Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Read this brief note from The New Yorker by Philip Gourevitch on where we are now in Iraq. Just right.

Still shopping? For the next week, each afternoon, I'll be recommending a new book in the TPM Featured Book section -- each one a richly-textured work of popular history writing, each one a great find.

This afternoon, Hugh Thomas' Conquest, the history in English of Cortes' conquest of Mexico. A brilliant rendering of the rapid, violent and in many respects catastrophic clash of two civilizations amidst war, mutual discovery and epidemic disease.

For those who read our earlier recommendation, Bernal Diaz's The Conquest of New Spain, a first-hand account of the events in question, Conquest is an almost essential companion.

Do the Shi'a stay on the sidelines?

There are all sorts of potential 'vectors' of violence in Iraq, not at all of which are directed at us, but all of which, by definition, complicate what we are trying to accomplish in the country.

We know much less than we need to about the character of the guerilla violence being directed at US troops. But by and large it seems to come from elements within the Sunni Arab population of the country.

At the same time, those same groups appear to be behind the continuing attacks against Shi'a political leaders.

For instance, a couple days ago suspected Saddam loyalists assassinated a leading member of the al-Hakim family, Muhannad al-Hakim. That family is the moving force behind the most important Shi'a political organization, SCIRI, and just as importantly SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps.

These attacks, of course, must be seen in the context of the earlier assassination of the former head of SCIRI, Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr al-Hakim.

Will they fight back?

To date, this is the shoe that hasn't dropped in Iraq -- a move to open fighting from the well-armed and highly organized Shi'a militias who've decided to stay largely on the sidelines.

To a great degree that makes sense. We're fighting the Sunnis in the center of the country -- their sectarian enemies. So the Shi'a can sit back and have us and the ex-Baathists bloody each other.

Their numerical preponderance in the country isn't going anywhere. So they can afford to wait for the reversion to Iraqi sovereignty which will certainly mean power for them. By a cruel arithmetic, we're doing their dirty work for them.

(Ed. note: references to 'Sunni' and 'Shi'a' and 'ex-Baathists', in this context, should be taken as very general references to allegiance groups and shouldn't be taken to mean that all the members of these groups are implicated in these activities.)

But Sunni paramilitaries -- call them whatever you want -- are hitting Shi'a groups like SCIRI very hard. If the Shi'a start hitting back, the situation on the ground in Iraq could begin to change very quickly. And that must certainly be the strategy of those mounting these attacks.

Perle on what is behind criticism of neoconservatism ...

I can only conclude that the visceral anti-Americanism just runs deeper than any other set of values that is meaningful on the left and hence the obsession with and the disparagement of what they define as a neoconservative approach to international affairs.

We will return to this in the context of a discussion of whether such attitudes about political disagreements suit a person to the task of spreading democracy.

And along these lines, while we're at it, let me again recommend George Soros' new book The Bubble of American Supremacy.

Ralph Nader's Exploratory Committee website says he's deciding now whether to run for president again in 2004 (aka, deciding whether to repeat his tragic error of 2000 by helping give George W. Bush another four years in office and thus at least doing his critics the favor of proving that he's fallen into a black hole of egomania, bad-faith, political solipsism, and crypto-conservatism.)

In any case, he's got an online survey now, asking you to tell him how much you want him to run.

Need I say more?

As many news outlets are reporting, there was a new photo of Saddam published today which caused quite a stir in Baghdad.

It was published by Al-Mutamar, a new daily published by Ahmed Chalabi, and it features a disheveled downcast Saddam sitting before -- who else? -- Ahmed Chalabi.

Chalabi, with hands clasped, is sitting a couple feet from Saddam and seems to be posing some question, as Saddam looks on sheepishly.

This picture was taken shortly after Saddam's capture when the US military brought in four members of the Interim Governing Council to speak with Saddam: Chalabi and three others.

(The best reproductions of the picture I've seen are in the Dallas Morning News.)

Here are a few questions ...

Who took the picture?

Presumably an Army photographer, unless Chalabi was allowed to bring in a camera man from his new paper, which would be, to put it mildly, a bit irregular. Were pictures taken only of Chalabi and Saddam? And regardless of these two questions, why were pictures taken (presumably) by US military photographers given on a exclusive basis to Chalabi?

I bet there's a story there.

LATE UPDATE: I'm told that press reports say that Adnan Pachachi and the other two IGC members were in the photos, but were cropped out to leave only Chalabi. That of course leaves the questions above even more in need of answer.

When I was sitting up at the front table at the neocons' panel on Monday, I noticed there was one young woman in the front row whose downtown haircut and style of dress seemed to set her apart from the rest of the more prim, conservatively attired folks in the room -- almost all of whom seemed to be gritting their teeth at me in a vaguely menacing sort of way whenever I spoke.

It turned out to be Michelle Goldberg from Salon, whose byline I've long been familiar with, but had never met in person.

Here's her piece on the neocons' panel from today's Salon. Some fun stuff -- check it out.

For all the back and forth, up <$NoAd$>and down news we're hearing about the 2004 presidential election, this is the most salient piece of information I've seen in some time.

From this week's Cook Report, following up on numbers crumched by the ISI Group ...

The broader dynamics of the current situation strongly suggest this will be a close race. Witness a recent analysis by the Washington office of the investment research firm the ISI Group, pointing out that in Gallup polling one year before the general election, Bush enjoyed the third-highest job approval rating of any modern president among his own party members, trailing only former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. However, Bush had the lowest approval rating among members of the opposition party, even lower than former President Bill Clinton's year-out approval numbers among Republicans. The unusually strong approval numbers among his fellow Republicans builds Bush a very high floor, but the equally strong degree of opposition among Democrats constructs an unusually low ceiling. As a result, if Bush were a stock, he would have an extraordinarily narrow trading range. This, along with the equally divided nation, pushes the race toward a very competitive situation.

That's the fundamental reality of the election.

I think Dan Drezner is on to something at the end of this post when he points to the recent appointments of Bob Blackwill and Jim Baker to different parts of the Iraq portfolio.

Let's call it 'creeping 41ism' -- the slow, but unmistakable trend for the new Iraq appointments to go to old-line Republican foreign policy types from dad's administration.

I made this point with respect to Baker at the neocon panel at Hudson on Monday. And Gary Schmitt responded, rather less than credibly, that Baker has, in fact, now become a neocon. (Who knew?) His evidence was Baker's recent trip to Georgia to warn Eduard Shevardnadze against rigging the Georgian election.

(This follows the new logic that holds that anyone who takes any action in support of non-rigged elections is by definition a neocon.)

In any case, no one believes that James Baker has become a neocon. I have good enough sources to know that that's not what the neocons are saying amongst themselves. And I very much doubt Schmitt himself thinks it's true.

I've had the pleasure and honor of attending a number of dinners and panels and conferences with Schmitt. And he's always struck me as someone willing to discuss the issues of the day candidly and on the merits. I think this was a case of the excitement of the moment perhaps getting the better of him -- sort of like the frenzy you see when a pack of wolves attacks a chicken coop. With, in this case, yours truly as the feathered one.

No complaints. I thought I held my own.

One other point.

In another post commenting on my tete-a-tete with Perle, Drezner writes "I'm not sure how much neoconservatives think or want Perle to be their exemplar. I've expressed my reservations about Perle in the past, so I might be biased here."

I think Drezner's got this right -- and this for another reason which may not be readily apparent. One sometimes sees Perle referred to in the media as the idea-man or the ideologist of contemporary neoconservatism. But that's not really his role, nor is it even how he's seen within that community.

Perle's sway in that community is vast. But he's not the thinker, the shaper of their ideas -- that's Wolfowitz, and a number of others, whose names are less well-known. His role is more analogous to that of a ward-boss, an organizer, a bureaucratic operator and rainmaker, the guy who lines people up with jobs and appointments -- and, of course, working the airwaves.