Josh Marshall

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The ACLU takes up the case of the 'Denver Three', the non-Bush-true Denver residents ejected from last year's Social Security Bamboozlepalooze event in their city.

I've always felt deeply passionate about and fascinated by Israeli politics. And now, through my marriage, I have an immediate familial connection to it. But it's a topic I don't talk too much about on the site. Because I'm in that editorially dangerous position on having just enough knowledge to say things that are really foolish.

So let me just again draw your attention to the tectonic plates moving in Israeli politics today -- ones that seem likely to have deep repercussions throughout the region and even in the world.

Ariel Sharon has now officially resigned from the Likud party and set in motion the steps which should lead to new elections in March.

Sharon was a key founder of Likud. And many Israeli editorialists are noting the irony -- if that's what it is -- that Sharon may be doing to Likud what he has already begun to do with the settlements, dismantling or destroying what he took the key role in creating. There is already talk that the rump Likud may be forced to form a new bloc with other rightist parties.

Sharon will now form a new centrist party ("National Responsibility") and seek to win what -- in the dynamics of Israel's fractured politics --counts as a mandate and freedom of maneuver to move ahead with his brand of peace-making free of the Likud's hardline pro-settler base.

The question I have been most interested to hear answered was whether Shimon Peres would join the new party, a possibility widely hinted at over the weekend and encouraged by Peres's recent loss of the leadership of the Labor party. But according to the latest word this won't happen. Peres won't leave Labor. Peres aside, will Labor's new direction under Amir Peretz allow Sharon to peel off other Labor party members for his new party?

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has yet to announce whether he'll follow Sharon out of Likud or, more likely, stay in the party and attempt to become its new leader.

The latest word I've been able to find is that the first meeting of Sharon's new party, which took place this morning, had twelve ex-Likud members present. But all the reporting seems fluid. When I first read this article in Ha'aretz about a half hour ago it said there were eleven. Sharon needs 14 to lay claim to some of Likud's state funding.

Everything in the party structure of Israeli politics seems up for grabs.

Reuters: Ariel Sharon to leave Likud.

If this story bears out, I wonder how it might intersect with the recent shake-up in Labor. Or could it even be the trigger.

Tucked into that LA Times article about 'Curveball' is yet more evidence that we are still yet to have a serious and comprehensive investigation of the handling of WMD intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

There are many bits of evidence. But this one is worth noting.

From the LAT (emphasis added) ...

Curveball was the chief source of inaccurate prewar U.S. accusations that Baghdad had biological weapons, a commission appointed by Bush reported this year. The commission did not interview Curveball, who still insists his story was true, or the German officials who handled his case.

The German account emerges as the White House is lashing out at domestic critics, particularly Senate Democrats, over allegations the administration manipulated intelligence to go to war. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney called such claims reprehensible and pernicious.


An investigation by The Times based on interviews since May with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the U.S., Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that U.S. bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed.

The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.

So the Silbermann-Robb Commission hasn't spoken to Curveball or the German intelligence officials who handled his case and provided the conduit of information to US intelligence agencies. Almost certainly, the Senate intel committee investigation hasn't either. But the LA Times has managed to speak with a slew of current and former intelligence officials who have provided information not included in those official reports.

Now, gaining direct access to the sources of even an allied intelligence agency is quite dicey and frequently not possible. Even more so in a highly politicized investigative context as opposed to in the process of intelligence gathering and analysis. So there's no reason to fault these investigations for not getting a hold of Curveball himself; nor do I think there would have been any particular purpose served in doing so.

But the Times article suggests that many people in the stream of information passing back and forth between German and US intelligence and the White House were not spoken to either. And those people provided information which puts the whole matter in a rather more sinister light -- not just botched intelligence work and analysis but deliberate distortions of what evidence we had before the war and refusals to come clean about highly relevant contradictory information.

This speaks again to a point we and many others have made repeatedly: the highly circumscribed nature of these two investigations. The very structure and scope of these inquiries were designed to leave much of the story untold -- quite apart from the numerous intentionally misleading passages we've noted in the Senate intel report from last year.

Curveball or a spitter? From the LAT ...

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm.

"This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

Just gets worse and worse.

TPM Reader AR responds from the other side of the aisle ...

I must agree on at least one point that your Republican friend makes. There is a perception that Democratic politicians run when attacked that is rooted in a good bit of reality. My observations of the Kerry campaign (fairly up close) suggest that pusillanimous and risk averse consultants run campaigns. The are constantly polling the current situation and reacting. They rarely test how reframing the debate might change perceptions. You do not see ads attacking a messenger, attacking a message, using humor, using emotion and doing so on a sustained basis to build a brand.

I was not the least bit surprised by the attack on Murtha (remember how they attacked Kerry). I'll bet you a dollar that the Democratic response (if there is one) will be a) unorganized (from Biden through Dean), b) incoherent (or at least internally inconsistent), c) slow, d) measured, and e) cerebral. All the wrong things to do. What they need to do is show some blood and gore, use a couple of veterans, and ask the question -- is this worth it? If it is, why are the families of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Delay, Hastert, Rumsfeld et. al. not on the front lines? As we say in Marketing, an anecdote is worth a thousand data points.

As you can see from the last few posts, this topic is generating quite a bit of discussion. And it makes no sense to keep it just in the main TPM mailbox. So we've opened up this thread at TPMCafe to discuss it further.

Earlier this evening I was exchanging emails with a longtime Republican reader. And in the course of that exchange I mentioned that while I understood the pushback against John Murtha and the announcement he made last week I didn't understand quite the ferocity of it. After all, how many non-political junkies outside of his district have ever even heard of John Murtha? As I said, I don't quite understand the full measure of ferocity behind the response.

Here's how this reader responded ...

I do, Josh.

Instant response is what you do in a modern election campaign (unless you are way, way ahead). Discrediting a critic's argument isn't enough, because it takes too much time in an environment when time is everything. Campaign politics are the primary frame of reference for politicians in Washington today. Republicans of late have practiced this trade more aggressively, though I doubt that most of them are any more insensitive to non-campaign considerations than their Democratic colleagues.

Another factor, I think you'd agree, is that a lot of politicians tend to take cues from Presidents of their party. Reagan led a generation of GOP politicians to speak with sunny optimism; Clinton influenced Democratic politicians to project empathy in a somewhat ostentatious way. Bush, being more than a little insecure, tends to want to lash out at critics even when this is not politically necessary or productive, and this tendency has radiated downwards through his administration and outward to some Republicans, particularly in the House. Karl Rove's influence on GOP political operatives may be even more profound, and GOP political operatives have vast influence in Republican politics.

Finally and very frankly, Democratic politicians tend to be wimps. Anyone can see how easily they get pushed around by interest groups in their own party; when criticized aggressively, they tend to seek sympathy rather than hitting back. This encourages Republican political operatives to use rough tactics.

I don't think this is a matter of ideology. In fact I don't know what it is. I just know if I were a Republican politician there wouldn't be many Democratic politicians I would be afraid of. Maybe it's a reflection on my own personality that I take for granted the importance in politics of generating concern that one might be a very bad enemy to have. But of course I'm not actually in politics, something I don't expect to change.

Food for thought.

I was just reading over a news account of the president's speech in South Korea in which he said "We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the ... victory that our brave troops have fought for." In the speech, he describes the war as being fought in theaters in Beslan, Bali, Riyadh, Madrid, Iraq -- virtually every place in the world over the last four years where any Muslim fundamentalists have blown anything up.

The real problem though -- and this becomes clear listening to the president, and increasingly from his supporters -- is that the president no longer has any coherent idea of what the war he's fighting amounts to or what victory would look like.

He says we'll fight it out to victory or that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But it's been a really long time since I've heard any coherent plan for what we're trying to do besides slogans like this.

If we're honest I think what the president is saying is this: We're going to stay in Iraq until the place calms down and we can leave with a sense that we've accomplished something.

Isn't that basically the idea?

We're not going to leave as long as the place is a slaughterhouse and a total mess because leaving then will look like we couldn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish and got run out and thus, in whatever sense, got beat.

I think perceptions of national power and 'credibility' actually mean something. But a sensible fear of losing either was a good reason not to get into this situation in the first place.

And I don't see where, at the moment, we have any real or coherent strategy for calming the place down -- either a military strategy or a political one, though Ivo Daalder thinks there are some signs of progress on the political front.

So at the moment, there's not even a reasoned fight between staying in and getting out. Getting out is the only coherent strategy or approach on the table. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. But it is clear and defineable. On the other hand, there is the president, who hasn't put forward any concrete description of what our goals are or any coherent (let alone, a good plan) plan for accomplishing them. Under President Bush's leadership, in Iraq, we've become the national embodiment of the eternal Mr. Micawber, always waiting "for something to turn up."

A note from TPM Reader ZG ...

I don't know if I am more angry or confused about this evening's congressional proceedings and, in a sense the everything going on with the Republicans. They won the elections; am I crazy to think they should, I don't know, do SOMETHING? What was the point of tonight's little stunt? Who let Rep. Schmidt make her remarks? How could anyone defend them? I'm having problems seeing what the big picture is (what a victory for us would look like), but I feel that so many Republican "leaders" have forgotten that a big picture even exists! (Aside, I hate the exclamation point. I've always thought it to be a pointless punctuation mark, but I've finally found a use for it.)

I'd have to imagine that even the most ardent Bush supporters, and I'd hope that Bush and Co., would agree that things aren't going perfectly in Iraq and hence, there's room for improvement. I am in no way a military expert, so I have almost no clue about what our Iraq policy should be. I'm certain, however, that the strategy of "Let's just say everything is going fine and maybe that will become true" is not the way to go. Seeing the way the government is currently operating makes me think the most hardcore Libertarians have a point. Why have a government if this is how they're going to spend their time?

Quite apart from all the policy particulars, can't you understand the exasperation?