Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Oops ... Compare these paragraphs from a late afternoon article in the Washington Post to the breathless and wildly over-the-top coverage yesterday on CNN (itals added)...

Several thousand Pakistani army troops have surrounded between 150 and 400 tribal fighters and foreign Islamic guerrillas, some of them associated with al Qaeda, as heavy fighting continued in a remote area near the border with Afghanistan, military officials said Friday.

The intensity of the resistance encountered in the rugged hills of South Waziristan has prompted speculation by some military commanders that the tribal fighters and their foreign allies may be protecting senior al Qaeda figures such as Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy.


Senior Pakistan officials said that the foreign fighters include Chechens, Uzbeks and some Arabs, but they said they had no specific evidence that either bin Laden or Zawahiri was in the area.

"Most recent intelligence inputs do not support the perception that either Osama or Ayman are holed up in that vicinity," said a senior military intelligence officer in Peshawar, the capital of the province in northwestern Pakistan that includes the semi-autonomous tribal area of South Waziristan.

"The idea is to send the strongest message yet to the al Qaeda supporters, but who knows? We may hit the jackpot in the process," the official added.

Who knows?<$Ad$>

Anything could happen.

We don't know he's not there! We could hit the jackpot.

Are we in the Hindu Kush or Vegas?

Everybody ran with this story a bit yesterday. But CNN reeeeaaaaaaalllly ran with it, almost certainly because the 'scoop' (or, what shall we call it, maybe the null scoop?) came in an interview CNN's Aaron Brown did with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

(Here's a good story from the LA Times about how all the nets are hurriedly prepositioning their foreign correspondents in Pakistan because they want to be able to go 24/7 when OBL finally gets grabbed.)

This headline in today's Daily Times, a Pakistani paper, sort of sums it up: "CNN ends up with 'much egg on its face'".

(Allow me a moment here to thoroughly relish South Asian English ... Okay, I'm good.)

What made me suspicious about this from the start was the fact that the announcement came right on the day Powell showed up in Islamabad. Helluva coincidence. I'm sure there was a great desire on the part of the Pakistanis to show how thorough a job they are doing hunting al Qaida in the tribal areas. And perhaps this story just got a bit out of control. (What I heard from a very trusted and knowledgable source also led me to believe that CNN was getting way out ahead of the story.)

Maybe he's there. Maybe they'll find him tomorrow. Could be. But for the moment at least I have to agree that CNN does seem to have much egg on its face.

People have been discussing for weeks <$NoAd$>what would be contained in the soon-to-be-released book by former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke (who served under Clinton and Bush).

CBS is rolling the book on 60 Minutes this Sunday night. And here's the press release they just put out ...

Former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke tells Lesley Stahl that on September 11, 2001 and the day after - when it was clear Al Qaeda had carried out the terrorist attacks - the Bush administration was considering bombing Iraq in retaliation. Clarke's exclusive interview will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday March 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Clarke was surprised that the attention of administration officials was turning toward Iraq when he expected the focus to be on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. "They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12," says Clarke.

The top counter-terrorism advisor, Clarke was briefing the highest government officials, including President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the aftermath of 9/11. "Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq....We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan," recounts Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the 9/11 attacks],'" he tells Stahl.

Clarke goes on to explain what he believes was the reason for the focus on Iraq. "I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection [between Iraq and Al Qaeda] but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there, saying, 'We've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection,'" says Clarke.

Clarke, who advised four presidents, reveals more about the current administration's reaction to terrorism in his new book, "Against All Enemies."

At least among people who've followed this story closely, these facts are broadly known, at least in their outlines. Of course, hearing the details from the guy in charge of counter-terrorism at NSC sort of bumps it up a notch. I'll be curious to hear from Clarke just how far along plans for a lunge against Iraq really got.

As I hope to discuss this weekend, <$Ad$>I think the Kerry campaign has made some missteps of late -- small and I trust recoverable, but missteps nonetheless. But this article is a little disappointing.

The piece is running today on ABC News and the premise is that Kerry said voting against the $87 billion Iraq supplemental would be "reckless" and "irresponsible" just a few weeks before doing just that.

As we've noted, there were two bills -- one which would fund the $87 billion by rescinding a portion of the president's tax cut, another which would fund it by going $87 billion in to debt. Kerry voted for the first, the latter passed.

The article focuses on an appearance Kerry made on Face The Nation a few weeks before the vote. Doyle McManus asked him whether if his bill failed he would then vote for the other bill. That's a good question. And here was Kerry's response.

I don't think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to — to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That's irresponsible. What is responsible is for the administration to do this properly now.

Kerry just ducked the question. He didn't say he would vote for it or that voting against it was irresponsible or reckless. That itself might be something to knock him for.

But here's how ABC characterizes it.

In the interview, Kerry never clearly stated whether he would or would not vote for the $87 billion funding bill, a fact that may offer him some sort of exculpation. But one of the few press outlets to cover his remarks on the subject, the Washington Times, wrote the next day that "Mr. Kerry said he would still vote to authorize the $87 billion. Not doing so, he said, would be 'irresponsible.'"

This is great. Kerry didn't say he would vote for it or that voting against would be irresponsible. But the tendentious misconstrual offered by the right-wing Washington Times says he did. So let's go with that. And contradicting what the Times said constitutes a flip-flop. Pulling in the Times, along with the frequent uses of variants of verb 'seem' are, I think, a sign that it was clear to the author or the editor that they didn't quite have it.

Of the 'political observers' who allegedly validate the flipflop charge, the only one referenced happens to be the author's boss, ABC News political director Mark Halperin.

The Dems were clear at the time that they weren't going to let the $87 billion go unfunded. They were trying to force a change in how it was funded and force some assurances that the administration would cut loose some of its more hopeless policies -- both of which would be vastly better than what happened.

Some of these points are made clear in the piece. But the thrust of the piece points in quite the opposite direction.

I can understand the Republicans using the vote for all its worth. Kerry didn't want to vote for a bad bill. And that gave his opponents a wedge. Politics is politics, I guess. But I'd figure we could do better from the news coverage.

I'm working today on a magazine article about Democrats and foreign policy, and whether they have an effective vision and strategy for confronting the present challenges -- setting aside whatever one thinks of the policies embraced by the current administration. That's got a monopoly on my time today -- as it has for the last few weeks. So let me just put out a few thoughts on the aftermath of Madrid, which I hope to return to, and to dig into in more depth, later.

First, here are four columns on the topic which have appeared in the last several days. I don't agree entirely with any of them. But they each contain important food for thought. They're by Bob Kagan, Anne Applebaum, Jim Pinkerton and Timothy Garton Ash.

It probably won't surprise you to hear that I find the right-wing charges -- now omnipresent in this country -- about Spanish 'appeasement' to be crass, verging on disgusting, not to mention I think simply untrue.

However, I think Ash has a very good point when he writes the following ...

So far as the Spanish voters' intentions are concerned, the election result was not subjectively a victory for al-Qaida. But it is, as Marxists used to say, an objective victory for al-Qaida. The Madrid bombings look likely to do exactly what a message posted on a radical Islamist website months ago said they should do: exploit the election moment to knock Spain out of the "Crusader-Zionist" coalition in Iraq. Conclusion: terror works.

I don't see how you get around that. But I don't think the policy prescription following from that insight is clear. At a minimum<$Ad$> it raises the vexing question of whether we persist in policies or approaches that we realize were mistaken simply because we see that abandoning them, or fundamentally reworking them, might have the perverse effect of encouraging our enemies.

In the case of Spain, if the impression is that the Spanish have been run out of the country, that's a bad thing. This is especially so since our only real hope of success in the country is to dramatically broaden the military presence, to internationalize it, as the now overworked phrase has it, either through the UN or preferably through NATO -- in some version of the Balkan model.

It's worth noting that the new or incoming Spanish government is on record supporting the continued presence of its troops in the country if such an internationalization of the effort occurs.

(One heartening, encouraging sign in today's papers comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that "Germany -- which helped thwart Washington's pursuit of a United Nations Security Council endorsement for the invasion -- privately has asked Spain's likely new leadership to tone down its anti-U.S. rhetoric." This is precisely the sort of drawing back from the brink -- and distinguishing rather than conflating these different issues -- that we need right now on all sides.)

If there is anything good that can come out of this Spanish tragedy, and it certainly looks like close to wall to wall bad, it is that it may force us to shake the attitude of denial that we're in about the nature of our coalition. A couple of the columns above are right to talk about the increasing danger this all poses to the Atlantic alliance.

But the truth is that we've just been fooling ourselves with all this mumbojumbo about New Europe and whatever Spain had meant, up to this point, about Western unity. The idea that there was a hawkish, pro-American, anti-dirigiste New Europe that we were allying ourselves with against Old Europe (i.e., Germany and France) was never more than a fantasy or a farce.

There was some variation in attitudes toward our policies in Iraq across the continent -- most notably in Poland. And support was somewhat higher in some countries in the post-Communist east. But by and large popular opposition to our policies was close to overwhelming from one end of the continent to the other.

What we were doing was piggybacking on intra-European struggles over unity, fault lines between the bigger states at the center and the smaller, generally poorer ones, on the periphery. And on the topic of the war, we were relying on leaders who offered their support over the overwhelming opposition of their electorates.

In the short-term that kind of support can be key, especially in a military context. But when dealing with democratic allies, in the medium and long-term, it's a losing game. In this sense, I don't think what's happened in Spain has been a blow to Western unity so much as a wake-up call to an already-existing reality which we must face if we are to wage a real war against Islamist terror as opposed to a war of words over Iraq.

On this latter point I continue to believe what I wrote last August, that "generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for."

Some of this chatter about the 'war on terrorism' and 'appeasement' and Iraq as a sign of this or that is just disinformation, abuse and lying. But our real situation is genuinely bedeviled and obscured by how deep we are in a thicket of abstraction. This is a struggle of ideas, big ideas. And it's correct to see it in such terms rather than simply as a matter of police work or military capacity. But it can also makes us stumble, make us stumble or fall prey to the trickery of bad actors.

So, for instance, we have a 'war on terror'. Then we insist that invading Iraq is part of the 'war on terror'. But most of our allies don't agree. And now we have one of our nominal allies in the Iraq war possibly pulling out. So we conclude they've bagged on the 'war on terror' when in fact they seem to have bagged on the Iraq war (through pressing our manichean view can become a self-fulfilling reality.) And now we're told that any rethinking of the Iraq war would be a defeat in the 'war on terror'.

The ins and outs of these arguments are complex, I grant that. Still, I think our preoccupation with abstractions -- itself partly a product of nostalgia -- gets us shadow-boxing with ourselves and our friends rather than fighting our enemies.

As Lincoln once said, and this applies across the ideological spectrum, "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

A short follow-up on the Pew poll of foreign attitudes about the United States. Several readers have written in to question my characterization that the poll "appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States. Most daunting, the public in those states is apparently increasingly supportive of suicide bombings."

In fact, they note, the poll actually shows a slackening of anti-American attitudes in the four Muslim countries surveyed.

As Pew phrases it in one of their summaries, "anger toward the United States remains pervasive [in the four Muslim states surveyed], although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up."

Now, one issue here is who's an Arab and who's a Muslim. But the key is what Pew's comparison point is. And what they're comparing to in that passage principally is the sounding they did in May 2003 -- in other words, about a month after the war. And from a month after the war to now there has been a slackening, although a modest one in those four Muslim states.

There was a spike. And it's true that the numbers have come down a bit from that high. I should have made that more clear. But the valid point of comparison, to me at least, isn't from the point when there was still smoke in the air till now (tempers do cool of course), but rather going back to before the war happened at all and over the period of the build up to it.

For that you need to go back to the data contained in this Pew survey which was released in 2002 but has data from 1999/2000 as well. Looking across that time horizon, which seems to me to the best for judging the impact of recent events, the trend line is quite clear despite coming down a bit from the spike during the war.

My reference of course was to Arab states nominally allied to the United States and the current Pew survey includes hard data on two of these -- though Morocco is actually mixed language and ethnicity. According to Pew, the favorability rating of the US in Jordan in the summer of 2002 was 25%. Just after the war it was 1%. And it has bounced back, if one can say that without too much irony, to 5%.

(Unfortunately, while Pew has pre-war-on-terror numbers for Pakistan and Turkey, they don't seem to have them -- at least not that I can find -- for Jordan. If anybody can point me to such numbers I'd be most obliged if you can send a reference.)

Now to the other point I mentioned.

One of the things that struck me most about these new numbers -- and comparing them with the December 2002 numbers -- were the opinions about the acceptability of suicide bombings.

Now, there's a problem because the questions don't seem to have been posed in the just the same fashion. In the earlier survey (Dec. 2002) the question was whether suicide bombings are acceptable in 'defense of Islam.' In the more recent survey the question was asked with respect to such attacks in Israel/Palestine and then against Americans or Westerners in Iraq.

Again, slightly different questions. But one can still draw some conclusions from the results. And they're not good.

In the earlier survey (and the questions were only asked of Muslims), the only country where Muslims seemed clearly to support suicide bombings was Lebanon (73% support, 21% oppose).

A number of countries were surveyed and after Lebanon the numbers jumped down rapidly, with a bunch of countries between more or less evenly divided. Jordan, for instance, the numbers were 43% for, 48% against.

Now, again, in the current survey they didn't use the straight 'defense of Islam' phrasing. They asked if suicide bombings were okay in those two places. Jordanians now believe suicide bombings are justifiable by Palestinians against Israelis by a margin of 86% to 12%. Against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq they believe they are justified by a margin of 70% to 24%.

In any case, as with all polls, to a get a sense of what they say you really need to dig into the details and the various subsidiary questions that are asked. So here's the link to the new one, the one from May 2003 and the one I've been referencing from 2002.

Are we about to capture Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaida's #2?

Clearly, something is afoot. Reports from the fighting near the Pakistani border say there is heavy resistance which suggests the fighters are protecting a 'high-value' target. What's more there are apparently intelligence reports -- from interviews with captured fighters -- to the effect that al-Zawahiri either has been or remains in just this area.

On the other hand, I don't think you can avoid noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in the neighborhood, most recently in India. And today, the day we hear this announcement, happens to be the very day when Powell came calling in Islamabad with the news that we're designating Pakistan a major non-NATO US ally, which carries not only prestige but significantly facilitates the purchase of US arms.

One needn't assume that the Pakistanis aren't being honest with what they're saying. But I don't think you need to be too imaginative to believe that with Powell in town with a prize in hand there'd be a great desire to put the best face on what may be very ambiguous evidence.

What's more, experts on the running fights through the mountains of Afghanistan in recent years note that these fighters tend to put up fierce fights whether they're protecting a bigwig or not.

All of it adds up to my not really knowing what to make of it. I've talked to several al Qaida experts this afternoon and they don't really seem to know what to make of it either. The best description I could give is to say they each seem like they're in wait-and-see mode, as I guess we all should be.

We'll know soon enough.

Classic. The facts don't mesh with our theory, <$NoAd$>so let's get new facts.

Last night Richard Perle was on Chris Matthews Hardball show and Matthews pressed him on the results of the new Pew poll which appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States. Most daunting, the public in those states is apparently increasingly supportive of suicide bombings.

Here's the exchange ...

PERLE: It is appalling and it is very dangerous. It shows you what happens when you allow suicide bombing to go largely unresponded to for as long as we did.

We had a decade in which we were attacked again and again and we didn't respond. And, eventually, these thing become entrenched and even fashionable.

MATTHEWS: But you said last year, in 2001, right after 9/11, that if we go in, the idea that it is going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense. You think that our going into Iraq has not stimulated a higher level of hostility to us that would support this kind of horrible attitude toward our deaths?

PERLE: Because the Arab world was on Saddam's side? What is the logic of that? That they object to the fact that we've liberated 25 million Iraqis?

In other words, the facts don't make sense to me so they're not facts.

If this were just spin to snow Matthews and other barkers it would be one thing. But it's the essence of how these folks think, how they deceive themselves when they're not busy deceiving others.

I touched on precisely this point in my column in The Hill on Wednesday but today in The American Prospect Ivo Daalder makes it more pointedly and concisely. And on top of that, he's Ivo Daalder and I'm not ...

This is the third election of a major ally in which the party running against George Bush won. Look at Germany in '02, South Korea in '03, and now Spain. The message is: If you want to get re-elected, don't go to Crawford. Bush is a political liability -- in Europe, in particular. His foreign policy has trampled on the European views and it's now resulting in the election of governments that do not support his approach.

Think about it. And if it doesn't click with you, pick up a copy of Sun Tzu and think about it again.

The Speaker? Or the Meeker?

Denny Hastert on how it felt getting bamboozled by the White House on the cost of the Medicare bill ...

“Yeah, [the higher cost estimate] was a surprise to us, and [I was] surprised it happened. When the administration comes out and says this is going to be more expensive…[it] makes it tougher on us, kind of sticks it to us.”

The quote is from a piece tomorrow in The Hill, which also notes just how many investigations have already been spawned by this bum's-rush-bill.

Just a thought.

One of the things we hear again and again from the administration is that Saddam Hussein still had both the intention and the capability to build and possess weapons of mass destruction.

Isn't this a logical fallacy?

I mean, if you have the intention to build WMDs and the ability to build them, then you have WMDs. It's about as close to 2 + 2 = 4 as you get in human affairs.

Not that this is the biggest bit of ridiculousness coming out 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. But it's worth noting.

We can infer from the fact that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction that he lacked either the intention or the ability to have them. Something is missing from the equation. Maybe he had the intention to build them later. Maybe he was working to get back the ability. But he really couldn't have had both.

It's just 'p's and 'q's.