Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The lead summary from this <$NoAd$>evening's uber-insider Nelson Report ...

Clarke Terrorism Charges...White House must head-off before it gets "outside the Beltway"

Summary: the 9/11 Commission has always been a high risk potential for the Bush Administration, hence the very careful limits put on official cooperation. Hearings this week, "bombshell" book by former WH staffer Richard Clarke, have high risk potential to change attitudes "outside The Beltway". Polls consistently show the public still puts "trust" in double digits for Bush over Kerry on terrorism war. So White House reacts quickly, and very very firmly, to anything resembling a credible criticism of Bush...see the deconstruction of ex-Treas. Sec. O'Neill, UN inspector Blix, and now Clarke. The White House's top terrorism expert going back to the Reagan Administration provides anecdotal and eye-witness testimony apparently corroborating many other sources that Iraq was THE fixation, at the expense of all else. VP Cheney's rebuttal that Clark "out of the loop" is confusing, if Clarke was given the terrorism oversight job by NSC chief Rice. This one will bear watching...the polls will tell the tale.

Taiwan elections...let's give it a rest for today, except to note that President Chen has endorsed the idea of an official recount, and the High Court has said it will think about it, and rule on all this as soon as possible. But that's not likely to be before Friday's anticipated certification of Chen's reelection, so KMT is still screaming.

As soon as the transcripts of today's testimony appear, watch for Tim Roemer's exchange with Paul Wolfowitz over Richard Clarke's claims. Wolfowitz would not clearly address the validity of claims which his spokesman yesterday was bold enough to call a 'fabrication'.

More soon. And later, the gaggles start flowing ...

Amazing. Jim Woolsey is on Lou Dobbs show, as I write. He continues to press the Iraq-al Qaida link, suggests only that it's not clear Saddam 'ordered' the 9/11 attacks (my recollection, I haven't seen the transcript yet), and goes on to accuse Clarke of being crazy or thoroughly lacking in credibility because he accuses Woolsey, Laurie Mylroie and others of saying what they have in fact been saying for years. A through-the-looking-glass performance.

Spin and push-back is a delicate art. Used indiscriminately it can show how weak your real case must be.

Case in point. This afternoon the White House released Richard Clarke's resignation letter from January 2003, arguing that boilerplate praise for the president contained in the letter shows that Clarke has flipflopped and is thus a hypocrite.

Here's the phrase that they're highlighting: "It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months ... I will always remember the courage, determination, calm, and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th."

The best they can do.

Today President Bush said: "The facts are these: George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threat to the United States of America, and had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11, we would have acted."

I would hope so. But isn't this setting the bar rather low?

I certainly doubt there was any intelligence with remotely that level of specificity.

But that statement does suggest the president's team is bracing for quite a lot of uncomfortable information to come out. Why else make such a statement that really does no more than state that which goes without saying: namely, that had the White House had detailed knowledge about where and when the attack would occur that they would have done something about it?

It's amazing how many partisan Democrats and disgruntled former employees working under cover as career civil servants, spies and military officers have betrayed this president. It just seems to happen again and again and again. I mean, just think of the list: Rand Beers, well-known partisan Democrat and hack, Richard Clarke, self-promoter, disgruntled former employee, and "self-regarding buffoon", Karen Kwiatkowski, conspiracy theorist and all-around freak, Valerie Plame, hack and nepotist, Joe Wilson, partisan hack, self-promoter and shameless green tea lover. When will the abuse end?

One line of adminstration attack against Richard Clarke is that he appears to be a friend of Rand Beers, John Kerry's chief foriegn policy advisor. They even teach (or taught, I'm not sure) a course together at the Kennedy School.

On the surface this sounds like decent evidence of Clarke's political ties and possible political motivations.

But pressing this line of attack mostly shows that President Bush is running to be president of the amnesiacs.

Here's why.

Who is Rand Beers exactly? He's a career government national security expert specializing in intelligence and counter-terrorism. He's a registered Democrat. But his profile is that of an apolitical civil servant -- enough so that he was asked to work for Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the current President Bush in various capacities.

In August 2002 Condi Rice hired him to be the special assistant to the president for combating terrorism at the NSC. In a sense that was the job that Clarke had before 9/11, although by that point the chairs had been shuffled around so much that no direct comparison is really possible.

In any case, he came in in August 2002 and he resigned about seven months later, a few days before the beginning of the war. Eight weeks after that he signed up to work for John Kerry. A good summary of Beers' story can be found here in this June 16th, 2003 article in the Washington Post.

When you look at it, Beers' and Clarke's stories sound quite similar.

And the pattern suggests two possible theories.

The first is that President Bush has the odd misfortune of repeatedly hiring Democratic party stooges for key counter-terrorism assignments who stab him in the back as soon as they leave his employ.

The second is that anyone the president hires in a key counter-terrorism role who is not either a hidebound ideologue or a Bush loyalist gets so disgusted with the mismanagement and/or dishonesty that they eventually quit and then devote themselves to driving the president from office.

Which sounds more likely?

More on just how feeble the White House anti-Clarke <$NoAd$>push-back is getting. This is Bush NSC spokesman Jim Wilkinson again on Wolf Blitzer last night ...

The terrorists weren't overseas, the terrorists were here in America. By June, the FBI says 16 of 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks were already here. I just don't see what this focus on process and titles and meetings. Let me also point something. If you look in this book you find interesting things such as reported in the "Washington Post" this morning. He's talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of "X-Files" stuff, and this is a man in charge of terrorism, Wolf, who is supposed to be focused on it and he was focused on meetings.

So now it seems the White House line is that Clarke is some sort of borderline personality or half-crazed crackpot. Here's the reference from the Washington Post ...

"Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary [for al Qaeda] by invading," Clarke writes. "What was unique about George Bush's reaction" was the additional choice to invade "not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq." In so doing, he estranged allies, enraged potential friends in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and produced "more terrorists than we jail or shoot."

"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq,' " Clarke writes.

X-Files stuff ...

When you have a good case, you make it. When you don't, you just talk trash.

Or as the lawyers say, when you have the facts on your side, you bang the facts. When you've got the law on your side, you bang on the law. When you have neither, like Wilkinson, you just bang yourself.

More calls for Philip Zelikow to resign as Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission.

Alright, I promise not to do too much of this. <$NoAd$>But here are some portions of comments from Jim Wilkinson, an NSC spokesman, on Paula Zahn Monday night (itals added)...

First, knock Clarke for pursuing the well-known fool's errand of hitting the terrorists overseas before they can hit us here ...

This is a president who had Condoleezza Rice and others ask for a strategy. Dick Clarke, when he first came and briefed, presented several ideas, all of which frankly were overseas. He had the idea to increase help for Uzbekistan, which we did. He had the idea to help increase the counterterrorism budget, which we did. These were all ideas, but they were over there.

Next, the 'strategy' strategy ...

I want to make a very point here, that all of his ideas he presented were not a strategy. This is a president who wanted a comprehensive strategy to go after al Qaeda where it lives, where it hides, where it plots, where it raises money. All the ideas that -- except for one -- that Dick Clarke submitted, this administration did. This is the president who expedited the arming of the Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle, so that we could go after these terrorists like we've done in other places.

This 'strategy' mumbojumbo has definite echoes of Nigel Tufnel: No, no, no, this one goes to eleven ...

On a more substantive note compare Wilkinson's description of Clarke's pitiful proposal to this one from an August 4th, 2002 article in Time. Note particularly the comment from the "senior Bush administration official" at the end ...

Berger had left the room by the time Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. A senior Bush Administration official denies being handed a formal plan to take the offensive against al-Qaeda, and says Clarke's materials merely dealt with whether the new Administration should take "a more active approach" to the terrorist group. (Rice declined to comment, but through a spokeswoman said she recalled no briefing at which Berger was present.) Other senior officials from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, however, say that Clarke had a set of proposals to "roll back" al-Qaeda. In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, "Response to al Qaeda: Roll back." Clarke's proposals called for the "breakup" of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble-Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen-would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to "eliminate the sanctuary" where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime. The Taliban had come to power in 1996, bringing a sort of order to a nation that had been riven by bloody feuds between ethnic warlords since the Soviets had pulled out. Clarke supported a substantial increase in American support for the Northern Alliance, the last remaining resistance to the Taliban. That way, terrorists graduating from the training camps would have been forced to stay in Afghanistan, fighting (and dying) for the Taliban on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. military would start planning for air strikes on the camps and for the introduction of special-operations forces into Afghanistan. The plan was estimated to cost "several hundreds of millions of dollars." In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to "everything we've done since 9/11."

Next from Wilkinson, misstate Clarke's statements and then accuse him of Iraq double-talk by again mischaracterizing another statement ...

Well, I think your viewers tonight would be a little alarmed if the president didn't ask about Iraq. This is a nation that was shooting at our pilots, shooting at our pilots hundreds of times a day in the southern no-fly zone, a nation that had used WMD against its neighbors. And I think your viewers tonight would be a little alarmed if the president didn't ask about any connection from anybody on any part of the globe, frankly.

The president wanted to know who did it and who was responsible. Dick Clarke, on another interview he gave to PBS "Frontline," said that, right after 9/11, all his options were open. He wasn't sure who did it. So, again, we see Mr. Clarke on three sides of a two-sided issue. What the American people need to know is that their government is working diligently to go after al Qaeda where it lives, where it plots, where it raises money, and where it does threats or tries to do us harm here.

Here's the Frontline passage Wilkinson is referring to ...

Question: Because one of the things that surprises a lot of the public, I think, is that immediately after Sept. 11, the administration knew exactly who had done it. Was that why?

Clarke: No. On the day of Sept. 11, then the day or two following, we had a very open mind. CIA and FBI were asked, "See if it's Hezbollah. See if it's Hamas. Don't assume it's Al Qaeda. Don't just assume it's Al Qaeda." Frankly, there was absolutely not a shred of evidence that it was anybody else. The evidence that it was Al Qaeda began just to be massive within days after the attack. Question: Somebody's quoted as saying that they walked into your office and almost immediately afterwards, the first words out of your mouth was "Al Qaeda."

Clarke: Well, I assumed it was Al Qaeda. No one else had the intention of doing that. No one else that I knew of had the capability of doing that. So yes, as soon as it happened, I assumed it was Al Qaeda.

Returning to the Wilkinson tirade already in progress, now blame all previous terrorism attacks on Clarke's being a doofus while also managing to step on Cheney's story line by insisting that Clarke was running the show right before 9/11 ...

I would say that, since this president's been here, two-thirds of al Qaeda have been captured or killed. I would say, I would remind you that Dick Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism policy when the African embassies were bombed. Dick Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism policy when the USS Cole was bombed. Dick Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism policy in the time preceding 9/11 when the threat was growing.

Finally, make a nonsensical comparison between Clarke's blowing 9/11 and the president's wiping out all the bad guys afterwards ...

And in June of 2001, when the FBI said 16 of the 19 hijackers were already in the United States, Dick Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism. I think you contrast that directly with this president's record of freezing millions of dollars in terrorist assets, rounding up more than two-thirds of the members of al Qaeda. It's a clear distinction.

Most of these aren't even distortions. They're silly little gotchas, many of which don't even make any sense.

This is the best they can do.