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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In a recent monograph Ornamentalism, the historian David Cannadine argued that class rather than race was at the heart of the British Empire at its apogee. The British used their empire to replicate an idealized vision of Britain’s hierarchical class system in the colonies.

Just as the home country was becoming increasingly democratic and dukes and earls were becoming anachronisms, Britons (or at least the ones who ran the empire) tried to recreate that vanishing hierarchical class- and status-based society in the colonies. Cannadine figures that that’s why you had all the campish pomp, ceremony and extravagant trappings of the empire. It was a grand act of compensation, remaking or preserving in the colonies what was being lost at home.

You can find other examples of this pattern. The early missionary enterprise in the Spanish empire, for example, had a similar dimension. The Franciscan and Dominican friars who evangelized the New World saw the discovery of America as an opportunity to put right all that had gone wrong during the first fifteen centuries of Christianity.

Christianity in the New World wouldn’t just be as good as that of the Old World, but better. At least as they imagined it, America provided a blank slate, where the edifice of Christianity could be built right from the ground up, free of all the accidents or history and the corruptions and complications of the Old World.

You might call it blank-slatism. Colonized or occupied countries become prey to the philosophical imaginings and unrealizable political wish-lists of the home countries. Privatizing everything is a pretty hard slog at home? Let’s do it in Iraq where we control the whole show. School choice? Hey, teachers unions are nowhere to be found in Iraq. Let’s try it there.

Down in the details of the reconstruction of Iraq there have already been plenty of examples of this. But now we see the most obvious and I’d say the most bizarre example of this in Iraq. As the Washington Post reports on Sunday, Paul Bremer has just announced the imposition of a 15% flat tax on Iraq.

The Post article is made up largely of conservative flat-taxers like Grover Norquist crowing about how good a thing this is. "It's extremely good news," Norquist told the Post. And though Bremer's pronunciamento leaves some ambiguity about whether Iraqis might face graduated levels of taxation under 15%, Norquist says "they told me it's a flat rate and it appears as though it's a flat rate ... It might be a hint to the rest of us."

Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett makes the blank slate argument pretty explicitly. With so little in place, he told the Post, there is no “need not worry about all the political and transition problems that have made adoption of fundamental tax reform here so difficult.”

Indeed.

"Call it liberation or occupation, a dominating American presence in Iraq was probably destined to be more difficult, and more costly in money and in blood, than administration officials claimed in the months leading up to the war. But it need not have been this difficult ... The real lesson of the postwar mess is that while occupying and reconstructing Iraq was bound to be difficult, the fact that it may be turning into a quagmire is not a result of fate, but rather (as quagmires usually are) a result of poor planning and wishful thinking. Both have been in evidence to a troubling degree in American policy almost from the moment the decision was made to overthrow Saddam Hussein's bestial dictatorship."

Well put.

That's from the conclusion of David Rieff's piece on post-war Iraq in the Times magazine today.

See Sid Blumenthal's new piece in The Guardian on the White House's war on the Intelligence Community.

Can you lose your job for shaking General Clark's hand? Depends where you work. Scroll down to the last item in this Who's Who in the Washington Monthly.

When I first posted the news that I would be financing my election coverage of the New Hampshire primary through reader contributions, I thought it was a new idea.

Well, it turns out that's not entirely true. Christopher Allbritton financed his trip to Iraq through the same means. And, needless to say, a trip to Iraq is a rather bolder endeavor than one to New Hampshire.

(The budget mentioned earlier is still on the way --- been doin a lot of reporting.)

Let’s put another piece of the uranium forgeries puzzle down on the table.

This time the issue is timing.

First, we already know that in the first couple days of October 2002 Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba got a call from an Italian businessman and security consultant, a source for an earlier story, telling her that he had some documents she’d be interested in seeing.

She met with the source in person on October 7th in a bar in Rome. But on seeing the documents Burba had questions from the start. The next day she brought the documents and her concerns to a meeting with her editors at Panorama. Burba then proposed a fact-finding trip to Niger to investigate the document's authenticity.

But the Editor-in-Chief of Burba’s magazine insisted she take the documents to the American Embassy in Rome to have them verified. That man is Carlo Rossella, a man who is, in Sy Hersh’s words, “known for his ties to the Berlusconi government.” (Keep in mind that the magazine itself is owned by Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi and that he is a staunch supporter of President Bush’s Iraq policy.)

Rossella described his suggestion thusly to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera ...

When Burba showed me the documents she had received from a source of hers, she also explained to me that she had many doubts as to their authenticity. I told her to run all the checks she deemed necessary, and I also suggested the possibility of getting an evaluation directly from the United States ... I knew perfectly well that that material could prove an extraordinary scoop, and therefore I personally called the press office and informed them about what was happening. I suggested delivering them a copy of the dossier in order to have their assessment.


When asked why he didn't have the documents run by private or government experts in Italy he said ...

Because I believed that the only ones able to give us a correct evaluation were the Americans, who for years have been dealing with Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. My objective was exclusively that of not publishing a "poisoned chalice," rather than of informing the United States.


The next day, October 9th, in a meeting arranged by Rosella, Burba handed over copies of the dossier to the American Embassy in Rome. They were then forwarded to Washington. According to several accounts, they were immediately recognized as fakes by analysts at the CIA and the State Department. But that didn't stop their life in the US national security bureaucracy.

Now, those documents turn out to have been amazingly well-timed. Why? Let’s look at what else was happening while these events were unfolding in Rome.

Through the first weeks of September senior members of the Bush administration began a major press offensive alleging that Saddam Hussein had a robust nuclear weapons program. This was done in close coordination with British PM Tony Blair. On September 24th Blair published his Iraq dossier which said, among other things, that “there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

The British dossier was intended to convince skeptics in the UK but also to provide grist for the debate in the United States. The dossier, in fact, was the predicate for a major speech President Bush intended to give on October 7th in Cincinnati, one calling attention to the Niger uranium story.

But there were problems. And they cropped up rapidly.

As early as September 28th the BBC had begun investigating leaks from the British national security establishment claiming that the dossier was based on hyped intelligence.

There were problems too from the IAEA. Immediately after Blair’s presentation in the House of Commons the IAEA insisted that the claims about nuclear activities were unsubstantiated and demanded whatever evidence the US or the UK might have to back them up. Nothing was forthcoming.

Most important in the US, there were problems from the CIA. Behind the scenes in the US, a battle royale was shaping up over whether the president should be allowed to repeat the uranium from Africa claims in his Cincinnati speech.

On October 1st, US intelligence agencies released a top-secret NIE to the White House and Congress. The NIE mentions the Niger reports as well as claims about attempts to purchase uranium in Somalia and Congo. The only doubts were raised in a footnote noting the State Department’s skepticism.

But despite the NIE, the CIA clearly had grave concerns about the accuracy of the Niger story. And pretty much from the moment Blair released the dossier there was a wrestling match between the White House and the CIA over whether the president should publicly refer to the Niger uranium story in his speech.

The struggle culminated in the two days (October 5th & 6th) before the president traveled to Ohio when the CIA sent two separate top-secret memos to the president’s staff insisting that the references be removed from the speech. Fearing that that hadn’t done the trick, CIA Director George Tenet personally telephoned Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley insisting that the references to uranium sales based on the British dossier be removed from the speech, which they were.

Now, I know there are a lot of dates and personages in the mix here and we’ll be adding some more in subsequent posts. But consider the progression of events…

The US and UK start a major roll-out on the nuclear claims. But the response is generally disappointing. There’s major push-back from the IAEA and, secretly in the US, from the CIA.

It was precisely at this moment (in the last days of September and the first of October) that the advocates of the Niger story were most in need of some new evidence. And it was precisely at this moment when the new evidence --- at first seemingly incontrovertible --- popped up in Rome.

And the day after the reporter gets the docs the Editor-in-Chief of her magazine instructs her to take them to the American Embassy.

And remember too that it wasn’t publicly known at the time that Niger was the country in question.

So who won the 'imminent threat' contest?

Well, we got just shy of 500 entries by the time the deadline rolled around on Monday evening. So it's taken us a couple days to work our way through them and sift out duplications. But we'll be announcing the winners soon.

More on Clark...

I've had a number of people write in about the previous post. And the most frequent question has been whether I think the general's candidacy is somehow beyond repair.

My answer is: not in the least. I think he remains a very strong candidate, and quite probably the strongest contender against President Bush. I also think he's got a lot of great people working for him at the grassroots level and in Little Rock. And I think he did very well in the last debate.

But that doesn't change the fact that the campaign is not organized with a clear message or an evident strategy for winning the nomination. At least that's what I see from where I'm sitting. And this is coming from a real admirer of the candidate.

Clark has only been in this race for six weeks or so. So I doubt there's any great harm done -- from an optics standpoint -- if he does some reshuffling. Campaigns are hard to put together, all the more so on the fly and quickly. All true.

But at the moment I just don't see the kind of campaign I think Clark needs to win. To paraphrase the UNCF, a great candidate is a terrible thing to waste.

Wes Clark gave a great speech on Tuesday at the Center for American Progress conference in Washington. And the most recent national poll, the Quinnipiac University Poll, has him back ahead of Howard Dean, after several that showed the reverse.

But let's be honest: the air's going out of his campaign. In money, in direction, in the polls, at the grass roots.

In fact, that doesn't even quite capture it. The air's going out of his candidacy because he doesn't have a campaign. Where's the campaign, the strategy, the organization?

What's surprised me most is that he's managed to do as well as he has over the last six weeks even with the complete lack of direction and organization from Little Rock.

The operation is being run by an interlocking directorate of folks who can't be bothered to be more than absentee proprietors of the general's campaign. (We'll say more about the details on these points in a follow-on post.)

I have to imagine Clark can see this. How could he not? The question is whether he's going to really do anything about it. Getting a national campaign up and running on the quick is no mean task, especially if you're new at it. And I still think he's a very strong candidate. But even the strongest candidate can be run into the ground by a bad campaign operation. He needs to get some new heads in the operation and let some others roll.

As I wrote yesterday, the president’s attempt to pass off the “Mission Accomplished” sign as something the sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln foisted on him was a big mistake.

It’s dishonest, for one.

And having the commander-in-chief trying to pass off one of his political problems --- if admittedly one of the more minor ones --- on members of his military during wartime sends a rather inglorious message.

But this small story also points to a bigger one: this president’s political relationship with the American military and more broadly, his party’s relationship with the military.

During the last presidential election a number of high-ranking, recently retired generals --- including Anthony Zinni --- endorsed president Bush. That wasn’t quite unprecedented. But it got a lot of attention because it was outside the mold for what’s been expected of retired four-star generals, especially ones just recently retired.

Yet, as I wrote back in early 2002, pretty much from the start the brass at the Pentagon ended up getting something very different from what they’d expected. Though the ire focused on the president’s civilian appointees, rather than the president himself, the disgruntlement came quickly and grew apace over the president’s first two years in office.

Much of this was muted or set aside as the Pentagon ratcheted up for war in early 2003. But it resurfaced with a vengeance at mid-year as problems began to crop up in Iraq and it became increasingly clear that the president had taken the country -- and his military -- into a conflict on questionable pretenses and with no good plan for what we’d do there once we toppled the government.

Two things have happened in recent months. First, the animosity toward the administration --- or at least its appointees at the Pentagon --- has seeped down from the highest echelons of the officer corps down into its more junior ranks and the enlisted men and women on the ground. Second, there’s a creeping sense that the problem goes higher than Don Rumsfeld. (To get some sense of this progression, leaf through publications like Army Times.)

As a political matter, the politics of the US military has implications beyond who the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines themselves vote for. There is a whole class of civilian voters that take their own cue from which party does better by the US military.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why members of the military -- when disgruntled with or angry with Republicans and President Bush -- don’t necessarily shift to the Democrats. But this growing alienation of many in the military from this president and his party could prove very important next year.

I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about this issue in coming months. But the cover story ("Corps Voters" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells) of the new Washington Monthly begins the discussion with an excellent article on the subject. Take a look. It’s up this morning over at the Monthly website.

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