Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Reuters is reporting that the Pentagon is delaying rolling out the tenders for Iraqi reconstruction contracts -- the ones which barred bids from countries like Germany, France and Russia, and which kicked up a storm of protest around the world today.

It seems unclear, as yet, whether the controversial restrictions are the cause of the delay or whether it's something else. And if it is the cause, is this Baker's influence already being shown?

Whatever you think of Baker and his potential role in all this, he is nothing if not competent. I had lunch today with a fellow who's worked with Baker in a pretty tense international crisis and he told me there was no one in the world he'd rather have next to him in a foxhole than James Baker --- that tough, etc.

So, as I've said, I have some real questions and concerns about just what Baker's agenda is going to be as the grand dealmaker. But at least it won't be amateur hour.

And at this point, boy, that ain't no mean thing.

Hmmmm. I wasn't quite clear that the Wolfowitz Directive limiting contracts to companies from coalition countries had such a prospective, rather than simply retrospective, aim.

I went and looked at the actual document this evening (or, I guess, actually this morning) and I keyed in on this passage. I start from the section that's been widely quoted. But look at what comes after (italics added)...

4. It is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for the prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, Coalition partners and force contributing nations. Thus, it is clearly in the public interest to limit prime contracts to companies from these countries.

5. Every effort must be made to expand international cooperation in Iraq. Since May 2003, Coalition forces other than those from the United States have increased from 14,000 to 23,700. U.S. force levels, accordingly, have decreased by approximately 12,000. Limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq and in future efforts.

6. Coalition partners share in the US vision of a free and stable Iraq. The limitation of sources for prime contractors from those countries should encourage the continued cooperation of coalition members.

This raises a number of <$Ad$>questions in my mind. One is how much the reasoning represented here is the actual reasoning behind the directive and how much this is simply a bureaucratic fiction designed to satisfy some regulatory requirement in order to get a desired policy put through.

What I mean is this: Is this actually what they're thinking? What they're trying to accomplish? Or did the relevant regulations make them have to say this in order to get to the desired end of barring bids from French and German companies?

That question aside, what it sounds like is that we're trying to use the contract bonanza to leverage more foreign troops into Iraq for next year. You Dutch guys want contracts? You Kuwaitis? You know the price ...

The line about "future efforts" rather begs the question of whether there are going to be any "future efforts."

Frankly, this raises more questions for me than it answers. But I think this plays into the issues we've been discussing about Baker's mission and the question of Iraq's debt.

Okay, let me elaborate on my reactions to Gore's endorsement of Dean.

And let me premise the following by saying that I don't think this is the only possible outcome, just the one that is more likely than any of the others I can see, given what we know now.

Gore's endorsement clearly helps Dean a lot. But it also helps Clark. In fact, I think it sets up a Dean/Clark dynamic in which the odds strongly favor Dean, but in which Clark still has real advantages.

Various thoughts lead me to this conclusion. But the chief reason is just a process of elimination.

Let's start with this.

Who's really still in this race? I think there are five candidates. Clark, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry and Lieberman. Edwards may not know it yet. But (pace John) he's no longer in the race.

As Koppel noted tonight, his standing in the polls barely distinguishes him from Sharpton, Kucinich and Braun.

Of those five, Gephardt and Kerry can be effectively knocked out of the race by losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively -- eventualities which now seem quite likely.

They're not toast. But they're in the toaster. Snuggly.

Lieberman isn't closely tied to success in either of those states. But his campaign has just never taken off. I'm not sure, frankly, whether the Gore thing really hurts Lieberman (except for personally). But that's largely because he was in such bad shape anyway.

Plus, Lieberman is the only major candidate in the race for whom there is a significant core of Democratic primary voters who find him an unacceptable nominee. Unlike Gephardt and Kerry, there's no totally clear cut reason why Lieberman doesn't end up contesting this with Dean. But I just don't see it.

(I actually like Lieberman. But that's just how it is.)

In any case, that leaves Clark.

Add to this two other factors.

1. Clark is raising money at a better clip than any of the other candidates beside Dean.

2. Clark has a clearer raison d'etre for his campaign than that of any of the other candidates, save Dean: namely, his national security credentials as a retired general. (You can tell his campaign sees this because Clark made this point explicitly tonight.) Many presidents have been governors with no prior foreign policy experience. So Dean's in good company. But it's a clear distinction between Dean and Clark in what is sure to be a general election fought heavily on national security issues.

As I said yesterday, I think Gore's endorsement of Dean will accelerate the process of narrowing this race to Dean and one or two other candidates. More likely than not, one. And, as I've argued above, I think various dynamics point to that other candidate being Clark.

This doesn't mean the other candidate is an "anti-Dean" in some heavily weighted sense, as both Dean's avid admirers and detractors tend to think. It is simply a reflection of the not-unreasonable reality that not every voter will gravitate to Dean. And as the field narrows, those voters will gravitate towards another candidate.

At the moment what I'm looking at is the increasingly narrow margin separating Kerry and Clark in New Hampshire. In truth, the convergence is as much Kerry's decline as Clark's rise. But it's both. And if Clark draws even with Kerry or pulls ahead of him that would further accelerate the process I've described above.

Of course, if Gephardt reverses the trend and wins Iowa that would change things substantially. If Kerry pulls out of his tailspin that would change things a lot too. But neither of those seems that likely.

The climb is an uphill one for Clark if what I've sketched out above transpires. Candidates who bag on the early primaries and then hope to come back swinging in the South or midwest never seem to pan out.

And Clark still has some wobbly moments. He's improved a lot over the last couple months. But it's not clear to me he quite yet has the ease and command in debate settings that he'll need in a narrowed down race.

(I watched about three quarters of tonight's debate. Clark's first answer was a bit shaky. The next few were strong. And he hit quite effectively on his national security credentials.)

If Dean were still clearly an outsider with the major party institutions arrayed against him that polish might not be so necessary. But the Gore endorsement combined with the AFSCME and SEIU nods changed the equation.

(For more on how Dean plays across the range of Democratic voters, see Ruy Teixeira's analysis of the new Gallup poll, particularly on Dean's disproportionate appeal to party liberals versus moderates.)

So, as I said, this contest has a lot of moving parts. And outside of New Hampshire and Iowa the primary electorate seems very much in flux. That's just, as I said, what seems to me as the most likely scenario given what we know now.

Just looking now at the headlines on a number of the big news sites, it's clear that the Pentagon's decision to bar French, German and Russian companies from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts is getting a lot of attention.

But as I noted earlier, the bigger story is that the administration can't even get its story straight. Are we trying to get retribution toward these countries by stiffing them on the contracts or are we trying to come to some sort of agreement with them to refinance and restructure Iraq's mammoth foreign debt?

It pretty obviously can't be both.

One reader suggested to me today that perhaps the Wolfowitz directive banning the bids from these three countries is a bargaining chip we're putting on the table as part of Baker's negotiation strategy.

But, believe me, it's not. It's just that everybody is pursuing their own policy and nobody's coordinating anything.

And then there's the Baker appointment.

One might say that if we didn't have James Baker to turn to to handle international debt crises, we might have to invent the Treasury Secretary.

I mean, this doesn't just fall under the Treasury Department's general purview. It's one of its main responsibilities.

In an insightful column in Newsweek, Richard Wolffe makes the point we've been hinting at for the last few days ...

Unless Baker is about to declare Iraq’s independence, there are only two explanations for his appointment. Either the president feels that Powell, Snow and the rest of his cabinet are incapable of dealing with Iraq’s debts. Or the president is giving Baker a far broader role in resolving Iraq’s future. Both explanations are deeply unsettling for his much-vaunted foreign policy team and for the rest of the world. When Baker travels to European and regional capitals, the world’s leaders will think that Baker—not Powell, Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice—has the influence with the president to get things done in Iraq. Yet we, and they, can’t be sure of that. After all, in official terms, Baker is just talking about Iraq’s debts.

In fact, I think it's both. It signals a lack of confidence in his team and Baker has a much larger brief than we're being told.

As I've tried to argue over the last couple days, in the current context, handling the Iraqi debt issue inherently takes you well beyond technical matters of debt refinance.

This is another tacit admission of the failure of the president's policy in Iraq. We went into Iraq to overturn the geopolitical dynamics of the region. Now Baker, an opponent of everything the architects of the war stand for, is being sent in to reach an accomodation with the status quo powers to pave the way for our departure.

Some insider, insider, insider scuttlebutt on Dean's trade policies from Chris Nelson in this evening's Nelson Report ...

12. With the endorsement by former VP Al Gore, Howard Dean's chances of being the Democrat's presidential nominee are looking increasingly realistic. That means we all have to start looking at his policy pronouncements for substance, and not just as political maneuverings.

-- a friend attended a small, very private fundraiser for Dean recently…and despite going in fairly skeptical about Dean on substantive grounds, came away impressed on several levels.

13. Our friend asked Dean two trade related questions: first, would Dean have made a different decision on the steel 201's? (Yes…he would have kept them in place); and how does Dean see the issue of managing U.S.-China trade problems. (That's more complicated.)

-- "Dean gave a long, actually somewhat over-long answer, but one which clearly showed he had thought this all through, and wasn't just reciting staff-generated talking points," our friend reports.

14. Dean said that he would have kept the steel 201's in place, and that he will support a tougher trade enforcement stance on China, and other U.S. trading partners, not to raise barriers in the U.S., but to encourage China and other, lesser developed trading partners to "raise their standards".

-- Dean said that he originally supported NAFTA and China's WTO membership precisely because he feels that, in the long run, free trade "helps create a middle class", and that, "eventually" it will in both Mexico and China. The problem for now, which is to say, the problem for the political process, is that "the U.S. has not got time to wait" due to the trade deficit, and job losses which will never be replaced by adequately paying employment.

15. Dean made a point of saying that he often talks about all this with Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and claimed that he and Rubin "are on the same page" about U.S. economic and trade policy, at least in terms of "how to get there."

-- our friend, an experienced financial and political observer, came away "frankly impressed" that Dean "can position himself well to take advantage of Bush on the 201's, and to address the job loss issue."

16. Stylistically, our friend said, "Dean is very, very intense", which sometimes is risky for TV, but that if Dean can keep his temper under control, "he seems likely to be able to reach out to 'emotional moderates' who are dissatisfied with Bush and worried about the future".

-- as to worries that Dean is "another McGovern", our friend noted recent polls showing that whereas McGovern was very unpopular with lots of Democrats, Bush is just as unpopular, now, with many Democrats. The point…cross-over voting by Democrats in 2004 is not likely to hurt Dean, as it killed McGovern in 1972….and current polls show that Bush is close to even with leading Dems.

No comment from me. Just passing it along ...

Department of intra-administration coordination, subdivision of one hand knowing what the other's doing ...

As we noted yesterday, Bush family fixer James A. Baker has been given the task of cajoling states that are owed money by Iraq into either forgiving or generously restructuring Iraq's debts.

Near the top of that list of state creditors are France, Germany and Russia.

Now we hear that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has just signed a directive barring French, German and Russian companies from competing for the $18.6 billion of Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."


Luckily, Baker and Wolfowitz are such close pals and ideological soul-mates. So I'm sure they'll be able to work it out.

Last night I quoted the famed historian Edmund Morgan as writing (in rough paraphrase): History never repeats itself. It only seems like it does to those who don't know the details.

Today a number of readers have written in asking me for the citation for the quote since they seem to like it so much.

Unfortunately, I don't know the precise citation.

When I was getting my doctorate I read literally hundreds of books and articles about early American history. So there's a chance I've misremembered the author. But I'm fairly certain it's Morgan and I'm pretty sure that the quote comes from a published collection of essays entitled The Challenge of the American Revolution.

For those who aren't familiar with his work, Morgan is one of the most esteemed and influential early American historians of the second half of the 20th century, both for his own work (which continues) and for that of his legion of students.

For my money, though he made his name with pathbreaking work on Puritanism, his masterpiece remains American Slavery,American Freedom, a history of the first decades of settlement of Virginia, which I heartily recommend to every TPM reader.

Now, apparently I'm a <$NoAd$>Lieberman supporter. Below a letter from a reader with an active imagination ...

Dr. Marshall,

You’d better serve your candidate if you simply openly endorsed him. You write extensively of the offensive dishonesty of shills of special interests posing as journalists ( Washington Monthly ).

How much of your own pain do we find in the interview with Senator Lieberman? I’m not sure how many folks you’re trying to make look bad.

Al Gore is free, we would assume, to support the person he believes best suited to lead the Democratic party and the nation. There will be a lot of good reasons why Al chose Howard over the others.

But we won’t learn about them from you.

Maybe these reasons don’t mean much to a principled journalist or a partisan political operative.

Andrew Sullivan devotes more space to the question.

Think about that.

Paul H.

Rabid and foolish. A rough combination.

Lieberman this morning on the Today Show about Gore ...

NBC Today Show

Tuesday, December 09, 2003 7:05 AM

Matt Lauer: Gore’s former running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, is here for an exclusive interview this morning. Senator Lieberman, great to see you.

Sen. Joe Lieberman: Good to be back, Matt, thank you.

Lauer: Wow. I mean, were you caught completely off guard?

Lieberman: I, I was caught completely off guard, no notice. I heard about it from the media. I was surprised, therefore, but you know I am more determined than ever to fight for what I believe is right for my party and my country to take us forward and not backward.

Lauer: Well I’ll talk politics in a second. On a personal note though, you stayed on the sidelines last year. Wouldn't announce whether you were going to run for president or not until you waited for Al Gore to make a decision. You saw that as your duty and loyalty. Did you receive the same loyalty from Al Gore?

Lieberman: Well, I, I am not going to talk about Al Gore's sense of loyalty this morning. I’m just going to tell you that I will always remain grateful to him for the extraordinary opportunity he gave me to run as his Vice-Presidential candidate and I have no second thoughts about what I did in, in 2001 and 2002. I did what I thought was right. I couldn’t run against the guy who gave me the opportunity to be Vice-President.

Lauer: Let, let –

Lieberman: No regrets.

Lauer: Let’s try and talk about what’s changed. I want to run a clip of something Al Gore said as he announced you as his running mate in 2000.

Lieberman: This’ll be nostalgic.

[Clip Begins]

Gore: Joe Lieberman has the experience and the integrity. He has the courage and the commitment, and for all his public life, Joe Lieberman has stood for working families. He’s the right person. No one is better prepared to be Vice-President of the United States of America. [cheers and applause]

[Clip Ends]

Lauer: Four years ago, Al Gore wanted you to be a heartbeat away from the presidency and now he endorses Howard Dean. What happened?

Lieberman: Well, you would have to ask Al because I’m the same person today that I was when he said those very kind things about me. And when he made the decision, as he told me, to put me in a position to be President in the case of an emergency in a judgment based on his conclusion that the American people would conclude that I was up to that task, so -

Lauer: In your opinion, has Al Gore changed? This was Bill Clinton’s vice-president, he was the New Democrat, the centrist, and now he’s endorsing Howard Dean, someone who’s seen by most people as an outsider.

Lieberman: Matt, you’re absolutely right on the substance. It’s not so much insider or outsider, it’s on the issues, and that’s where I’m also surprised here. Al Gore is endorsing somebody who has taken positions in this campaign that are diametric - diametrically opposite to what Al himself has said he believed in over the years:

Lauer: So -

Lieberman: Strong on defense, for tax cuts and against walls of protectionism that take away jobs.

Lauer: So, this morning, when you hear people say this gives Al Gore the clout, the political clout he, he has wanted in the race, is it possible it’s just the opposite? That he loses credibility because of this?

Lieberman: Well, I think that’s up to the pundits and the people. What really bothers me is that Al is supporting a candidate who is so fundamentally opposed to the basic transformation that Bill Clinton brought to the Democratic Party in 1992. Clinton made our party once again fiscally responsible, pro-growth, strong on, on values, for middle class tax cuts; and Howard Dean is against all of those. So Al Gore will have to explain why he is supporting

Lauer: One -

Lieberman: Somebody who I think would take our party and country backward, not forward.

Lauer: One of the local newspapers here this morning called this “humiliating” to Joe Lieberman’s campaign. Another said it’s “devastating.” One Democratic strategist said this “changes the whole playing field.” Al Sharpton, who is one of your opponents in this race, said “this wipes Lieberman out.”

Lieberman: Oh, no way. I mean, the voters are a month and a half away from voting. I, I never premised my campaign on Al Gore’s support. I premised my campaign on building on the transformation that Bill Clinton brought to the Democratic Party. Strong on security, strong on defense and pro-growth and for middle class tax cuts. And again, Howard Dean is against all of that. Al Gore has only one vote in the primaries - particularly in New Hampshire where voters are independent-minded, as I am. I don’t believe that they’re going to be controlled by what any politician or pundit says.

Lauer: Can you still win? In New Hampshire, you mentioned New Hampshire. You are running third in New Hampshire. You, you are behind in Iowa; you basically have surrendered that state. What is your strategy, then? How can you win this nomination?

Lieberman: Well, you know, I spoke to President Clinton last night. I was early a supporter of his campaign. And we both remembered with a laugh that in December 1991, everybody said he didn’t have a chance. Again, the voters decide who’s going to, who’s going to win this. My strategy: continue to fight for what I believe is right for the country. And I can’t stress this enough - in an age of terrorism and tyranny, I’m the strongest in this race on security. And In an age where the middle class is overly stressed, I’m the only one who’s proposed tax cuts for 98% of the income tax payers.

Lauer: Let me just follow up. You say you talked to President Clinton last night. Did you speak to him about Al Gore’s endorsement? What was his reaction?

Lieberman: I, I speak to President Clinton all the time, we, we go back 33 years in our friendship.

Lauer: What did he say about this?

Lieberman: Well, well, it’s always, our, our conversations are always private. But the important thing to say here is that we both laughed, having been through his first campaign restructuring, refocusing the party, reconnecting with the mainstream of American values and life that they read him out a lot. And it’s all up to the voters. I am confident. In New Hampshire, we’ve got something going. A whole bunch of people, independents who supported John McCain in 2000, are now supporting my candidacy, and they can vote in the primary and they’re going to have a good effect.

Lauer: Just a week ago this is what you had to say about Al Gore, “As president I would turn to him not only for advice but see if he would be interested in holding some high office in my administration. He’s an immensely capable, principled, effective person.” Has that changed now?

Lieberman: I’d say that’s less likely this morning. [Laughter]

Lauer: A candid response. Senator Joe Lieberman, good of you to come in this morning.

Lieberman: Thank you, take care.

I'm rather less than a <$NoAd$>push-over for Howard Dean. But David Brooks' anti-Dean column in Tuesday's Times is like one long primal scream.

It's filled with stuff like this from the lede ...

My moment of illumination about Howard Dean came one day in Iowa when I saw him lean into a crowd and begin a sentence with, "Us rural people. . . ."

Dean grew up on Park Avenue and in East Hampton. If he's a rural person, I'm the Queen of Sheba. Yet he said it with conviction. He said it uninhibited by any fear that someone might laugh at or contradict him.

Hmmm. I don't know. Hasn't Dean lived in a predominantly rural state for like twenty-five years? (According to census data, Vermont is the most rural state in the nation.) Every pol likes to suit his biography to the needs of the moment. But that fact would seem to give Dean's statement at least a measure of credibility, no?

A weird column ...