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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

One of the nice things about having a blog is the ability to expand on points you've made in a more formally structured article or column. So let me expand a bit on my column in the current edition of The Hill. The piece says that we're missing a key point about what made the democratic transformations of Japan and Germany successful: the vast mauling of the civilian populations that took place prior to the war.

Now, let me touch on a few points. A few people seem to think I'm saying we should kill more Iraqis in order to get good democracies. I think it's pretty obvious that's not what I'm saying. A few other folks seemed to think I was arguing that suffering under carpet bombing somehow inculcates a democratic, pluralistic sensibility. Thus one reader tried to disprove my point by noting that Eastern Europe's civilian population had it even worse than most parts of Germany and they ended up being run by Communist dictatorships. Not what I mean. Yet another idea was that I was saying that too many of the militarists were dead to reconstitute themselves. Again, not what I'm saying.

In any case, this column seems to have generated a lot of attention, so let me say a little more ...

What got me thinking about this was actually a section of my dissertation, or rather an argument that runs all the way through it. That is, the conditioning effect both of overwhelming violence and also violence used as a weapon of terror. What happened back in New England back in 17th century is obviously very far afield from what we're talking about today. Equally so, from what happened in Germany and Japan sixty years ago. Still, there are parallels. Just as shattering violence affects people, it affects whole peoples, busting up the basic assumptions and givens in a society that usually prevent thoroughgoing change.

We normally think of people reacting to violence in a rational manner. So, for instance, when you hit them they either hit back or decide you're too strong and just decide to obey. But certain experiences of violence are so total that the reaction transcends either of these 'rational' reactions. It leads to something more like, well ... shock and awe. And not just for a few moments or a few days.

There's an additional point we might add. In a very general sense we can say that the wartime governments in both Germany and Japan were run by dominant but not-previously-unchallenged factions in these countries' political orders. Basically, in each case, the authoritarian, aggressively militarist parts of the country were in the saddle. The Nazis certainly cannot be equated with Germany's older blood-and-iron Bismarckian tradition. But there were deep affinities between the two. And something similar, at least at a very general level, applied in Japan -- though I know much less about Japan's pre-war history.

These forces led both countries to utter ruin. And in both cases, the result was a profound discreditation of those forces in the respective societies, in addition to a profound malleability and openness to transformation. That result, or that perception, was mediated by our subsequent denazification programs and also a degree of moral realization of the evils committed by those regimes.

Those situations are different from Iraq because large segments of the populations of Germany and Japan were deeply supportive of these regimes -- at least at the outset -- whereas almost no one thinks Saddam Hussein has any real following in Iraq behind his security services and cronies. Whether they want their country remade by us is an open question.

One final point, some people have made the point that the Iraqi people already have lived through a profound mauling, in the form of Saddam's rule and twelve years of UN sanctions. On Saddam's rule, there's no doubt that's been a horrible mauling. How it will play out in the context of democratization, I'm not sure. As for sanctions, though, I don't think it counts in this case. My reading of analogous cases tells me that grinding hardship -- as opposed to shattering violence -- produces rage and resentment rather than the sort of transformative openness to change you had in post-war Germany and Japan.

We'll talk more about this later.

There are hawks of war, dogs of war and, alas, as always, the jackals of war. You can see them coming with their lazy eyes, cackling grins, bloody lips and long teeth. The eve of war is literally an electric time, pregnant with fear, hope, edgy eagerness, uncertainty and manic energy. You'll always find people who want to grab some of that swirling energy and exploit it for some cynical purpose. Like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, it would seem.

As you know, a few days ago Senate Minority Tom Daschle told a union audience that he regretted that the president had "failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war."

This was an uncharacteristically frank remark from a congressional leader on the eve of war. But it has the saving grace of being true -- which is always a nice thing. I don't know that better diplomacy would have avoided war. But it's unquestionably true that the president's repeated diplomatic foul-ups, goofs and course-corrections got us into a very bad situation and forced us into war on a very poor geo-political footing. I'm extremely happy to see that Daschle has crisply refused to retreat from that statement one bit.

That is especially so in the face of opportunistic grabs from across the aisle. There have been all manner of nasty comments from Republicans, criticizing Daschle, calling on him to apologize, and so forth. And that's fine. Anyone can criticize, just as Daschle has criticized the president. (We won't even get into the fact that many of these self-same Republicans said almost identical things when Bill Clinton sent American troops into battle.) But then comes Dennis Hastert, head of operations in the other body, who says that Daschle's "comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."

Like I said, he's pulling some of that awful energy out of the air and using it to score a few cheap points -- the Speaker of the House suggesting that the Democratic leader in the other body may be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Almost needless to say, Senator Daschle is a Vietnam-era vet, Air Force intelligence, if I remember correctly. Hastert, during the same years, was otherwise occupied.

This is a delicate subject. But now seems like the time to broach it. As we move toward trying to democratize Iraq we often think of Japan and Germany. But I think we miss a key element in what allowed those experiments in democratization to be a success: how many Japanese and German civilians had died during the war. That's what my column this week in The Hill is about.

Why is the New York Times calling Bill Frist "Dr.Frist" in its regular news coverage of the Senate Majority Leader? He has a medical degree. He used to work as a doctor. I'm sure he's saved many lives. But doesn't this sound like something that comes right out of the good doctor's communications department?

I did a little hunting around on Nexis. And it seems like the Times started using the "Dr." a bunch more after he got the top job. But the Post and the LA Times and Roll Call and most other publications just call him the more appropriate "Mr.Frist."

Maybe he's got something on Howell Raines?

Some miscellaneous thoughts. As long-time readers know, the posts have been a bit more sparse for the last three or four months. And the reason has been that I've been preparing the final draft of my dissertation manuscript. And tonight I finished it. That doesn't mean the whole thing is done. It still needs to be approved and revised and defended and other miscellaneous stuff. But it's a big hump. So I'm sitting here with a few moments free for the first time in months it seems like and looking at the news over the wires about the imminence of war. It's a weird mix of feelings.

I was just reading several articles in the Washington Post about what's going on in Iraq right now. And they have an interesting piece about how everyone is stocking up on guns. In public, they say they're buying them to fight the Americans. The reality is that everyone wants to be armed when things go crazy and the looting and the vengeance and the mayhem starts.

It made me think of a conversation I had when I was writing my first article about Iraq almost a year ago now. The conversation was with a retired career military officer with a lot of experience working the Iraq file at the Pentagon and, let's say, in other parts of the world. One of the lines that stuck with me from that interview was how he described what will happen when the cork is finally popped on the extreme repression Saddam has held this country under. These are from my notes of the interview ...

Changing the regime is not the biggest problem. It's what happens afterwards … you're dealing with an uncontrollable event ... the physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn't do it justice. When it breaks ... it'll give off absolutely no sign at all that it's about to fail ... [and then] Ka-Wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what's gonna happen here. You may have control over how the things start ... There are a variety of ways to do [it] ... You may have a horse you're going in with. But that guy isn't gonna survive first contact.
This isn't pro-war or anti-war. It's just a sense of what this place is like or about to be like. When we talked further about this, one of the subjects that came up again and again was revenge. So many bad things have happened for such a long time that you're just going to have tons of people out for blood and revenge when the secret police or their families or their cronies or whomever suddenly lose all their power. It's going to be daunting. And a hell of a situation to control. Like he said, a steel beam under compression.

The White House put out a list of 30 countries that constitute our 'coalition of the willing.' The presence of Montenegro on the list doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. But then I saw that the list includes Turkey. What am I missing? Turkey? They're part of our coalition?

And as long we're on the subject, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain announced today before his parliament that Spain would send no troops to fight alongside the US in Iraq. I'm not sure what I think about that. "Spain will not participate in any attack or offensive missions ... As a result, there will not be any Spanish troops in the theater of operations." He did say, however, that if Turkey is attacked he will mobilize the Spanish Air Force. There's only so much levity that's appropriate at a moment like this. But this one pretty much comes with the levity already installed.

At this point, obviously I hope this goes quickly and as cleanly as possible. Getting rid of Saddam will be a very good thing as will getting rid of his WMD and ambitions to get more. I was long for something like this. I changed my position because in the course of moving in this direction we incurred an even greater risk to our security than Saddam himself was. Clearly, though, that conversation is over. The one bright sign today was watching Tony Blair, who remains an inspiration.

For people who oppose this war I strongly recommend moving on from it in this very specific sense. This war is about to happen. But there are still two very important issues that hang in the balance that deserve serious attention. The first, though more long-term, is the necessity of as rapidly as possible restoring our relationships with our historic allies and beginning to repair our standing in the world. This makes the 2004 election far more important than it was before. But we'll get into that later.

The second is the one that deserves your serious attention. Despite the certainty of war, this administration remains divided about the purpose and aftermath of this war. One camp sees this as a fairly limited, surgical effort to get rid of Saddam, put a reasonably democratic government in its place and then move on. Another camp sees this as only a first step. After this comes Iran, Syria, perhaps also Southern Lebanon, and more. And I don't mean calling them names. I mean, taking them out.

The vision of what we're trying to get is go out and give the hornets nest a few whacks and get them all out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. If that sounds scary to you, it should.

That camp in the administration would like to prosecute this war in such a way as to invite those further confrontations.

The question of whether we go that route is still to be decided. Unfortunately, the group that ended up winning the debate on Iraq inside the administration is one the that favors that future. So if you want something to work against, that's what should be on your mind...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave …

I had meant to say nothing more about David Horowitz. But he's done something now that really needs a response. He's now written on his site the following …

Note: One reader of the blog took me to task for not pointing out that Marshall maintained that the Holocaust book was so far in the past that it did not actually disqualify the prime ministerial candidate. So here is my acknowledgment. I don't see that it changes anything, except to put Marshall in an even less favorable light.
Now, the reader in question has actually written to me and told me that this is the precise opposite of what he said. (He's learning Horowitz's MO.) But did I say anything like this? Here are the relevant portions of the post he's referring to. (It's a long post so I clipped out portions that don't touch on this issue, but you can find the entire thing here.)
A number of readers have written in questioning or criticizing my decision to call soon-to-be Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen "unquestionably one of the good guys" in this earlier post. The criticism stems from this article which says he published a book in 1983 -- based on a dissertation written years earlier -- in which he denied or questioned key points about the Holocaust, particularly how many people died.

…

So here's my response. When I wrote the post this morning I was unaware of this book Abbas had written. It is obviously deeply disappointing and ugly that he wrote such things. And I'm not sure I would have used the same words. However, it doesn't really change my mind about what I wrote this morning.

Here's why ...

Obviously, I now think less of Abbas personally. And I'd like to believe that Abbas would now recant such statements (I doubt the Frontpage article would include any mention of this if he had). Given his current status, he probably would have to. But that wouldn't necessarily prove anything. Unfortunately, many of the older bulls in the PLO were reared in an ugly amalgam of Arab nationalism, anti-semitism, revolutionary socialism and whacked-out pseudo-history. And I am willing to say right now that when Abu Ben-Gurion or Said Washington come along, I will vote for them for Palestinian leader over Abbas.

…

But the point isn't that Abbas is a good person, or has ugly beliefs. My issue is his role in the peace process over the last decade -- Abbas was one of the architects of the original Oslo Accords. In the Palestinian Authority I think there are various camps. There are those who really don't want a just peace with Israel, those who do, and others who aren't really particularly committed to either outcome. Unfortunately, I think Arafat is in that latter category. I think Arafat was open to the idea of peace and at various points truly pursued it. But for a variety of reasons both personal and political was unwilling or unable to actually make the deal.

I think Abbas is in that category of Palestinians who really do want a just peace.

Now, you can be the judge. But I feel pretty clear that I didn't say what Horowitz claims I did. I'd say more about the guy. But we've got more important stuff going on in the world at the moment. And I think his actions and words speak for themselves.

When historians get around to trying to explain the last six months (i.e., how we got from resolution 1441 to the breakdown of the UN process and war) I don't think they will chalk much of this up to anyone 'losing their will.' I think the truth is more prosaic and straightforward. Yes, everyone voted in favor of 1441. But there were two groups amongst those fourteen member nations. And they had very different conceptions of what they were voting for.

Actually, I think this is a generous interpretation. But let's set that aside for the moment.

France, Russia and most of the rest of the countries on the Security Council thought they were signing on to a juiced-up version of inspections, basically like what we had until the old system broke down in 1998. That would mean a relatively open-ended process in which inspectors went into Iraq and searched around at will. If they found stuff it would be destroyed. If they obstructed the inspections, then the UN might sanction forcing the issue by authorizing an attack.

You might say that this is a lily-livered approach, or bad policy. But I think it's clearly what they thought were signing on to.

We, and perhaps also the Brits (but I have my doubts), had a very different idea. Our idea is (and possibly was then too) that Saddam had to make the positive decision to come forward and hand over what we accused him of having or that was it.

Part of the problem is that the plain text of 1441, I think, can be read as supporting either one of these interpretations. As judges often will, though, one thing you do when the plain text isn't itself dispositive is to look back at what amounts to the legislative record: that is, what the diplomats at the Security Council said at the time.

On this point I think one thing is extremely clear. The key point of the contention was this matter of 'automaticity.' The Council was willing to sign on to demanding compliance but only if it was in charge of deciding what constituted compliance and non-compliance.

Basically, they were only willing to do it if they got another bite at the apple and got an opportunity to interpret their own words. It wasn't going to be up to DC regime-change scribes to decide what was a 'material breach'. It was going to be up to France, Russia et.al.

Maybe that's lame. But that's what they signed on to. If they 'lacked will,' they made it pretty clear up front.

Now, there was a degree of willful mystification that happened here. The different parties agreed not to look too closely at each others' interpretation of what they were signing. But the wording which the other countries demanded and received was wording which they believed put them in charge of deciding when or if there would be war. At the time, Ireland's Ambassdor to the UN said the word changes kept "the hands of the council members as a whole on the steering wheel of the resolution in the future. It's of enormous significance."

The problem for the United States is that we pretty clearly went on the record validating this other interpretation. Here's what America's UN Representative John Negroponte said at the UN on the day the resolution passed ...

There's no 'automaticity' and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution. Whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with in the council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken.
What he was saying there was that 1441 was not self-enforcing. Its language and what counted as an infraction was to be decided by the Security Council. This was the price we paid for getting for getting the unanimous vote.

What this means pretty clearly is that we cannot claim that Resolution 1441 gives us any basis for doing what we're about to do. The White House has sort of had it both ways on this -- on the one hand saying we're bagging the UN process and on the other saying 1441 gives us sanction. Clearly, it doesn't give us sanction since at the very least the expressed understanding of 1441 at the time was that only the Security Council could judge when 1441 had been be violated.

The US can decide the Council wasn't serious and forget about the Council. That's entirely legitimate -- though, I think, bad policy. But it shouldn't pretend that it has any shelter under 1441 since the plain facts of the matter show that it doesn't.

Here, though, we get to the bigger point. Setting aside enforcement, what was being signed on to? As I say, I think the others countries thought they were signing on to old-fashioned inspections, or some jazzed-up version of them.

Did we have a different understanding?

This point is more speculative. But I don't think we did. I don't think the administration really had a particular understanding at all. I think what happened is that they got muscled into going to the UN (largely by domestic political pressure -- little-noticed polls showed the president's foreign policy numbers dipping hard late last summer). Then once they got to the UN they could only get their resolution by agreeing to what was outlined in 1441. But pretty much immediately they decided that they'd paid far too high a price to get their resolution and tried to wriggle out of it.

The rest of the Council didn't like being wriggled. And that's how we got where we are. They felt like they'd been played. And, to a real degree, they had.

Still another TPM Must-Read. In Slate, Paul Glastris comes up with a dynamite comparison which illustrates one dimension of the administration's bungled diplomacy. Turkey's position vis-a-vis the Iraq war is quite similar to Greece's vis-a-vis the Kosovo war. How Clinton made the basket; how Bush fumbled the ball. Secret hint: it has to do with not *#$%&@# on your alliances.

David Horowitz, who suprisingly enough now has his own blog, has a new post up calling the proprietor of this website a "Leftwing Hatchet and Compulsive Prevaricator." The post is in response to an earlier one of mine in which I leveled some criticisms at his publication, FrontPage Magazine.

(He bizarrely calls my post an 'apology' when it was obviously, and expressly, the opposite of an apology. I guess he just wanted to juice his argument a bit?)

You probably know who Horowitz is, since he's rather fond of telling his personal story. But if not, he's a one-time sixties-era left-wing journalist and activist who, later in life, reinvented himself as a sort of Tasmanian Devil of right-wing agitprop and political hyperventilation.

Anyway, these are ominous days we're about to move through so I thought a bit of comic relief would be in order.

On his website he notes a highly-charged 'confrontation' we apparently once had ...

Shortly after this article was published Marshall appeared at an event I had organized and I had the occasion to confront him. Instead of acknowledging his ignorance and apologizing for the smear he steadfastly defended the falsehoods he had written and repeated the smear. I did the only thing it seemed appropriate to do. I called him a liar to his face.
The article he's referring to is one I wrote several years ago called "Exhuming McCarthy," which he said slandered him and various others. He later said Jake Weisberg, now editor of Slate, also slandered him and his friends along similar lines. It's a whole long story that doesn't merit going into here. But given Horowitz's flair for the dramatic, I thought I'd give a little detail of the moment he "confronted" me, since it was a bit different and rather more comedic, on both our parts, than he says.

If memory serves, the event in question was a Hillary-hating conference Horowitz had put on at one of the conservative think-tanks in DC. I was new in DC at the time so I thought I'd go and see what all the fun was about. So I went.

At this point Horowitz and I had already had a heated back and forth in the 'letters to the editor' section of the American Prospect. So at the end of the festivities, when everyone was milling around I figured, 'Hey, you should go up and introduce yourself.' (Clearly, this was a mistake ...)

So I went up and stood next to where Horowitz was chatting with some admirers and waited there with a friend of mine until I caught his eye and I could make my move.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited ...

After a while we started to wonder whether he was intentionally ignoring me or whether -- as seemed more likely -- he just didn't know me by sight and couldn't be bothered.

Anyway, I finally saw my chance, moved in, put out my hand and introduced myself.

At this point a sort of clenched, rumply look came over Horowitz's face and he blurted out something like, "What you wrote was disgusting." Or maybe it was despicable, or something like that. And then he made sort of a lean to turn away like I was beneath his contempt, which I suppose I probably was.

I shot back something to the effect that talking like that was beneath him and he shouldn't say things like that. (He now says he called me a liar. He probably did. Who knows?) And within a few seconds everyone within a twelve-foot radius started looking distinctly uncomfortable and that was the end of it.

In Horowitz's retelling, apparently the ghosts of Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, and various other indignant worthies hung around the event. But I didn't notice any of them. And as for moral clarity and Horowitz's long twilight struggle against The Left, I guess my memory is just too foggy.

Anyway, that's my comic relief for the day, now back to the drums of war.

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