Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM Reader JD reports in directly from Baghdad on Howard Kaloogian's website bamboozlement ...

Why is this pic definitely not of Baghdad?

As you say, the script is wrong and there are Turkish letters instead of Arabic (“NOTER” is Turkish for “Notary” by the way), including that telltale Turkish “Ç” on the yellow sign on the right.

My four Baghdad staffers tell me the cobblestones on the pedestrian walkway do not exist in Iraq, and anyway, they know every corner in Iraq in this simply is not here.

The blue metal and glass commercial structure at right does not reflect technology in the dilapidated Saddam-nurtured command economy -- “we never had this!,” as a staffer adds.

The buildings and taxi are much too nice (“maybe Baghdad in 100 years!” as one of them guffaws); the garb is all wrong; and everything is much too clean for a city greatly straining to meet basic service needs.

The pedestrians are much too relaxed; especially the couple at lower left, with the woman who would be questioned/arrested for indecency being dressed like that. (“This is impossible, to go out like that!,” as a female translator of ours relays the obvious.)

In short, they all just laughed, but wherever this is exactly they would like to make a tourism visit. So if the Congressman lets us know, they’d appreciate it. Seemingly, the Congressman relays a photograph of Turkey – perhaps that was a stop on his ill-informed trip?

Really curious how all this plays out tomorrow.

Okay, in for a dime in for a dollar.

Back to this alleged photo of peaceful Baghdad taken by California congressional candidate Howard Kaloogian. (Read the post below, if you haven't already. It'll be hard to follow this post without that background.)

Like a lot readers who've written in in response to the post below and a lot of commenters on other sites, I really feel like this looks like this photograph wasn't taken in Baghdad but rather somewhere in Turkey. But as is so often the case in life, this seems like one of those cases where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So I've held back.

But the more I hear from readers the more I think this might actually be a photograph taken in Turkey.

This picture below is a blown up section from the upper right hand portion of the original photo on Kaloogian's website.

With the white arrows I've highlighted what appear to be cedillas under the roman 'C' and 'S' on the yellow sign.

Add in the other contextual clues and that looks very much like the Turkish alphabet. And in fact the letters 'C A R S I' (which seems to be what this sign says) make a word in Turkish, 'carsi' which means 'shopping center' or 'market.'

It really all does seem to fall into place, doesn't it?

Late Update: A commenter at Will Bunch's site points out that the "Edo" sign on the lower left (see the full size photo in the original post) appears to be that of this Turkish ice cream company. Turkish alphabet, Turkish words, Turkish fast food franchises. Eventually you've got to wonder whether this photograph might have been taken in Turkey.

Even Later Update: Now there's some Kaloogian bamboozlement humor too.

Okay, this is good for a laugh on a slow news night.

(And just to be clear, I'm a little late to this party. Will Bunch, a diarist at Kos's site and another at DU are already all over it.)

Howard Kaloogian, one of the wingers trying to replace Duke Cunningham out in San Diego, has this picture of Baghdad that he took on a recent trip to Iraq posted on his campaign website.

With the picture Kaloogian writes: "We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

But is that really Baghdad? Now, I'm always a bit leery of these online mysteries. Because I've certainly never been to Baghdad. And I couldn't tell you if a street was in Baghdad or Damascus or Cairo for that matter.

But do you see any Arabic script in this photograph?

My recollection is that on major highways in Iraq the major signs have written in Arabic and also in English.

But this appears to be a city square and every street and store sign I can see is written in roman script, not Arabic. In any case, the issue is less the presence of roman script than the lack of Arabic script.

Others at the sites I mentioned above point out that the woman in pink on the lower left is a bit more provocatively dressed than you might expect in the increasingly sharia-fied Iraq. The billboard on the upper right appears to feature a likeness of some modern-day Pippi Longstocking and the other billboard down the road doesn't look quite right either.

Now, none of those latter points would make me wonder, not being familiar enough with what your average Baghdad street scene looks like. But the absence of Arabic script makes me really curious.

The one thing I really don't get is how Kaloogian could really be so stupid as to post a picture which he claims is of Baghdad and have it not really be from Baghdad. Certainly, it's possible to take a photograph in Baghdad and not have billowing black smoke and ambulances or anyone blown apart. And if you look at Kaloogian's page it seems pretty clear he did go to Iraq. That level of needless stupidity seems hard to fathom. And it's the only thing that makes me think that -- lack of Arabic script notwithstanding -- it must really be Baghdad.

So let's have at it.

What do people make of this photo?

There will be a lot more to say when all the dust settles. But one very happy result of the just-concluding Israeli election is the body blow it has dealt to the Likud. According to this Reuters report, Likud looks set to win a mere 12 seats in the next Knesset. Kadima, the new party Sharon founded just before his stroke, will probably get 30 or just over and Labor will get between 20 to 22.

It's not that the right has collapsed. Some of this is just a matter of reshuffling. Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing immigrant party will likely get 12-13 seats too. Still though, for a party that's dominated Israeli politics since the mid-1970s, it's a devastating result.

With Netanyahu now at the helm of this broken party, well ... it really couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

The Haaretz headline sums it up: Center-Left 62-66 seats, Right 48-51.

Late Update: Jo-Ann Mort, who unlike me knows a lot about this stuff, previews the coming coalition negotiations.

Here's an update on that fishy real estate deal between former DeLay Chief of Staff and money broker Ed Buckham and Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS). Seems Ryun got quite a sweet deal.

Alas, clearing up some inevitable points of confusion on the Iran post.

It seems clear to me that we don't have any good or even any plausible military option to prevent the Iranians from moving forward on the nuclear program. So whether or not such an adventure would be ill-advised or not, is an academic point. The fact that we're pinned down in Iraq and at the mercy of Iranians there only makes the point more clear.

My point on latent military threats is a more general one. Maintaining some degree of strategic ambiguity about the use of force is essential in any case like this. Here though it's a limited one since it's a more or less idle threat. They must know it; hopefully we do too.

The late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater on John McCain's new pal Jerry Falwell, July 1981: "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

A few thoughts on Iran.

Occasionally, I'll sit down to write a longish think post on this or that topic. I'll write, pine, edit, mull. And then I'll become so frustrated with it, I'll just jot down the highlights which the annoying process has helped me crystalize in my mind and post those.

It's sort of a microcosm of what most writing is like.

So here goes.

An Iran with nuclear weapons would make the world a lot more complicated and dangerous for the United States. And we should do everything we reasonably can (note: key elastic phrase) to prevent it. Assuming sensible leadership on our side I think that means at least the background threat of force, if for no other reason than that no high-stakes serious diplomacy is effective without the possibility of stronger measures somewhere in the background.

But, ahh, sensible leadership. Would that it only were true.

The problem we face is that the White House and the agencies it controls have no credibility whatsoever in telling the country or the Congress the truth when it comes to just where the Iranians are in their quest for nuclear weapons. (I believe the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear weapon in spite of the statements from the administration, as much as because of them.)

A second and even more difficult problem is that past experience strongly suggests that the White House will approach this brewing confrontation not in order to settle the nuclear issue but rather using the nuclear issue as a pretext for confrontation. That of course is precisely what happened with Iraq.

Now, what does this tell us? What does it suggest as a sensible policy?

I think it tells us that we should avoid what I would term the peril of high-minded abstraction in policy-making.

Here's what I mean. When I look back on my own thinking about Iraq (in 2002) and the thinking of a lot of other sensible people, the biggest mistake was considering the issue in the abstract without taking into account who was really driving the car, i.e., who was president and who would make the key decisions.

Not that I didn't think about it on some level, of course. Most of what I wrote at the time suggested that the Bush White House would screw things up. But I considered that a secondary issue whereas in fact it was the primary issue. The fact that President Bush and his advisors wanted war and shaped their actions to achieve that goal was the issue. Everything else was secondary.

Folks like me, who thought that threatening war (and being willing to follow through on the threat) made sense, assuming a good-faith commander-in-chief at the helm, were just wasting their time and making a major miscalculation.

And that is one thing I fear in the current debate. I think a lot of people of good faith will game out the Iranian nuclear question acting on the hypothetical assumption that we have a president whose goal is to prevent a nuclearized Iran and who is acting in good faith.

That, after all, is what right-thinking, mainstream foreign policy types are supposed to do. They're not supposed entertain the possibility that the president or his advisors are dishonest in their portrayal of the entire situation or pursuing goals different from the ones they profess to be pursuing. And they're certainly not supposed to tailor their policy prescriptions to take into account that possibility. That's political. It's not policy.

But to follow that approach -- sensible under sensible circumstances -- just doesn't take into account what we've all seen in the last five years.

It's not the worst breach of the constitution DC Republicans have pulled of late. But it's actually a pretty big deal if you believe in constitutional government. The recent budget actually never passed the Congress, even though the president signed it and it's now being treated as law. Take a look.

As TPM Reader GW just pointed out to me the link above is to a column at Roll Call which is behind the subscription wall. (I try to make a point of flagging that when I link to a subscription only piece.) But you can read it here for free at the AEI website, where Ornstein is a fellow.

Late Update: You can find more on this issue in Jonathan Weisman's March 22nd piece in the Post.