Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Possibly a more innocent <$NoAd$>explanation.

Yesterday we noted a testy exchange between President Bush and AP reporter Pete Yost in which the president appeared to upbraid the reporter for addressing him as 'Sir' as opposed to 'Mr. President.'

Today, there's this from Dan Froomkin's online column in the Washington Post. After reprinting the same transcript, Froomkin adds ...

Not entirely clear was whether Bush was ticked off because Yost didn't call him "Mr. President" -- or if Bush thought Yost was talking to someone else on his mobile phone. [Update: I am now told that Yost had a phone to his ear. That would tick me off, too.]

The president's swipe still strikes me as uncalled-for. But this certainly puts the matter in a different light. If anybody else was there and has more to add, please drop me a line.

A number of readers have written in to ask whether the "Joshua Marshall" who is the registered owner or registrant or whatever of 'bushflipflops.com' is this Josh Marshall.

Well, yes. It is.

About a month ago I registered the domain.

In large part, my immediate motivation was to make sure someone else didn't get it who, shall we say, didn't have a true and sincere interest in exposing the president's long list of broken promises, changed positions, and highly disparate interpretations of the same facts.

My plan was either to set the site up myself or hand it off to some other organization or individual who was interested in setting up a site dedicated to the president's distinguished record of flipfloppery.

I'm already so pressed for time that I'm really not going to have time to do anything with it myself. So if you're that organization or individual, drop me a line. I'll pass it on for the $35 registration fee or, just as likely, for nothing at all.

Our dilemma ...

As the days go by, a full-fledged Shiite <$NoAd$>uprising in Sadr's support is looking less likely. Most Shiites, about 60 percent of Iraq's population, insist that they should become the arbiters of political power. But they see fighting for it now - with the US still battling Sunni insurgents - as premature.


Iraq's major Shiite political parties, like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, are reluctant to stand up to Sadr's militants, afraid they could lose standing for siding too closely with the US.

They're hoping that the US will deal with Sadr's people for them, leaving them free to criticize the operation if public anger grows at the civilian, predominantly Shiite casualties in Baghdad's Sadr City, the holy city of Najaf, and the southern town of Nasariyah.

Take a moment to read the rest of this article out today in the Christian Science Monitor.

Also note this passage from a dispatch just out from Voice of America ...

The head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, says the coalition should be very careful in dealing with Mr. al-Sadr, in part because he has strong Shi'ite religious connections outside of Iraq.

"He has a very good connection with the Iranian clerics, especially Ayatollah Hahari," he said. "He is one of the most leading clerics among the Iranian regime. Moqtada al-Sadr, from the early beginning, tried to put himself in a certain manner in order to be a legitimate representative of the Shi'ite people in Iraq.

"And, he is trying to take the example from what happened in Lebanon with the leadership of Hezbollah and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of Hamas in Palestine," continued Mr. el-Rantawi. "And, I think it is very, very dangerous to underestimate his role in the Iraqi Shi'ite population and in the region."

More soon ...

I must say I am stunned at how quickly things seem <$NoAd$> to be coming apart in Iraq, particularly in the south. I can't imagine this particular takeover will be permitted to last for long. But at least for the moment, according to CNN, Sadrist forces have taken control of Najaf, a city of a quarter million people and one of even greater religious significance.

Here's a brief report I got this morning from a friend working as a private security consultant in Iraq (but not for the CPA), who we should be hearing more from in the coming days ...

Hey Josh ... thanks for the concern . I wrote the other day but power went out. This place is HOT! I am driving with max Iraqi bodyguards (whom I have just finished training), max weapons and max bodyarmor. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING with this Moqtada Sadr thing? Were they just bored with Fallujah. The place is a hornets nest now. Armor is all over the streets but doesn't seem to have disrupted most city life ... I told [a reporter] two weeks ago we were "one massacre away from the second Intifada of Iraq." Well I think we are there now.

More soon.

No one ever thought President Bush would win California this November. But this is a steep plunge. A new poll out Monday puts his approval in the Golden State at 38%.

A short note on Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney from Chicago running the Plame investigation.

I'm told this isn't the first time he's done a leak investigation of the Bush White House.

This earlier investigation, which was in 2002, grew out of Fitzgerald's investigation of a series of Muslim charities accused of having ties to terrorism -- the Holy Land Foundation, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Benevolence International Foundation.

My point isn't that the White House did something else wrong. In fact, I'm told that in this case the White House really hadn't done anything improper at all.

But Fitzgerald was pissed and apparently went after them very aggressively -- and this for a case in which, I'm told, there really wasn't much to go after.

This might be something to keep in mind when figuring how the Plame investigation might play out.

I'm here at my desk in the middle of the night working over interview notes for an article I'm writing and I see this late wire story from Iraq: "Iraqi Shi'ite Militia Battles Italian Troops."

In brief, Sadrist militiamen are engaged in what seem to be running battles with Italian troops in Nassiriya.

According to the report, the Sadrists have burned four Italian military vehicles and they still control streets near the local CPA headquarters.

The casaulties, at least as reported so far, seem relatively light.

But this has now been going on for several days. And these aren't terrorist attacks, bomb blasts or ambushes. These are continuous armed battles in which the insurgents are -- for at least periods of time -- taking control of parts of cities that are right up near, if not on top of, the symbols of the occupation authority itself.

In Karbala, says the Post, "Sadr's followers attacked a police station and a television station. In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, they occupied the governor's office and traded fire with British troops."

In an urban warfare context there's obviously not always a bright line between all out war and isolated guerilla attacks. But this sounds a lot more like the former than the latter. And especially in areas where there aren't large concentrations of American troops, these sound a lot more like standoffs or worse than situations where coalition troops can quickly mobilize and stamp out the attacks.

We really do seem to be on the brink here. Like a top, once its even spin turns into a reckless wobble, these things can be very, very hard to right once they fly out of control.

According to the Times, Tony Blair is coming to Washington next week for crisis talks that won't be called crisis talks. From the Times article ...

British officials say that while they are sympathetic with the daunting management task that Americans have undertaken, they also believe that the Coalition Provisional Authority under Mr. Bremer has become too "politicized," meaning that events are orchestrated and information controlled with the American political agenda uppermost in mind.

A very difficult situation has been worsened by the political priorities of key decision-makers in the occupation authority. But that fact seems more like an afterthought when you consider how dire a situation we've backed ourselves into.

What was this about? From the beginning of a late morning press conference ...

THE PRESIDENT: I just met with Specialist Chris Hill's family from North Carolina. You know, I told the family how much we appreciated his sacrifice -- he was killed in Iraq -- and assured him that we would stay the course, that a free Iraq was very important for peace in the world, long-term peace, and that we're being challenged in Iraq because there are people there that hate freedom. But the family was pleased to hear that we -- its son would not have died in vain. And that's an important message that I wanted to share with you today.

Let me ask you a couple of <$NoAd$> questions. Who is the AP person?

Q I am.

THE PRESIDENT: You are? [Then ask it]

Q Sir, [what 'a], in regard to --

THE PRESIDENT: Who are you talking to?

Q Mr. President, in regard to the June 30th deadline, is there a chance that that would be moved back?

THE PRESIDENT: No, the intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by June 30th. We're working toward that day. We're, obviously, constantly in touch with Jerry Bremer on the transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. I mean, in other words, it's one thing to decide to transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But, no, the date remains firm.

I'm genuinely unsure what to make of that.

[ed. note: the portions in brackets are my additions based on hearing the audio.]

From today's Nelson Report ...

Gloom...has been building over Iraq. Increasingly, the <$NoAd$>Wise Heads are forecasting disaster. Wise Heads say they see no realistic plan, hear no serious concept to get ahead of the situation. Money, training, jobs...all lagging, all reinforce downward spiral highlighted by sickening violence. There seems to be no real "if", just when, and how badly it will hurt U.S. interests. Define "disaster"? Consensus prediction: if Bush insists on June 30/July 1 turnover, a rapid descent into civil war. May happen anyway, if the young al-Sadr faction really breaks off from its parents. CSIS Anthony Cordesman's latest blast at Administration ineptitude says in public what Senior Observers say in private...the situation may still be salvaged, but then you have to factor in Sharon's increasing desperation, and the regional impact.

Note: "quagmire"...when you are in a bad situation you created yourself, and would quit in a minute if you could, but which if you did, it would make everything else worse. So you can't...and it gets worse anyway. (Apologies to Bierce...)

1. Comes word from Very Senior Foreign Policy Observers that the situation now unfolding in Iraq is "a qualitative change of very profound significance. The chances of something like a general breakdown after the July 1 transfer is accelerating." The Observation continues: "Even if [dissident cleric Muqtada] al-Sadr is arrested, the whole question is whether the Shi'ia majority is comfortable with continued U.S. occupation." The suggested answer seems to be "no".

-- the Observer goes on to warn that, on the basis of personal soundings within the Administration, the conviction arises that the White House has "no concept of how to manage the crisis, no plan in place likely to work." This Observer last week relayed a concern that President Bush was not being given accurate reports from Iraq, but today, one assumes that even a President who prides himself on not reading the newspapers now grasps that things are not necessarily proceeding to our advantage, to borrow an historic phrase.

More to follow ...

Hats off to Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post for a truly well-deserved Pulitzer awarded today for coverage from Iraq.