Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It's difficult to write anything about Howard Dean without Dean's fans thinking you're bashing him -- except, of course, if you're adoring him or cheering him on.

Having said that, a few more thoughts about the Gore endorsement.

Normally, these sorts of endorsements don't count for that much. But the real story about this primary race is how much the national Democratic electorate remains pretty much untilled ground.

The upshot of this endorsement is that the first serious impression that a lot of Democrats will get of Dean will be that Al Gore is supporting him. And that seems like an awfully big deal, especially since it plays favorably to Dean's chief perceived weaknesses -- namely, that he's a weak general election candidate.

I've always been a big fan of Gore's and I remain one, a strong one. But I was talking to a friend this evening about Gore's announcement and he said that Gore's endorsement wouldn't be all positive since a lot of people are still pissed at Gore for what happened in 2000.

But I think that's very much a DC reaction, and not one, I think, that's shared very widely among Democrats around the country. Whatever they thought of Gore going into 2000, I think most Democrats around the country see him as someone who by every measure was robbed of the presidency and thus has great credibility to make such an endorsement. (It's an estimation I agree with.)

I've always thought this race would quickly settle down to Dean versus some other candidate who turns out to be the anti-Dean. I think this will greatly accelerate that process, thus providing a benefit to whomever that anti-Dean candidate turns out to be. But it's not clear to me that any of the candidates in the race have generated the traction to move into that role and make something of it. One or perhaps two are positioned to manage it -- but the jury is out.

I'm sure (and in some cases know) that the other campaigns are spluttering in their efforts at a response. And I'm reminded that short term reactions to such announcements almost always overstate their significance.

And as far as analogies to previous election cycles, I'm reminded of a line from the great historian Edmund Morgan who once wrote: (and I'm roughly paraphrasing here) History never repeats itself. It only seems like it does to those who don't know the details.


The big F You?

Here's a statement <$NoAd$>Joe Lieberman just put out about the Gore endorsement ...


ARLINGTON, VA -- Joe Lieberman issued the following statement in response to news reports that Al Gore has decided to endorse Howard Dean:

“I was proud to have been chosen by Al Gore in 2000 to be a heartbeat away from the presidency -- and am determined to fight for what’s right, win this nomination, and defeat George W. Bush next year.

“I have a lot of respect for Al Gore -- that is why I kept my promise not to run if he did. Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward.”

Ugghhh. Full-metal-ouch ... Note the "that is why I kept my promise ..."

Ouch ....

And as long as we're at it, Ouch!

The AP says Al Gore is going to endorse Howard Dean. If true, that sounds to me like a huge deal.

Frankly, I'm stunned.

Okay, so who does Iraq owe money to?

As I noted over the weekend, it's a really important question. And here are the beginnings of an answer.

First, one detail: Iraq's debt is overwhelmingly in the 'official' sector, i.e. debts to other countries, rather than private creditors or international institutions.

Next, who does Iraq owe money to in the developed world?

The Club of Paris says that Iraq owes some $21 billion dollars to 'Club of Paris creditor countries.' That includes debts to the US, Russia, France, Germany, Japan and a number of other developed countries. (See this table at the Club of Paris website for details.)

But that's not where the real money is. Or rather, those aren't the countries to which Iraq owes the most money. We hear a lot about France and Russia, but the big debts are closer to home.

According to Oxfam, Iraq owes (see page 23 in linked document) a titanic sum of between $55 and $85 billion to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The $30 billion difference is money from the 1980s (I assume in support of the war against Iran) that the lenders say were loans and Iraq says were grants.

This is the backdrop for Baker's new mission.

Check out this very nice scoop from Newsweek's Hosenball and Isikoff about a June 2002 Iraqi National Congress memo pointing to John Hannah and Bill Luti as the conduits through which the INC filtered its 'intelligence' to the Vice President's office and the Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, respectively.

Frankly, this is only a scoop in the sense that there seems to be documentation (and that's definitely a scoop). I don't think you could find anyone who's covered this story who wouldn't be shocked if these conduits didn't exist. And Hannah and Luti would be logical channels.

The official denials noted in the story really don't pass the laugh test.

"I think it's a moot point."

That was White House Chief of Staff Andy Card today on whether pre-war claims about Iraq's WMD capacity were "faulty."

James Baker, now with his own US government plane and Iraq portfolio, will apparently be making one of his early stops in New Delhi, with an offer The Telegraph of Calcutta says the Indians may not be able to refuse.

Meanwhile, Mark Matthews's piece in Saturday's Baltimore Sun is the first, I think, to place Baker's appointment in proper perspective.

And then there's the matter of Robert Jordan, Texas oil lawyer and America's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia since September 2001.

Jordan and Baker are both partners in the Houston uber-law firm Baker Botts (co-founded by Baker's greatgrandfather, James Addison Baker, in 1873). And both were down in Florida in late 2000 organizing the recount effort. And Jordan represented President Bush in the Harken matter.

Here's the introduction on Baker Botts's Middle East Region page ...

As Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries in the Middle East continue to encourage private sector investment, opportunities for U.S., European and regional companies are growing. Baker Botts is able to assist clients with these opportunities through our depth of experience in the region and broad-based expertise in energy, technology, telecommunications, project development and finance. This position is further strengthened by our recent acquisition of an existing law office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which operates in association with the law office of Mohanned S. Al Rasheed, and a strategic alliance with Afridi & Angell, a law firm with offices in U.A.E. at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, as well as in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Jordan and Baker are, needless to say, longtime friends and professional associates. And perhaps Jordan's assistance will be on offer for Baker, since Jordan stepped down as Ambassador just six weeks ago for "personal reasons" and is now back in the law biz in Texas.

James Risen's got an interesting piece in the Times on rogue -- or not-so-rogue -- operations run out of Doug Feith's office at the Pentagon -- particularly, meetings last year with Iran-Contra luminary Manucher Ghorbanifar. When reading that piece, read it along with this piece from the New York Sun from a few days ago by Eli Lake, which covers another angle on the story.

And another thing: make a note for future reference about where that first meeting took place.

We'll be reporting much more on this in the coming days. But I just wanted to start off this afternoon by saying that I think James Baker's appointment as President Bush's envoy for settling Iraq's foreign debt issues is a much bigger deal than it seems. Much bigger.

My point isn't that there's anything hidden or conspiratorial about it per se. It's just that cutting the deals surrounding the debt issue is central to much of what happens in Iraq next year. And much of what happens in Iraq period.

Settling this debt issue isn't just a bigger version of refinancing your house. It will involve Baker in critical negotiations with the front-line states in the region as well as Iraq's debtors abroad. Those negotiations in turn will have a lot of influence over how helpful or unhelpful these other states choose to be next year -- with potential troops and a lot of other things. (It is also, as a friend of mine notes, a tacit admission that the Madrid donors' conference was a bit of a flop.) Finally, the terms of the deals -- how they're backed up, especially -- will get right into the matter of how the Iraqi economy itself gets structured: who owns what, how it's structured, what other countries get claims on what assets.

(Baker will be assisted in all of this by the fact that he knows everyone in the region -- and represents a number of them. He will also be able to say -- with no little credibility -- that he had nothing to do with all the unpleasantness of last year. "You don't want to deal with me? How'd you like dealing with Doug?")

We already know in late July there was some effort from some parties in the White House to get Baker into Iraq and possibly edge Bremer out. It didn't come off. But I think this move must be, in some sense, seen in the context of that earlier story.

I don't think Bremer is going anywhere. But I'm also not sure that he has to.

The situation in Iraq has become much more militarized in the last six weeks or so. In practice, that's diminished Bremer's role already. Baker's appointment may diminish his role in another part of running the country -- again, the all important nexus between the economic organization of the country itself and its relations with other states and international financial institutions.

Let's remember what Baker's specialty is. Yes, he was White House Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State and various other things. But his real specialty is coming in to save the day when men named George Bush look like they're about to lose their presidencies. He's the family fixer. He did that in 1992 when he gave up State to run Bush's campaign. And he did it eight years later in 2000 when he went to Florida to run the recount battle. The phone just rang again ...

Add to the mix the fact that the neocons react to James Baker's name about the way a gas station attendant does if you try to light a cigarette while you're filling your tank.