to change you had in post-war Germany and Japan.

We'll talk more about this later.

There are hawks of war, dogs of war and, alas, as always, the jackals of war. You can see them coming with their lazy eyes, cackling grins, bloody lips and long teeth. The eve of war is literally an electric time, pregnant with fear, hope, edgy eagerness, uncertainty and manic energy. You'll always find people who want to grab some of that swirling energy and exploit it for some cynical purpose. Like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, it would seem.

As you know, a few days ago Senate Minority Tom Daschle told a union audience that he regretted that the president had "failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war."

This was an uncharacteristically frank remark from a congressional leader on the eve of war. But it has the saving grace of being true -- which is always a nice thing. I don't know that better diplomacy would have avoided war. But it's unquestionably true that the president's repeated diplomatic foul-ups, goofs and course-corrections got us into a very bad situation and forced us into war on a very poor geo-political footing. I'm extremely happy to see that Daschle has crisply refused to retreat from that statement one bit.

That is especially so in the face of opportunistic grabs from across the aisle. There have been all manner of nasty comments from Republicans, criticizing Daschle, calling on him to apologize, and so forth. And that's fine. Anyone can criticize, just as Daschle has criticized the president. (We won't even get into the fact that many of these self-same Republicans said almost identical things when Bill Clinton sent American troops into battle.) But then comes Dennis Hastert, head of operations in the other body, who says that Daschle's "comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."

Like I said, he's pulling some of that awful energy out of the air and using it to score a few cheap points -- the Speaker of the House suggesting that the Democratic leader in the other body may be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Almost needless to say, Senator Daschle is a Vietnam-era vet, Air Force intelligence, if I remember correctly. Hastert, during the same years, was otherwise occupied.

This is a delicate subject. But now seems like the time to broach it. As we move toward trying to democratize Iraq we often think of Japan and Germany. But I think we miss a key element in what allowed those experiments in democratization to be a success: how many Japanese and German civilians had died during the war. That's what my column this week in The Hill is about.

Why is the New York Times calling Bill Frist "Dr.Frist" in its regular news coverage of the Senate Majority Leader? He has a medical degree. He used to work as a doctor. I'm sure he's saved many lives. But doesn't this sound like something that comes right out of the good doctor's communications department?

I did a little hunting around on Nexis. And it seems like the Times started using the "Dr." a bunch more after he got the top job. But the Post and the LA Times and Roll Call and most other publications just call him the more appropriate "Mr.Frist."

Maybe he's got something on Howell Raines?

Some miscellaneous thoughts. As long-time readers know, the posts have been a bit more sparse for the last three or four months. And the reason has been that I've been preparing the final draft of my dissertation manuscript. And tonight I finished it. That doesn't mean the whole thing is done. It still needs to be approved and revised and defended and other miscellaneous stuff. But it's a big hump. So I'm sitting here with a few moments free for the first time in months it seems like and looking at the news over the wires about the imminence of war. It's a weird mix of feelings.

I was just reading several articles in the Washington Post about what's going on in Iraq right now. And they have an interesting piece about how everyone is stocking up on guns. In public, they say they're buying them to fight the Americans. The reality is that everyone wants to be armed when things go crazy and the looting and the vengeance and the mayhem starts.

It made me think of a conversation I had when I was writing my first article about Iraq almost a year ago now. The conversation was with a retired career military officer with a lot of experience working the Iraq file at the Pentagon and, let's say, in other parts of the world. One of the lines that stuck with me from that interview was how he described what will happen when the cork is finally popped on the extreme repression Saddam has held this country under. These are from my notes of the interview ...

Changing the regime is not the biggest problem. It's what happens afterwards … you're dealing with an uncontrollable event ... the physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn't do it justice. When it breaks ... it'll give off absolutely no sign at all that it's about to fail ... [and then] Ka-Wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what's gonna happen here. You may have control over how the things start ... There are a variety of ways to do [it] ... You may have a horse you're going in with. But that guy isn't gonna survive first contact.
This isn't pro-war or anti-war. It's just a sense of what this place is like or about to be like. When we talked further about this, one of the subjects that came up again and again was revenge. So many bad things have happened for such a long time that you're just going to have tons of people out for blood and revenge when the secret police or their families or their cronies or whomever suddenly lose all their power. It's going to be daunting. And a hell of a situation to control. Like he said, a steel beam under compression.

The White House put out a list of 30 countries that constitute our 'coalition of the willing.' The presence of Montenegro on the list doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. But then I saw that the list includes Turkey. What am I missing? Turkey? They're part of our coalition?

And as long we're on the subject, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain announced today before his parliament that Spain would send no troops to fight alongside the US in Iraq. I'm not sure what I think about that. "Spain will not participate in any attack or offensive missions ... As a result, there will not be any Spanish troops in the theater of operations." He did say, however, that if Turkey is attacked he will mobilize the Spanish Air Force. There's only so much levity that's appropriate at a moment like this. But this one pretty much comes with the levity already installed.

At this point, obviously I hope this goes quickly and as cleanly as possible. Getting rid of Saddam will be a very good thing as will getting rid of his WMD and ambitions to get more. I was long for something like this. I changed my position because in the course of moving in this direction we incurred an even greater risk to our security than Saddam himself was. Clearly, though, that conversation is over. The one bright sign today was watching Tony Blair, who remains an inspiration.

For people who oppose this war I strongly recommend moving on from it in this very specific sense. This war is about to happen. But there are still two very important issues that hang in the balance that deserve serious attention. The first, though more long-term, is the necessity of as rapidly as possible restoring our relationships with our historic allies and beginning to repair our standing in the world. This makes the 2004 election far more important than it was before. But we'll get into that later.

The second is the one that deserves your serious attention. Despite the certainty of war, this administration remains divided about the purpose and aftermath of this war. One camp sees this as a fairly limited, surgical effort to get rid of Saddam, put a reasonably democratic government in its place and then move on. Another camp sees this as only a first step. After this comes Iran, Syria, perhaps also Southern Lebanon, and more. And I don't mean calling them names. I mean, taking them out.

The vision of what we're trying to get is go out and give the hornets nest a few whacks and get them all out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. If that sounds scary to you, it should.

That camp in the administration would like to prosecute this war in such a way as to invite those further confrontations.

The question of whether we go that route is still to be decided. Unfortunately, the group that ended up winning the debate on Iraq inside the administration is one the that favors that future. So if you want something to work against, that's what should be on your mind...