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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As regular readers know, Talking Points Memo concerns itself with American politics, grand strategy abroad, Enron, snarky comments about the likes of Maureen Dowd and Howard Fineman and the admittedly rather obscure matter of whether a gentleman named Douglas H. Paal will ever be appointed -- as long rumored -- to serve as the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, America's de facto embassy in Taiwan.

In February in The New Republic, TPM outlined a series of controversies surrounding Paal's think-tank, the Asia Pacific Policy Center. That article played some role in continuing to hold up the nomination until now.

However, this article in today's China Post confirms a rumor that's been circulating on Capitol Hill: that the decision to appoint Paal has now been made and that the state department is simply waiting for Congress to reconvene to make the announcement.

Normally I'm really no fan of Maureen Dowd. But for today, just today, I'm making an exception. She devotes her whole column today to trumpeting Josh Green's new article on the Bush polling operation.

For all the horror going on in Israel right now, there are a still some bright, inspiring moments. One came yesterday when Christiane Amanpour interviewed Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labour member of the current Israeli government.

This section of the interview, which I'm quoting at length below, points to the fissures in the current Israeli government, the firm determination even of supporters of the peace process like Ben-Eliezer not to give in to terror, and some slivers of hope for a way out of the current stranglehold of violence.

AMANPOUR: But what if there are more suicide bombings inside Israel? What do you do next?

BEN-ELIEZER: Listen, even if I will tell you that we are going for the separate operation, where they could just put fences, I don't think that this will really close the way from those who want really to penetrate to Israel. As I have said, we have to work very, hard simultaneously to what to our operation. We have to convince the Palestinian people as much as possible that our intention was and still to live with them together, to coexist with them together for a better future for the kids.

I am ready to say more than that. I am one of the few in the country that has accepted, for example, the Saudi proposal as a basis.

AMANPOUR: So if you as defense minister believe that, and Prime Minister Sharon as prime minister does not believe that...

BEN-ELIEZER: OK. Then I will move with this government until the minute that I will feel that I am prevented to do something that can be achieved. I hope that I -- you understand me. I will continue to be a partner in this government, in this coalition until the minute that I would realize that the breakthrough is possible and the fact that I am there I can do that. Then I will quit; we'll go.

All the labor party, we'll move out of this government. I want you to know that I, through my service -- I used to be the minister governor of the West Bank and government coordinator. I know hundreds of families and I feel sorry about them, really sorry. I want you to know that I care exactly as I care about our kids, I care about their kids as well. But someone has to come from the other side and listen to us and try to find a way how to sit and to find a solution.

AMANPOUR: Do you care that your soldiers go house to house and arrest little children's fathers and humiliate them? Do you care that your soldiers went into hospitals and separated nurses and doctors and kept patients unattended while they even removed injured people from their beds to check? Was that right?

BEN-ELIEZER: No, that's wrong. That's wrong. First of all, no one have prove it to me. I know my people, I know my soldiers. I think they are the most moral soldiers. But in such operation, such big operation, I cannot ignore that some accidents happen from them. It's a war.

It's happened, it is not right. And I can assure you more than that. The first indication that someone makes something wrong, we stop it. We just stop it.

AMANPOUR: And what would happen if it was proved right?

BEN-ELIEZER: Someone would have to be punished.

So today Ariel Sharon is hoping or somehow thinking that Yasir Arafat will solve his problem for him. He's offering him a 'one way ticket into exile.' Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, one of the really wise and good people on the Palestinian side, denounced the idea. And frankly, so do I.

I'm not certain that it's wrong (Arafat's done everything he can to justify Sharon's actions). But I'm quite sure that it's stupid.

And this is one of the great pities of the present moment. Right when Israel needs a great and strong leader, a Yitzhak Rabin, it has a weak and incapable one.

No doubt, Sharon is a man of great conviction -- unlike the charlatan and opportunist Bibi Netanyahu, who's again hitting the airwaves. And in a narrow military sense he has a touch of greatness. But he is also small-minded and brutal -- incapable, I think, of understanding the moment he's in. The problem isn't even really that Sharon has a bad plan. It would be bad if he did but he doesn't. It's that -- as the last 18 months have shown -- he has no plan.

In that regard, he shares a great deal with his nemesis, Arafat.

Contrary to what readers might imagine, my views of the current horror in Israel and the West Bank are not nearly black and white. What makes this tragic and not just terrible is that this current ratchet of flesh-rending and hopelessness is tied to mistakes -- some avoidable, some unavoidable, many fatal -- which both sides made over the last decade. And yet now those errors are layered over with so much mutual atrocity that the original errors are not only unrecoverable but in a sense irrelevant. After the recent surge in hideous suicide attacks on civilians, I don't see how the Israelis can do anything else but allow a non-holds-barred attack on the perpetrators. And it is equally difficult to imagine that the Palestinians can or will do anything but attack back.

One thing that seems regrettably undeniable is that President Bush, though bearing no responsibility for the origins of the crisis, is utterly unprepared to confront it.

A few undigested, unfiltered thoughts for the morning. I was sitting here at my desk getting ready to work when I noticed Andrew Sullivan's screeching remarks about the new Bill Clinton interview in Newsweek.

I have or I had shelved for some time -- perhaps permanently -- my book project about the 1990s phenomenon, sociology, etc., of Clinton-hating. But these blasts of the malady renew my interest and fascination or just my zeal for the task. In his screed about Clinton's remarks about bin Laden, Sullivan departs on a wild-eyed tear about this remark from the former president.

And we know at the same time he was training people to kill me. Which was fair enough—I was trying to get him.

Seems a rather refreshing nugget of honest reflection. The sort of unvarnished candor one can't get from elected leaders for a hundred different reasons. But here it's spun into knot of moral and situational relativism.

Sullivan's response ...

Here's Osama bin Laden, an evil man, training people in a despicable distortion of Islam to murder innocents. He's already killed Americans. He's planning the WTC massacre. And Clinton thinks it's "fair enough" for bin Laden to try and assassinate the president of the United States because the president "was trying to get him." You want to know why I'm glad Clinton isn't president right now? Statements like that.

The big zinging string of quotes out of the interview, so far at least, is about the Marc Rich pardon.

Clinton lets on to what I and others wrote more than a year ago, that the real story with the Rich pardon was Clinton's ingrained suspicions and resentments of zealous prosecutors. And how certain of his friends and confidants knew how to stroke that chord of Clinton's psyche.

Of course, not unexpectedly, Clinton says too much, at least too much for his own good in a narrow sense, though perhaps just enough in others. Asked if he would again pardon Marc Rich, Clinton's first words out of the box were ...

Probably not, just for the politics. It was terrible politics. It wasn’t worth the damage to my reputation

There is a complete absence of the forced contrition we expect of politicians. Frankly, what strikes me is how similar it is, how much it reminds me of that famous scene from Primary Colors. Clinton's moments of awkward, not-always-easy-to-deal-with, self-revelation retain the power to make his enemies stutter into ridiculous and vacant loathing.

A TPM reader (TW) writes in with a thoughtful critique of the article about Israel, Iraq & the United States I wrote yesterday in Salon.

He says I miss the point in criticizing the Bush administration's muscling of Iraq. If, as a result of our muscling, the other Arab states get together with Iraq and get the Iraqis to behave, that isn't a failure of US policy, but rather a success. I couldn't agree more.

For some time I've been skeptical of the criticism of the Bush policy on Iraq, even as I myself am critical of it. What if, at the end of the day, Bush's belligerence got the Iraqis to readmit weapons inspectors, perhaps with a brief even more robust than their previous one? Who could say the president's bluster wasn't successful? Where would that leave the critics? Or what if it spurred a change of regime in Baghdad? That's something I see as far less likely. But what if ...?

Here is why I think what happened in Beirut a couple days ago doesn't fall into that category. The Iraqis put little or nothing on the table in terms of complying with international resolutions -- as this article in the Times makes clear. Yet they have gotten the other Arab states to place themselves on the side of defending, rather than attacking the Iraqis. At least for now.

The error here -- as I see it -- is that the administration really wasn't pursuing a bluster strategy. It was pursuing a military strategy. Or at least it's focus was so solely on a military strategy that it undermined the bluster strategy. Rather than moving deftly and making the Iraqis worry that we might be successful in isolating them, the administration moved cavalierly and got the Arab states to preempt us.

The potency of our bluster is now rather diminished. As is our ability to use threats to get the weapons inspectors back in. At least that's how it seems right now. If your response is to tell me that our strategy has always been military and that that's exactly how it should be, well ... that's fine. But how does our military position look to you now?

Under the influence of Brooks and other conservative worthies, the president is trying to shape himself in the TR mold. And the White House has thought it was talking loudly and carrying a big stick. For the moment though I think we've been revealed to be all talk and no stick. And a bit foolhardy to boot.

A month and a half ago I razzed Newsweek's Howard Fineman about a comically fawning article he wrote about George W. Bush and the war on terrorism ...

He’s the Texas Ranger of the World, and wants everyone to know it. He’s the guy with the silver badge, issuing warnings to the cattle rustlers. He will cut deals when necessary — his history shows that — but, as a matter of inclination and strategy, he’s the toughest talker on his team.

The article appeared at the MSNBC/Newsweek website. But now it's no longer online and there's no record of it on the Nexis database. What gives? Why is this gem down the memory hole?

Can't wait to read Josh Green's article on the Bush polling operation? Your wait is over! Here it is.

As I once noted in the context of the bogus White House vandalism story, the stories that really get traction aren't so much the ones that are true as they are the ones that resonate with journalists' preexisting prejudices and assumptions.

Case in point: Bush and polling.

The reigning assumption in DC is that Bush makes little use of pollsters or doesn't pay much attention to them if he does. Even many reporters think the president's pollster is Matthew Dowd. None of these points turns out to be true. But until now no one took the time to ask the obvious question: who's the president's pollster?

No one, that is, until Josh Green -- esteemed TPM associate -- decided to take up the challenge. As Josh discovered, Bush's pollster is a guy named Jan van Lohuizen. Bush and Rove hooked up with him back in 1991 when Rove hired him to work on a campaign to raise the local sales tax in Arlington, Texas, to help pay for a new baseball stadium for Bush's team, the Texas Rangers.

Here's one fun snippet from his soon-to-be-published article in the Washington Monthly ...

Like previous presidential pollsters, van Lohuizen also serves corporate clients, including Wal-Mart, Qwest, Anheuser-Busch, and Microsoft. And like his predecessors, this presents potential conflicts of interest. For example, van Lohuizen polls for Americans for Technology Leadership, a Microsoft-backed advocacy group that commissioned a van Lohuizen poll last July purporting to show strong public support for ending the government's suit against the company. At the time, Bush's Justice Department was deciding to do just that. Clinton pollster Mark Penn also did work for Microsoft and Clinton took heat for it. Bush has avoided criticism because few people realize he even has a pollster.

The White House has gone to great lengths to keep its polling operation and its pollster under wraps. And pretty much everybody in the DC press corps decided this was cool by them.

Of course, the fact that Bill Clinton's pollsters got so much more attention might have something to do with the fact that his post-1994 pollsters (Greenberg's cool by me) were both fabulously cartoonish blowhards. But let's not make this post more complicated than it needs to be.

I'll be linking to the story tomorrow.

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