Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've never quite understood all the arcana of the Bush Air National Guard story, so I never know quite what to make of new reports. But there's an article out in Salon on Tuesday which makes a pretty straightforward case that the 'complete' service record the White House released last February, actually wasn't complete at all.

Here are the key grafs ...

The president and his staff are doing a very good job of convincing the public he has released all of his National Guard records and that they prove he was responsible during his time in Alabama and Texas. But the critical documents have still not been seen. The mandatory written report about Bush's grounding is mysteriously not in the released file, nor is any other disciplinary evidence. A document showing a "roll-up," or the accumulation of his total retirement points, is also absent, and so are his actual pay stubs. If the president truly wanted to end the conjecture about his time in the Guard, he would allow an examination of his pay stubs and any IRS W-2 forms from his Guard years. These can be pieced together to determine when he was paid and whether he earned enough to have met his sworn obligations.


Unlike lawyers, journalists pay little attention to concepts like chain of custody for evidence. In the case of the president's Guard records, whoever possessed them and had the motive and opportunity to clean them up is a critical question. When Bush left the Guard about a half year early to attend Harvard Business School, his hard-copy record was retained in a military personnel records jacket at the Austin offices of the Texas Guard. Eventually, those documents were committed to microfiche. A copy of the microfiche was then sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Those records are considered private, and they cannot be released to anyone without the signature of the serviceman or woman. The White House has never indicated that Bush has signed the authorization form. And this is what prompts unending suspicion.

The documents given to Washington reporters were printed from one of those two microfiches. According to two separate sources within the Guard who saw the printout and spoke with me, the microfiche was shipped to the office of Maj. Gen. Danny James, commander of the Air National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. James' staff printed out all of the documents on the film and then, according to those same sources, James vetted the material. Subsequent to being scrutinized by James (who commanded the Texas Guard and was promoted to Washington by Bush,) the records were then sent to the White House for further scrutiny prior to release to the news media.

This is a considerably different process from what was practiced by Sen. John McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign ... McCain signed a release form, and his entire record, a stack of papers more than a foot tall, was made available to reporters without being vetted by the campaign.

Needless to say, the aforementioned <$Ad$>James is the same James who is accused of assisting in scrubbing the paper copies of the president's record back in 1997 -- a charge that is of course roundly denied, but which is also discussed at some length in the Salon piece.

Now, as I say, I just don't know the details of all this well enough any more to make a judgment about these various claims and accusations.

But why exactly can't the president just release his records the way McCain did?

And, is that story about James getting a chance to go over these files true? If it is, I'd say some scribblers in town got suckered.

Big time, as the vice president would say.

So what to make of this new Iraqi flag that the IGC apparently sprung on the country today -- to near universal disapproval?

The big complaint on the streets of Baghdad seems to be that a) it looks too much like the flag of Israel --- you can see the old and new Iraqi flags along with the Israeli flag down on the right hand side of this article in the Post --- and b) that the words "Allahu akbar" were removed.

Frankly, looking at the thing (and, again, you can see it here) I have to wonder whether the biggest problem isn't that it's just one of the lamer flags I've ever seen. But, I suppose, let's stick to substance.

If there weren't so much blood and history and human tragedy on the line with all this, the stuff these characters come up with would almost be funny. I mean, what were they thinking? Truth be told, it does look like the Israeli flag. I don't think there's any getting around that, especially when viewed in context.

In an ideal world, of course, maybe that wouldn't be a problem. But people's difficulty getting it through their heads that we don't live in an ideal world has already gotten us into a fair amount of trouble in the country. True, they didn't replace "Allahu akbar" with the 'Sh'ma'. So I guess we can be grateful for small favors. But we're not exactly dealing with a receptive audience here, now are we?

In any case, back to the flags ...

If you look at the flags of the various Arabic-speaking countries (scroll down on this page to see), they're strikingly uniform. Most have some mix of green, red and black. Some lack one of more of those three colors. But overall they're quite uniform.

I think there are only two members of the Arab League whose flags have any blue -- Djibouti and Somalia. And Somalia isn't even an Arabic-speaking country, at least not primarily.

In any case, judged against the flags of pretty much all the other Arab states, this one sticks out like a sore thumb -- or mabye a pale blue thumb, but same difference.

The Associated Press gets it pretty much right when it says, "The new design not only abandons the symbols of Saddam's regime. It also avoids the colors used in other Arab flags: green and black for Islam and red for Arab nationalism."

But, really, why would worry about that, since Islam and nationalism don't seem to have very big audiences over there anyway?

An outside investigation into the Senate memo-snooping case? The DOJ has asked David Kelley, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to investigate what happened with those Democratic staff memos pilfered by GOP Senate staffers.

Dick Cheney goes to Westminster College, the site of Winston <$NoAd$>Churchill's 'iron curtain' speech, and embarrasses himself by sandbagging the University President who accepted Cheney's request to speak at the college.

Here's the first graf of an email President Fletcher M. Lamkin sent to faculty, students and staff this afternoon ...

I would like to thank each and every one of you who were so courteous and respectful to Mr. Cheney during his visit and speech. Frankly, I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing for a large portion of his speech. The content and tone of his speech was not provided to us prior to the event -- we had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq. Nevertheless, I was extremely proud of the students, staff, and faculty who represented the College so well during the organization of the visit and during the speech itself -- inside and outside of the gym.

More background in this AP article.

And to think he had to leave Washington to find an institution whose leadership had the temerity to say they didn't like being used.

ABC News is currently running a web headline which reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Did Kerry lie about Vietnam War medals?"

Here's a question. Can someone tell me the last time ABC used the "L" word about President Bush? Or is it always 'exaggeration' when it's President Bush?

And yes, I noticed Chris Vlasto's name too.

Late Update: As of 2:54 PM, the headline now reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Why did Kerry change story about Vietnam medals?

That, and why did ABC change its headline?

Would you like to read on-location TPM coverage <$NoAd$>from the Democratic and Republican conventions?

Well, here's your chance.

TPM's readership is more than twice the size it was last October when we last did this. So newer readers won't remember. But we first did this last October 26th when we put out a call for reader contributions to fund a reporting trip to New Hampshire. The funding part of the experiment was overwhelmingly successful and ... well, you have to be the judge, but I thought the reporting part of it went well too.

(You can see most of the results from the TPM archives of the third and fourth weeks of January.)

In any case, the pitch this time is really pretty much the same as last time. So let me quote from that post from October 26th ...

The normal way to do this would be for me to go to one of the publications I write for, get them to pick up the tab (hotel room, transportation, etc.), and write it up for them.

But that would mean saving most of the reporting for some magazine or website or newspaper and not doing much or any of it for TPM. And, frankly, I think blog coverage is much better suited to covering something like the New Hampshire primary than magazines or newspapers. Because it’s really about moment-to-moment reports, running commentary, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t easily fit into the rubrics of conventional journalism. Besides, you want to know what’s happening while it’s happening, not in a lazy summing-up a week after the votes have been counted ... I want to dedicate this trip entirely to blog coverage so I want to fund it with reader support, reader subscriptions. That’ll be part of the experiment too --- whether this kind of independent journalism can come up with the resources to fund high-quality on-the-ground play-by-play reporting.

‘Subscription’ in this case doesn’t mean anything exclusive. TPM will be freely available to anyone and everyone who wants to read it, whether they’ve contributed or not, just like always. (And of course many readers have already generously contributed to the general upkeep of the site.) Here I’m using the term in a somewhat old-fashioned sense to refer to putting some money up, not for the general support of the site, but to fund a specific project you’re going to make use of or benefit from.

Now, conventions aren't like primaries. We know who's going to be nominated, more or less precisely what time in the evening, on what day, and so forth. But the party conventions are also the only time in four years and certainly the only time during the campaigns when, if not the whole party, then at least most party professionals and activists, get together in one place. So it's a unique opportunity to get a read on where people are at, how enthused they are, how confident or demoralized, scattered or focused they are just before the race moves into the home stretch.

So there it is. The Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 26th - 29th and the Republican National Convention in New York on August 30th - September 2nd. Travel, basic expenses, accommodations, perhaps a bodyguard for the Republican convention. You get the idea.

We'll be following up with more details. But if you'd like to contribute and make this possible, you can click here to make a contribution through paypal.

Come on board. I think it’ll be exciting. More details to come soon …

Yesterday the president's longtime handler and current campaign advisor Karen Hughes was on CNN attacking John Kerry's military service record and subsequent work as a Vietnam war protester.

But before getting lost in the details of Hughes' attacks, let's draw back and see the big picture -- something the press would do well to consider and try.

What's the signature pattern of the president's life?

When he faces a challenge or a tough scrape, he lets his family and friends bail him out, do his fighting for him. You see it again and again through failed businesses, legal scrapes, the whole matter of ducking service in Vietnam and then getting help cleaning up subsequent unfortunateness while he was serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

It's even come up again and again on the campaign trail. George W. Bush has faced three opponents (McCain, Gore and Kerry) since he came onto the national political stage -- each served in Vietnam, though each under very different circumstances. He's had his lieutenants attack the service of each one.

So here we have the same pattern again -- no different. The president wants to challenge John Kerry's military service. So he gets Karen to do it for him. You can get tripped in the chutzpah of this because this not only throws light on an earlier period when the president couldn't fight his own fights, it repeats the pattern.

But here's some free advice for Kerry.

Don't get mixed up on the details. Take this directly to the president. Tell him to turn over a new leaf in life and stop being a coward. If the president wants to attack or question your war record or what you did after the war, tell him to do it himself. No special deals, no hidden help from family retainers, no hiding behind Karen Hughes. Tell him, for once, to fight his own fights.

Just a brief follow-up on this secret trip to Swansea, Wales, which Jim Woolsey made on behalf of the US government, with a government jet and FBI personnel in tow, to verify Laurie Mylroie's theory that Saddam Hussein was the mastermind behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

Another article out in Newsweek says Richard Clarke tried to tell this story in Against All Enemies but White House lawyers excised his recounting because it included 'classified information', that inviolate shroud of state that can only be pierced when some political opponent needs to be smeared (i.e., Clinton, Plame, Wilson, Clarke, Gorelick, et al.)

Now, I thought I remembered the Inspector Woolsey escapade coming up in Clarke's book. So I went back to the source. And sure enough, there it is. Right there on page 95. But a quick perusal reveals what happened. The discussion is not in Clarke's words but rather in an at-length quote from an article by that unique and irreplaceable chronicler of neocon folly, Jason Vest.

So presumably, Al Gonzales's censors said no-can-do. And to this Clarke replied, "Fine, I'll just grab this graf out of Jason Vest's article in the Village Voice. And that's already public. So what's the problem?"

Considering that this whole enterprise was an elaborate joke, a fact of which only the instigators were unaware, it's difficult to see what about this really needs to be kept secret -- unless, of course, you're considering the damage to national prestige caused by revealing the fact that high-level US government officials could have involved themselves in such an amateurish stunt.

Though there may be elements of this we don't know about, the most probable reason this get nixed is that it would be embarrassing for the administration.

Now, one other point.

There's been a lot of attention and hand-wringing over the last few days over the release of a new poll which claims that a majority of Americans -- not an overwhelming majority but solid ones -- believe that Iraq was either behind the 9/11 attacks or provided ''substantial support'' to al Qaida and either had WMD at the outset of the war or had major on-going weapons programs.

And to this people say, well, what is it with people? How can so many people not have heard the reports of David Kay and all the rest?

But consider this. And let's consider this a thought experiment, probing the limits of passive presidential deception.

Let's say that 55% of Americans still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the war and that they were providing material support to al Qaida. Let's not question why they believe it. Let's just put it out there.

Now, what would happen if in some major forum -- a press conference or a major speech -- the president were to go before the public and say: "Before the invasion, we believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We made the best guess based on the intelligence we had. But, now, having looked at all the evidence, it's clear we were wrong. He didn't have them."

Clearly, here we're setting aside questions of bad-faith and willful deception. But let's give him the best foot to put forward.

A week after that speech, or that comment in a press conference, how much do you think those numbers (55%) would change? I suspect they'd change quite a bit.

And what that tells me is that, to a great degree, the portion of the public that is is misinformed on this issue is misinformed because the president continues to deceive them, even if in a passive manner.

And why does he do so? Because it is in his political interest that they remain deceived.

Late Update: Juan Cole also has some very perceptive comments on this poll: "Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs? One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology."

There is an excellent article just out in The New York Review of Books by Peter W. Galbraith called 'How to Get Out of Iraq'. Given the highly polarized state of the debate about what we should do in Iraq, that title may give the impression that this is a 'turn tail' and run sort of prescription. But that's not at all what the piece is about.

Because of his background researching Saddam's atrocities and his diplomatic work in the Balkans in the 1990s, Galbraith brings to this issue a unique credibility and authority. And there is much in the piece to bruise the comfortable assumptions of proponents and opponents of the war.

Above all this is an informed and honest portrayal of what's happening in Iraq; and it is not quite bleak, but pretty close. In his prescription, Galbraith is looking, as Fareed Zakaria was in his own way a couple weeks ago, for a political solution, or perhaps better to say, a political equilibrium in the country that will allow the US military to draw back from a costly, enervating and ultimately self-destructive Gazafication of the parts of Iraq it continues to occupy.

Galbraith proposes what amounts to a de facto partition of the country -- something on the model of the old Yugoslavia, with three highly autonomous republics within a loose national government charged with handling diplomacy, monetary policy and certain aspects of national defense. I don't think I'm willing to go that far yet. But it's a proposal which is, I guess, worth considering. And the article is well worth your attention.

I had missed this recent article by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball in Newsweek on yet more of the ridiculous efforts Paul Wolfowitz and others in the administration have gone to to find that Holy Grail of the neocon knighthood, the fabled Iraq-al Qaida link.

Some of the antics from the Round Table at 17th & M are more comic than truly troubling, and ones we've heard of before -- like the secret mission they sent Jim Woolsey on to Swansea, Wales to verify Laurie Mylroie's endlessly discredited theory that Saddam was behind the first attack on World Trade Center in 1993.

There's no need to get too bogged down in the details. But Mylroie's theory rests in part on a claim of faked identities that makes Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the attack, into an Iraqi agent. I knew about Woolsey's trip. I didn't know, or perhaps had just forgotten, that his efforts apparently conclusively debunked Mylroie's theory.

One more thought on Mylroie et al. One point that is seldom noted, or too quietly if at all, is that while the neocons and their press defenders endlessly charge their critics with peddling 'conspiracy theories' about them, they themselves hold tenaciously to a series of crackpot theories that make the more wild-eyed interpretations of the Kennedy assassination sound cautious, judicious and restrained by comparison.

In any case, what's new in the Newsweek article is that sending Woolsey on this little spy mission to Wales wasn't the only gambit they tried. And the other was far more serious. Wolfowitz apparently repeatedly pushed to have Yousef retroactively declared an 'enemy combatant' in the war on terror so that he could be taken out of the custody of the federal prison system, placed into military custody and presumably sweated or have his fingernails peeled back until he copped to all Mylroie's ridiculousness.

It takes a moment to unravel the tangle of bad values, bad instincts and poor judgment here. But let's give it a crack.

First there's this matter of the rule of law.

One of the challenges of really believing in the rule of law is that really sticking to it very frequently means going by the book and following proper procedures even in the case of thoroughly bad actors. Certainly, Yousef is close to as bad as they come. So there's some awkwardness perhaps in pointing out that though the guy has been sentenced to solitary confinement for the rest of his life, you can't just pull him out of our criminal justice system and upend five hundred years of legal precedent on a whim.

And this matter of a whim is an important point.

I remember back just after 9/11 going through some thought experiments in my head over these questions -- and living in Washington just after 9/11 and during the anthrax scare, these thought experiments took on a palpable urgency. In any case, the question was, what if we had someone in custody who we knew had knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack? How far would we go to make him talk?

As the saying goes, the constitution is not a suicide pact. Certainly, in extremis, there must be things we would do in such circumstances, that would never be allowable under normal conditions. I'm not saying what those things would be. And the question itself is one I find troubling. But the sort of terrorist threat we face is one that transcends normal criminal law enforcement.

In any case, think of the difference between that and going back and pulling a federal criminal inmate out of the criminal justice system to make him admit that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. To my mind, all the difference in the world.

And here you have the kernel of the problem with these folks: the combustible mix of poor judgment, a rich ideological fantasy life and pervasive disrespect for the rule of a law. It's a very dangerous combination.