Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"I think it's a moot point."

That was White House Chief of Staff Andy Card today on whether pre-war claims about Iraq's WMD capacity were "faulty."

James Baker, now with his own US government plane and Iraq portfolio, will apparently be making one of his early stops in New Delhi, with an offer The Telegraph of Calcutta says the Indians may not be able to refuse.

Meanwhile, Mark Matthews's piece in Saturday's Baltimore Sun is the first, I think, to place Baker's appointment in proper perspective.

And then there's the matter of Robert Jordan, Texas oil lawyer and America's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia since September 2001.

Jordan and Baker are both partners in the Houston uber-law firm Baker Botts (co-founded by Baker's greatgrandfather, James Addison Baker, in 1873). And both were down in Florida in late 2000 organizing the recount effort. And Jordan represented President Bush in the Harken matter.

Here's the introduction on Baker Botts's Middle East Region page ...

As Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries in the Middle East continue to encourage private sector investment, opportunities for U.S., European and regional companies are growing. Baker Botts is able to assist clients with these opportunities through our depth of experience in the region and broad-based expertise in energy, technology, telecommunications, project development and finance. This position is further strengthened by our recent acquisition of an existing law office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which operates in association with the law office of Mohanned S. Al Rasheed, and a strategic alliance with Afridi & Angell, a law firm with offices in U.A.E. at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, as well as in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Jordan and Baker are, needless to say, longtime friends and professional associates. And perhaps Jordan's assistance will be on offer for Baker, since Jordan stepped down as Ambassador just six weeks ago for "personal reasons" and is now back in the law biz in Texas.

James Risen's got an interesting piece in the Times on rogue -- or not-so-rogue -- operations run out of Doug Feith's office at the Pentagon -- particularly, meetings last year with Iran-Contra luminary Manucher Ghorbanifar. When reading that piece, read it along with this piece from the New York Sun from a few days ago by Eli Lake, which covers another angle on the story.

And another thing: make a note for future reference about where that first meeting took place.

We'll be reporting much more on this in the coming days. But I just wanted to start off this afternoon by saying that I think James Baker's appointment as President Bush's envoy for settling Iraq's foreign debt issues is a much bigger deal than it seems. Much bigger.

My point isn't that there's anything hidden or conspiratorial about it per se. It's just that cutting the deals surrounding the debt issue is central to much of what happens in Iraq next year. And much of what happens in Iraq period.

Settling this debt issue isn't just a bigger version of refinancing your house. It will involve Baker in critical negotiations with the front-line states in the region as well as Iraq's debtors abroad. Those negotiations in turn will have a lot of influence over how helpful or unhelpful these other states choose to be next year -- with potential troops and a lot of other things. (It is also, as a friend of mine notes, a tacit admission that the Madrid donors' conference was a bit of a flop.) Finally, the terms of the deals -- how they're backed up, especially -- will get right into the matter of how the Iraqi economy itself gets structured: who owns what, how it's structured, what other countries get claims on what assets.

(Baker will be assisted in all of this by the fact that he knows everyone in the region -- and represents a number of them. He will also be able to say -- with no little credibility -- that he had nothing to do with all the unpleasantness of last year. "You don't want to deal with me? How'd you like dealing with Doug?")

We already know in late July there was some effort from some parties in the White House to get Baker into Iraq and possibly edge Bremer out. It didn't come off. But I think this move must be, in some sense, seen in the context of that earlier story.

I don't think Bremer is going anywhere. But I'm also not sure that he has to.

The situation in Iraq has become much more militarized in the last six weeks or so. In practice, that's diminished Bremer's role already. Baker's appointment may diminish his role in another part of running the country -- again, the all important nexus between the economic organization of the country itself and its relations with other states and international financial institutions.

Let's remember what Baker's specialty is. Yes, he was White House Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State and various other things. But his real specialty is coming in to save the day when men named George Bush look like they're about to lose their presidencies. He's the family fixer. He did that in 1992 when he gave up State to run Bush's campaign. And he did it eight years later in 2000 when he went to Florida to run the recount battle. The phone just rang again ...

Add to the mix the fact that the neocons react to James Baker's name about the way a gas station attendant does if you try to light a cigarette while you're filling your tank.

So many articles get published every day. And it's a struggle to know which are the must-reads and which can be safely ignored. Read this one ... Jet Lag: How Boeing Blew It by Douglas Gantenbein in Slate.

Richard Perle is now in<$Ad$> yet more hot water over the fact that he wrote an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal supporting the tanker deal now at the center of the Pentagon-Boeing procurement scandal. The reason for the heated water, as we noted yesterday, is the fact that Boeing was a big investor in his 'Trireme Partners.'

But tucked away down in the final graf of this article on the story in the Financial Times is this little nugget ...

Internal Boeing e-mails portray a lobbying campaign the company undertook to have "friends on the Hill" and "think tanks" drum up support for the deal. One Boeing e-mail refers to an Op-Ed article in support of the company by retired Admiral Archie Clemins as being "ghost-written".

I'd say what we might have here is another thread pointing in the direction of the never-truly-busted-open OpEd Payola scandal, which we'll revisit soon.

What a difference an ocean makes ...

The nation's job market continued to strengthen in November, with the unemployment rate falling slightly to 5.9 percent and payroll employment rising for a fourth consecutive month, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Washington Post, December 6th 2003

The US economy generated significantly fewer jobs than expected in November, according to government figures issued on Friday, damping hopes of a swift revival in the sluggish labour market.

Financial Times, December 5th 2003

We cut-n-paste, you decide.

I've gotten sort of out of the habit <$NoAd$>of linking to Paul Krugman's columns, largely because I think there's so much over overlap between our audiences that the links are redundant.

(In Venn Diagram terms, overlap in the sense of my little circle off in some out of the way part of his big circle.)

But Friday's column is a true stand-out for its unadorned enumeration of what's happening.

Note the last four grafs ...

Awhile back, George Akerlof, the Nobel laureate in economics, described what's happening to public policy as "a form of looting." Some scoffed at the time, but now even publications like The Economist, which has consistently made excuses for the administration, are sounding the alarm.

To be fair, the looting is a partly bipartisan affair. More than a few Democrats threw their support behind the Medicare bill, the energy bill or both. But the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress are leading the looting party. What are they thinking?

The prevailing theory among grown-up Republicans — yes, they still exist — seems to be that Mr. Bush is simply doing whatever it takes to win the next election. After that, he'll put the political operatives in their place, bring in the policy experts and finally get down to the business of running the country.

But I think they're in denial. Everything we know suggests that Mr. Bush's people have given as little thought to running America after the election as they gave to running Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. And they will have no idea what to do when things fall apart.

I made a series of similar points in my column in The Hill this week, and many others are putting the pieces together too.

Now back to the Empire essay.

My kingdom for an empire ... essay.

Some random thoughts about the Democratic primary race.

I had lunch today with someone who is not a politician but a fairly prominent Washington Democrat -- certainly not someone from the party's liberal wing. And in the course of answering a question, I said "If it [i.e. the nominee] ends up being Dean ..." At which point, with the rest of my sentence still on deck down in my throat, my friend shot back : "It's Dean."

It was effortless. He wasn't happy or sad about it. He wasn't trying to convince me -- more like letting me in on something I apparently wasn't aware of yet.

We went back and forth over the various factors that play into the race. But the conclusion was that Dean is just in the zone, hitting on every cylinder, doing almost everything right tactically, and having the added benefit of having tons of money. Plenty of candidates have money and go nowhere because they don't know what to do with it. But at least at the moment that doesn't apply to Dean -- and that's certainly related to the fact that the money itself stems from campaign ingenuity, thus creating a sort of virtuous circle of fundraising success.

(I also keep running into McCain types who are very into Dean -- something which is on one level pretty surprising, but on another not surprising at all.

I was reminded of this when I read this post by Eric Alterman about John Kerry's campaign -- a meditation on a meeting Kerry held recently with Alterman and a bunch of other journalists, intellectuals and scribblers at Al Franken's apartment in New York. The broader theme was reconciling Alterman's belief that Kerry could beat President Bush and could even be a great president with the reality that Kerry's campaign appears to be disintegrating in New Hampshire. And because New Hampshire, essentially everywhere.

Alterman says Kerry ...

still has the problem—perhaps unsolvable—of how to break through to Dean voters in the short amount of time he has left when the media has their storyline already and no candidate gets to say anything that lasts more than a few seconds.

And how!

I like Kerry -- I find the smarm attacks on him revolting. But, in a situation like this, it's really hard for me to see how you can recover the support of voters that you once had in New Hampshire, but then lost.

I think Clark clearly has momentum. But he'll need a lot of momentum to make a fight of this.

Edwards and Lieberman? Somewhere between off the map and non-existent.

I find myself torn because I see great promise in the resurgence of energy among grassroots Democrats -- something that has made Dean's campaign possible, but which he himself has also significantly helped to catalyze. The novel methods of fundraising and networking are extremely important -- something that Dems allowed to atrophy literally decades ago. And I definitely think that the going models that Democrats have in DC just aren't working, demonstrably aren't working.

Yet my wariness remains -- on various counts.

Of late, a lot of folks, playing off the McGovern analogy, have started talking up the Goldwater one. Perhaps the Dems lose this one, but it's a campaign that germinates into a political realignment one or two or three elections later.


The problem is that I'm not sure we can afford another four years of this. And I don't consider that hyperbole, but cold fact. Plus, I think Bush is beatable.