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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

President Bush's comments today on the al Qaqaa matter are so telling, disjointed and over-the-top that it's really worth reprinting them in full (with the most rancid or ridiculous passages emphasized courtesy of the TPM editorial staff) ...

A President must be consistent. After repeatedly calling Iraq the wrong war and a diversion, Senator Kerry this week seemed shocked to learn that Iraq was a dangerous place full of dangerous weapons. (Laughter.) The Senator used to know that, even though he seems to have forgotten it over the course of this campaign. But, after all, that's why we went into Iraq. Iraq was a dangerous place, run by a dangerous tyrant who hated America and who had a lot of weapons. We've seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions, including explosives, at more than thousands of sites. And we're continuing to round up the weapons almost every day.

I want to remind the American people, if Senator Kerry had his way, we would still be taking our global test.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: He would control all those weapons and explosives and could have shared them with our terrorist enemies.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: Now the Senator is making wild charges about missing explosives, when his top foreign policy advisor admits "we don't know the facts." End quote. Think about that. The Senator is denigrating the actions of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts. Unfortunately, that's part of the pattern of saying anything it takes to get elected. Like when he charged that our military failed to get Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, even though our top military commander, General Tommy Franks, said, "The Senator's understanding of events does not square with reality," and intelligence reports place bin Laden in any of several different countries at the time.

See, our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including this one -- that explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived, even arrived at the site. The investigation is important and ongoing. And a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not the person you want as the Commander-in-Chief. (Applause.)


If you're wondering about the all the 'boo' and 'applause' lines, we're working from the White House transcript.

By the way, did you understand his <$NoAd$>answer?

There's actually a good deal more in <$NoAd$>this AFP article we noted earlier about the missing explosives, and information that puts some concrete detail behind the Science Ministry official's claim that the explosives were not spirited before the demise of the old regime.

I'm reprinting selected portions of the piece. But by all means read the whole thing ...

"The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of."

He said officials at Al-Qaqaa, including its general director, whom he refused to name, made contact with US troops before the fall in an effort to get them to provide security for the site.

The regime's fall triggered a wave of looting of government and private property, which US-led troops struggled to contain as they were busy securing their own positions.

...

Science Minister Omar Rashad sent a letter on October 10 to the International Atomic Energy Agency sounding the alarm about the explosives in Al-Qaqaa.

Sharaa said the letter was sent after repeated warnings and inquiries by the IAEA over the disappearance of so-called duel-use nuclear material, which could be used for either conventional or nuclear means.

"Normally we should be overseeing all sites but these responsibilities were stripped away from us under the coalition authority," he said.

The ministry was only handed oversight responsiblities of two site -- Al-Tuwaitha and Al-Wardiya -- after authority was transferred from the coalition to the interim government in June.


There is no need to simply take these assertions at face value. Certainly there may be a variety of motives in play. But these are very concrete and specific claims, ones that reporters might easily use to follow up on with administration and CPA officials. And the motive for members of the interim government to be making trouble for the president at just this moment is not immediately clear.

Department of pleasant surprises<$NoAd$> ...

NBC reports out Drudge's 'terror tape' mumbojumbo and adds some helpful debunking details ...

U.S. officials told NBC News that the tape included now-standard militant Islamist rhetoric promising widespread destruction inside the United States. The man cannot be identified, the officials said, because his face is covered by a headdress.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ABC gave the CIA a complete copy of the tape Monday. They described analysts’ concern as “low” because it is not clear that the tape was recorded recently and because the man on the tape, who speaks in what appears to be an American accent, mentions no details.

“It’s unclear what this tape is — even whether the person on the tape is an American,” one of the officials said.


Surprise, surprise.

Uh-oh ... The head of the Iraqi Science Ministry's site monitoring department says there's no way the explosives were snagged from al Qaqaa before the former regime fell.

"It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall," Mohammed al-Sharaa told the AFP. "The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of."

Does this guy have an axe to grind? Is he biased? I can't say I know anything about him. But if he's some Baathist or dead-ender why is he the guy in charge of protecting these sites now?

And how about those certified statements issued to coalition officials?

Which ones?

This may even convince CNN ...

Is it all going to be about media bias now?

A short time ago Drudge tossed up one of his flashing sirens and soon enough he was pushing the story that ABCNews -- supposedly for political reasons -- is sitting on a new terror tape warning of an attack that will dwarf the horror of 9/11.

According to Drudge, the CIA is now analyzing the tape for authenticity and there are various other breathless quotes. The tape supposedly emerged in Waziristan over the weekend.

Then we hear the odd detail that the terrorist speaks in an American accent and speculation that it might be "Adam Gadhan - aka Adam Pearlman, a California native", who, if you look at his photo on this mug shot and flyer announcing the Bureau's interest in questioning him, looks like he probably turned to radical Islam after getting turned down for a role in Dazed and Confused or possibly Clerks.

These are difficult waters to wade into, particularly with skepticism, doubt or derision. And who knows what the story is here. But a few questions suggest themselves.

Like, since when do we even hear about 'terror warning tapes' when they don't come from the likes of bin Laden or al Zawahiri?

Questioning this stuff isn't a matter of making light of terrorism. It comes from so many people's frustration about how many ways these jokers have tried to use this stuff to divide this country and manipulate it for narrow political ends.

I half expect that by tomorrow we'll be watching a grainy video of Ken Mehlman, decked out in a phony beard a la Woody Allen in Bananas, bellowing that he and his boss OBL are about to take over America with one mammoth terror attack and institute compulsory gay marriage before forcibly converting everyone to Islam.

I can only hope that we've finally come to point where even the standard pushovers in the mainstream media are getting wise to this song and dance.

Wouldn't you figure it's time for a terror alert about now?

Apparently President Bush and his campaign didn't want to make it three days straight without any comment from the commander-in-chief about the al Qaqaa business.

But it wasn't pretty.

No, it probably won't surprise you that I thought it was weak. But I really don't think many of the president's supporters (at least not those who still have any critical faculties left) will be too heartened by it either.

What I jotted down just as I was listening was a line about Kerry's "wild charges about missing explosives" and how Kerry's "denigrating the actions of our troops in the field without knowing the facts."

Beside that it seemed to be a mix of 'Not my fault', 'We still don't know what happened', 'Maybe they were already gone, 'Criticizing me means criticizing the troops' and then on top of that some more mumbojumbo about Tora Bora.

I almost expected him to start whining about media bias.

We've now gone two days without President Bush making any comment at all about the al Qaqaa business. As the Times notes, the president twice ignored reporters' questions on the topic yesterday.

Will Wednesday be number three?

It's an oddly defensive stance less than a week before an election.

This evening, Wingerdom is all aflutter about what they now see as the New York Times-CBS-IAEA international anti-Bush conspiracy. But they might do better to focus their anxieties elsewhere.

Like at the Pentagon, for instance.

Who over there is trying to stick it to the president?

Look at two big news stories on Tuesday, the Washington Post report that the White House plans to ask for some $70 billion more in Iraq spending just a week or two after the election and this USA Today piece reporting that the Pentagon is planning to add roughly 20,000 more troops to the force in Iraq in anticipation of the elections in January.

Just on the basis of logical inference, I'm gonna bet those leaks didn't come from Scott McClellan.

More troops in the country is something that many administration critics have been pressing for. But, still, it's not the news the Bush campaign wants to be talking about one week before the election. Combined with the al Qaqaa business, these two stories managed to create what one network news talking head called a trifecta of bad Iraq news to kick off the last week of the campaign.

Tom Squitieri, author of the USA Today piece, provides some possible guidance about who was behind the troop deployment story: "Four Defense officials with direct knowledge of troop planning for Iraq discussed what the Pentagon must do to meet the need for more troops at election time. They asked not to be identified because troop matters are highly sensitive and decisions have not yet been finalized." The Post sourced its story to Pentagon officials and "Appropriations Committee aides." But what Republican Appropriations Committee aides -- who are the ones who'd know the best details -- would have leaked this stuff to the Post this week?

Even in the al Qaqaa story, while Larry Di Rita has been working reporters trying to get out the White House's storyline, there's been a steady back-draft of off-the-record comments by Army officials that keep tripping him up.

I also couldn't help but notice that both the Times and CBS managed to get lengthy and rather candid interviews with Col. Joseph Anderson, commander of the unit that came through al Qaqaa on April 10th with that NBC News crew. He completely upended the NBC/Drudge storyline that the White House had been depending on all day. And for CBS, Anderson even tossed in the bonus comment that he would have needed four times as many troops to secure all the weapons depots that his troops came across while sweeping into Iraq.

If it were appropriate, I might even note that one of the folks who received the 'talking points' di Rita sent out today describing how to spin the al Qaqaa mess decided to send them on to me.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that the Army is trying to drive the president from office or that there's anything coordinated about this. I'm simply pointing out that if you look at the Pentagon as a whole -- and not just Larry Di Rita's shop in OSD -- in Bush-Cheney '04 terms, it's starting to look like part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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