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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This from Reuters<$NoAd$> ...

The White House said on Tuesday that the 9-11 commission agreed to terms that would allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to give sworn public testimony on the Sept. 11 attacks, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet in private with the full panel.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the commission had agreed to state in writing that neither appearance would set a precedent under the constitutional separation of executive and legislative powers.


Isn't this more face-saving than precedent-blocking? To the extent that this precedent issue is even a real issue, what consequence does something in writing from the commission possibly have? Setting aside the logical problems with viewing this as a separation of powers issue (namely the fact that the commission is not an arm of congress) jurists decide what's a precedent, not some slip of paper a cornered White House extracts from people it appointed.

Tuesday's Washington Post runs an editorial recommending that the White House allow Condi Rice to testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission.

But the members of the editorial board can only just barely bring themselves to say it. Their desire to give the president (and the underlying policy at issue here) every possible benefit of the doubt wars visibly with their recognition that Rice's continued refusal is no longer tenable.

In that vein ...

Richard A. Clarke's book criticizing the administration, while stimulating an important public debate, brings this concern [keeping advice of presidential aides confidential] into sharp relief. If career national security officials write tell-all accounts while the presidents they serve not only remain in office but are facing reelection, decision-making is bound to suffer. Presidents are more likely to surround themselves with political loyalists, depriving themselves of diverse ideas and valuable experience. Staff members are more likely to censor themselves for fear of later exposure.


In other words, we're only in this terrible mess of having to cross this woeful threshold because this showboater Clarke wrote <$Ad$>this book. Friggin' backstabber!

Toward the issue of substance underlying all of this the editorial displays an odd indifference. And the authors are at pains to proclaim their belief that there are no questions Rice would have any difficulty answering or confronting -- a classic case of premature exculpation.

Says the Post: "[W]e see no reason to credit Democratic insinuations that Ms. Rice has something to hide, given that she spent four hours answering the commission's questions in closed session and has offered to answer more."

As for the danger of presidents surrounding themselves "with political loyalists, depriving themselves of diverse ideas and valuable experience", that horse has sort of already left the barn, hasn't it? Or has no one been paying attention?

It's been clear for some time that one of the key shortcomings of this administration is the presence of so many loyalists and ideologues who can usually be counted on to shout "Onward! Onward! Onward!" as the ship of state sails off the edge of the world.

More prosaically one might start with this Knight Ridder article from Sunday, the first sentence of which reads: "Accounts from insiders in the Bush White House describe a tightly controlled, top-down organization that pushes a predetermined agenda, shuns dissenting views and discourages open debate."

What's notable about this is that many of the premises of the Post editorial are belied by excellent reporting which has appeared in their own pages in recent days.

I confess that I don't read newspaper editorials (as opposed to signed columns and opeds) that closely or frequently. But if this and other recent examples I've seen are any indictation, the disconnect between the Post's editorials and the factual information being generated on their own news pages seems to be approaching Wall Street Journal-like proportions.

Declassifying the transcripts is not compatible with national security. But taking the transcripts, cutting the individual words into scraps and pasting them back together into incriminating sentences might be okay.

How far different is this ...

U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.


That's the last graf from a late story from NBC.

You know something's wrong -- when an <$Ad$>administration is truly out of control -- when they discuss their dirty tricks on background.

Look at what this is: using the CIA and the classification process for an explicitly and exclusively partisan purpose, at the direct behest of the White House. Call me old-fashioned but back in the good-old-days this used to be done with a bit more indirection, subterfuge and cover, no?

It's one thing to declassify the whole thing. Perhaps there's some rationale for that -- though why Clarke's testimony and no one else's should be released seems questionable.

But the whole thing won't be released -- which would be the only way to really judge what he said -- only portions which can be selected to highlight apparent contradictions.

We're moving on to dangerous enough ground when the White House starts using the nation's intelligence agencies for explicitly domestic political purposes. But you know we're really in trouble when they don't even try to hide it.

See what your dollars have bought ...

With only three months to go before L. Paul Bremer trades in his Iraqi pro-consul baton for beachwear and a hard-earned vacation, the country's most controversial politician is already well positioned to become prime minister.

Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's heartthrob and the State Department's and CIA's heartbreak, has taken the lead in a yearlong political marathon. Temporary constitutional arrangements are structured to give the future prime minister more power than the president. The role of the president will be limited because his decisions will have to be ratified by two deputy presidents, or vice presidents. Key ministries, such as Defense and Interior, will be taking orders from the prime minister.

Chalabi holds the ultimate weapons -- several dozen tons of documents and individual files seized by his Iraqi National Congress from Saddam Hussein's secret security apparatus. Coupled with his position as head of the de-Baathification commission, Chalabi, barely a year since he returned to his homeland after 45 years of exile, has emerged as the power behind a vacant throne. He also appears to have impressive amounts of cash at his disposal and a say in which companies get the nod for some of the $18.4 billion earmarked for reconstruction. One company executive who asked that both his and the company's name be withheld said, "The commission was steep even by Middle Eastern standards."

Chalabi is still on the Defense Intelligence Agency's budget for a secret stipend of $340,000 a month. The $40 million the INC has received since 1994 from the U.S. government also covered the expenses of Iraqi military defectors' stories about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime's links with al-Qaida, which provided President Bush with a casus belli for the war on Iraq.


(That's from <$Ad$>this piece in UPI.)

It's not quite so clear to me that Chalabi is really in line to be prime minister. (Our presumed desire not to have the place blow up in our face any sooner than necessary would seem to militate against that option.) But it's certainly nice to know that we've equipped him with enough patronage opportunities and ammunition for blackmail to give him a running start, isn't it?

Think about it. We invaded Iraq. We occupy Iraq. Why exactly was Chalabi's INC -- itself a creation of the US government, though later a bamboozler of the same -- allowed to seize the files of the Iraqi secret police? Obviously, this is really more of a rhetorical than an actual question. But we know from post-Communist Eastern Europe -- and actually countless other sorrowful examples -- that the possession of secret police archives in a formerly authoritarian or totalitarian state is an invitation to abuse, corruption, blackmail and all manner of bad acts, if not entrusted to the surest, most ethical and responsible of hands. Needless to say, those aren't adjectives that leap from the lips when talking about this guy.

With all the multiple and mushrooming investigations of Chalabi and possible wrongdoing he may have committed, rather than continue to give him taxpayer dollars, perhaps we might better spend our time considering how to take him into custody while we're still the sovereign authority in Iraq and have it within our power.

From a reader ...

I can't help wondering who at the White House reviewed Clark's book and cleared it for publication? And where will they be working next week? They sure don't act like they saw this one coming. Maybe the warning never made it "up the chain". I guess it wouldn't be the first time that happened, eh?


This missive not only made me cough up some of the soda I was drinking this morning, it's also on the mark and raises a puzzling question. <$Ad$>The White House was in no position to prevent the publication of this book. But they were in a position to read it well in advance of its publication.

Playing by the strictest of rules, of course, what the NSC bureaucrats see for classification purposes shouldn't end up in the hands of the politicals either at NSC or the White House political office. But from the first months of the administration we've seen that those proprieties aren't given a lot of attention. In any case, right out of the gate the White House seemed to have good chapter and verse talking points prepared, challenging Clarke and points raised in his book. So I think we can dispense with any notion that they hadn't given his book a pretty close read.

And that again raises the question: why has the response been so contradictory and feeble? Why, as the reader puts it, have they acted as though they didn't see this coming?

Partly, I think the answer is the same as I gave in a column I wrote for The Hill a few weeks ago: "We’re looking at a White House that is increasingly insular and isolated. Most specifically, its missteps show how deeply out of touch it is with how much its public credibility has atrophied over the last eight months."

The White House can be a very isolated and isolating environment -- especially on the downward side of the mountain. And I think this is a large part of what we're seeing. Many of the challenges they've faced over the last two or three months are ones they might easily have weathered as recently as eight or nine months ago. And they keep reacting as though they have little grasp of how much the ground has moved beneath their feet during those intervening months.

One other point. We certainly don't know yet. But I think the early signs are that this perjury attack on Clarke was a major, major blunder. I don't think the perpetrators of this ugly stunt even thought they'd ever get into a courtroom. That wasn't the point: this was watercooler ammo. Something you get on to the news so that when Mr. X asks Mr. Y over the watercooler what he makes of Clarke's testimony, Mr. Y responds, "Hell, that guy? He's probably gonna get indicted for perjury. You can't believe anything that guy says."

Still, Clarke -- who was unflappable on the shows this morning -- and Hill Democrats seem to have immediately called Frist & Co.'s bluff. Not only have they welcomed the release of Clarke's materials, they've called for the release of more documents, correspondence and testimony from him and Rice. Selective declassification would be very difficult in the current context -- and could complicate efforts to keep so much other stuff out of the public's view.

This was a very high stakes bluff, not least because it looked like the worst sort of Nixonian tactic, using the coercive machinery of the state to bludgeon political opponents. But if they were going to play hardball at this level, they should have been certain they had him dead to rights. And it seems like they didn't. Now even a number of partisan Republicans I know feel like this looked ugly and wrong. To use the Napoleonic aphorism again: this was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.

When you walk into a crowded room, walk up to a man, put a gun to his head and pull the trigger, make sure the gun's loaded. If not, you have the worst of all worlds -- like the White House.

Department of threading it awfully fine.

From tonight's 60 Minutes interview ...

ED BRADLEY: The secretary of state, defense, the director of the CIA, have all testified in public under oath before the commission. If - if you can talk to us and other news programs, why can't you talk to the commission in public and under oath?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle here ... it is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress.

ED BRADLEY: But there are some people who look at this and say, "But this - this was an unprecedented event. Nothing like this ever happened to this country before. And this is an occasion where you can put that executive privilege aside. It's a big enough issue to talk in public."

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It is an unprecedented event. We've said that many, many times. But this commission is rightly not concentrating on what happened on the day of September 11.. So, this is not a matter of what happened on that day, as extraordinary as it is - as it was. This is a matter of policy. And we have yet to find an example of a national security advisor, sitting national security advisor, who has - been willing to testify on matters of policy.


To call this explanation tortured is to give human rights abusers a bad name.

Look again at these last two sentences of Rice's <$Ad$>flagrantly bogus argument: "This is a matter of policy. And we have yet to find an example of a national security advisor, sitting national security advisor, who has - been willing to testify on matters of policy."

Each word of these two sentences was chosen to fit an unhelpful set of facts.

Sandy Berger twice testified in 1990s -- once in 1994 on Haiti and then again in 1997 during the Asian campaign contribution hearings. In 1994 though Berger was Deputy National Security Advisor. Constitutionally, it's not at all clear to me why a Deputy National Security Advisor should be more obliged to testify before congress than his boss. But that's their out in this case.

Then in 1997, when he was NSC Director, he was testifying in the course of an investigation into a scandal -- but certainly one with policy implications, since I'm pretty sure what they were asking him about was whether money affected policy. Why this is a constitutionally significant distinction is lost on me too. But again, that's their out -- it wasn't about 'policy'.

National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski testified before congress in 1980. But again, that was in the context of an investigation -- into an accusation that Billy Carter, the then-president's brother, had tried to influence the US government on behalf of Libya.

But, again, that's not 'policy'. So apparently by Rice's standard, it doesn't count.

I think there's a growing realization in Washington this weekend that Rice is going to testify, whether she realizes it yet or not. Among several reasons why is the fact that her rationales for not testifying are just becoming more and more visibly bogus, drawing tortured distinctions of no clear constitutional import.

She might just as easily have argued that they have found no record of a National Security Advisor named Rice testifying before congress, or a female NSC Director testifying, or one who served under a Republican president. Each would have made about as much sense. And on top of this you have the fact that the separation of powers argument is questionable at best because the commission itself is not an arm of congress.

A deal (though perhaps a tacit one) between Kerry and Nader? This AP story is pretty vague. But something seems to be afoot.

In a moment I'll discuss Richard Clarke's very strong performances on the two Sunday shows I watched this morning (Russert and Blitzer). But let me first note Richard Perle's comments in response to Clarke's on CNN -- which just finished up a few moments ago, just before 1 PM on the East Coast.

Given the character assassination and attacks peddled by administration surrogates over the last week, I did not know quite what to expect. But I must say I was surprised.

I don't think I heard Perle utter one ad hominem attack. There was some disinformation about operational links between Iraq and al Qaida. But by and large he argued that Clarke simply didn't grasp the nature of the war on terrorism. And he focused on what really is the central issue -- whether the war on terrorism is principally a battle against states (which sponsor terrorist groups or, we might say, launder violence through them) or transnational terrorist organizations who are not fundamentally reliant on state sponsors.

That's the essential question. And in a new column out in Newsweek Fareed Zakaria tackles it.

Through all this commotion and vitriol over Richard Clarke's 9/11 Commission testimony there is a pervading aura of the surreal. I say that because, at least in its broad outlines, little he has said is even that controversial.

I don't mean every conversation he recounts or each incident he says occurred in the White House, but the broad narrative -- for instance, the fact that the new administration did not place a high priority on transnational terrorism as a major threat to the United States, certainly not as high a priority as the previous administration.

The key, as we've noted before, was the new administration's abiding belief in the centrality of states as the actors in international affairs. That assumption not only preceded 9/11 but, perversely, survived it.

As we'll discuss in much greater depth in the future, the hidebound unwillingness to rethink that assumption after the 9/11 attacks is at the root of most of our greatest mistakes and strategic failures over the last two and a half years.

But, again, that's for another post.

Let me note an example.

At the beginning of 2000, Condi Rice wrote an article in Foreign Affairs outlining the sort of foreign and national security policy America should pursue. It was published as part of the journal's treatment of the 2000 election and in the article Rice was identified as one of then-candidate George W. Bush's foreign policy advisors. The article was intended to be a quasi-official statement of Bush's policies for the foreign policy elite -- the folks who read Foreign Affairs.

I read the piece at the time, or near after, and it was certainly very widely read by people in the foreign policy community.

I mention it now because this evening a reader reminded me of it and brought a now-pertinent fact to my attention. In the article Rice notes five key foreign policy priorities. Only the last made any mention of terrrorism and it was: "to deal decisively with the threat of rogue regimes and hostile powers, which is increasingly taking the forms of the potential for terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction."

Her article then elaborates on each of the five priorities and takes up the fifth toward the end of the piece.

It's well worth linking through and reading.

Not only does she not mention al Qaida or Osama bin Laden, she scarcely even mentions terrorism in the sense we now generally understand it. Her discussion is about North Korea, Iraq and Iran -- rogue states that might threaten the US with weapons of mass destruction (primarily with the use of missiles) -- and, to a much lesser extent, state-sponsored terrorism from Iran.

The key policy prescription for this section is contained in this paragraph ...

One thing is clear: the United States must approach regimes like North Korea resolutely and decisively. The Clinton administration has failed here, sometimes threatening to use force and then backing down, as it often has with Iraq. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence -- if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration. Second, we should accelerate efforts to defend against these weapons. This is the most important reason to deploy national and theater missile defenses as soon as possible, to focus attention on U.S. homeland defenses against chemical and biological agents, and to expand intelligence capabilities against terrorism of all kinds.


The central policy recommendation is national missile defense -- a defensive capacity aimed at states. And though there is mention of chemical and biological agents and the need to "expand intelligence capabilities against terrorism of all kinds" even a quick read of the entire section shows clearly that ideologically-based transnational terrorism simply wasn't on her radar as a significant threat to the United States.

There's no mention of Afghanistan or the madrassas in Pakistan, the importance of knocking down terrorist financial networks, Islamist sleeper cells in American or Germany. None of it.

Rice's own words from 2000 provide a lot of back-up for one of the major arguments for which Clarke is now being villified by Rice and her allies.

Maybe Richard Clarke lied in the July 2002 testimony. Maybe he's an al Qaida mole. Maybe instead of being 98% water like the rest of us he's 98% wax. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe ...

Earlier this afternoon I wrote a lengthy post (a few too many typos in the first iteration, for which I apologize, but I thought time was of the essence) on the shameless and I suspect (for himself) eventually quite damaging speech Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist gave on the Senate floor this afternoon, accusing Dick Clarke of being a perjuror and a profiteer on the blood of 9/11.

Though I didn't see it, I read it. And it's a truly egregious text. To have read it on the Senate floor is the sort of act that will, I think, permanently change how I see him. In any case, see the post below for more details and we'll be discussing it more later. But look at this short passage in a story tonight on MSNBC ...

“Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Frist said in a speech from the Senate floor, alleging that Clarke said in 2002 that the Bush administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaida before the attacks.

Frist later retreated from directly accusing Clarke of perjury, telling reporters that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies between Clarke’s two appearances. But he said, “Until you have him under oath both times, you don’t know.”


That's astonishing.

I never cease to be amazed at these guys' ability to outpace my ability to impute bad faith to them.

A few hours after accusing Clarke of perjury, he admits that he has no idea -- not just no idea whether he perjured himself, which is a fairly technical question, but no idea whether there were any inconsistencies at all.

He was just running it up the flag pole. Maybe, maybe, maybe ...

As long as we're talking about it, let me share with you some highlights from Frist's speech ...

I am equally troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their former service as a government insider with access to our nation’s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001.

...

Mr. President, I do not know if Mr. Clarke’s motive for theses charges is partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush Administration. But the one thing that his motive could not possibly be is to bring clarity to the issue of how we avoid future September 11 attacks.

...

Third, Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath. In July 2002, in front of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke testified under oath that the Administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during its first seven months in office.

Mr. President, it is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke’s previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke's two different accounts. Loyalty to any Administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.

...

In his appearance before the 9-11 Commission, Mr. Clarke’s theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility. In my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation. Mr Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct – but that is all.

Regardless of Mr. Clarke’s motive or what he says or implies in his new book, the fact remains that this terrible attack was not caused by the United States Government. No Administration was responsible for the attack. Our nation did not invite the attack.


Amazing stuff.

And speaking of amazing stuff, note this ...

If you recall last Sunday night's 60 Minutes, in which Clark first made his claims, Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley essentially accused Clarke of lying about an alleged encounter between Clarke and President Bush just after 9/11. In this encounter, the president supposedly pressed Clarke to investigate Saddam's possible ties to the attacks.

Hadley was quickly tripped up by the fact that CBS had two sources who confirmed that the encounter had occurred, including one who was in fact present during the discussion.

The White House has kept calling Clarke a liar until today. From CBS this evening ...

Retracted White House statements do little to boost public trust. CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports, until today, the Bush administration denied a meeting had taken place between the president and Clarke, during which Bush allegedly instructed Clarke to investigate Saddam Hussein and Iraq after Sept. 11.

The White House today reversed that comment, and staff members now tell reporters, "We are not denying such a meeting took place. It probably did."


So they called him a liar. But it seems they either had no evidence or their evidence turned out to be wrong.

Now, consider this. Do you think the White House would have changed its tune if CBS didn't come up with another source?

And how about this?

My recollection is that this meeting was supposed to have been an impromptu encounter in the West Wing -- not something like an Oval Office meeting for which there would almost certainly be some sort of record. I also seem to recall that Clarke said this encounter included him and other unnamed persons.

If that's true, and the White House didn't know the identities of the other people (the unnamed persons), who else would have been able to deny that the encounter occurred except the president himself?

Others could confirm it, yes. But if Clarke and Bush were the only identified participants in the alleged encounter, and if the encounter didn't actually happen, who else but Bush himself would be able to say it didn't happen? One of the two or three other people in on this conversation which, in fact, never occurred?

Think about it.

Late Update: Several readers have noted that in Clarke's book, his description of this meeting does reference the names of two persons involved. But those may well have been the two sources who confirmed the account to CBS. If either had denied it, I have to imagine the White House would have gotten them on camera or in front of a notary public real quick. So, the question remains, what was the basis of the White House's denial that this incident occurred, if not a denial from the president?

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