Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

You've most likely heard of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff who's been making the media rounds recently, discussing what really happened during the lead-up to war and after. This evening he's going to be on Chris Lydon's Open Source radio show. He'll be taking listener questions both off the air and also from the show's website. If it doesn't play in your area, they also stream it from the site.

E.J.Dionne: "There is a great missing element in the argument over whether the administration manipulated the facts. Neither side wants to talk about the context in which Bush won a blank check from Congress to invade Iraq. He doesn't want us to remember that he injected the war debate into the 2002 midterm election campaign for partisan purposes, and he doesn't want to acknowledge that he used the post-Sept. 11 mood to do all he could to intimidate Democrats from raising questions more of them should have raised."

This is an extremely good point. As is often the case in fierce debates some of the most relevant angles of discussion are left untouched because they serve neither side's purpose. This is most certainly one of them.

It seems that National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley has now become a key White House point men for deflecting blame for the president's dishonest road to war. Fair enough, it's a logical role for the head of the NSC.

But Hadley turns out to be a perfect illustration of the doublespeak the administration is now peddling.

As I've noted several times, the White House has hung a lot of its credibility on a slippery distinction. The two major investigations of the WMD debacle found little if any evidence of the White House's pressuring analysts to alter their analytic judgments and estimates of Iraqi WMD capacity. What no commission has yet been allowed to examine is how the White House used those analyses.

Which brings us back to Steve Hadley.

Twice during the lead-up to war, Hadley pushed the CIA to sign off on the president using the Niger uranium claims in speeches dramatizing the danger Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. In December 2002 he failed. In January 2003 he succeeded.

The essential facts aren't even in dispute. In the summer of 2003 Hadley stepped forward with a choreographed apology to the president for allowing the claim into the 2003 State of the Union address. According to Hadley, by January 2003 he had forgotten the two memos he had received from the CIA asking that the Niger claim be removed from the president's speech and the personal call for George Tenet asking the charge to be removed. "The high standards the president set were not met," said Hadley.

This little charade never completely cleared up why, having allegedly forgotten the episode from October, Hadley and his staff again argued with the CIA's Alan Foley in an attempt to get the claim into a speech.

But the basic point is clear.

You have the CIA's analysis: that the Niger claim was unsubstantiated and not credible. Then there was what Hadley and the White House wanted to do with it: have the president level the charge in a high profile speech with no indication the president's intel advisors doubted it was true.

I think this pretty nicely captures the distinction between pressuring analysts to change their judgments and what the president does with the intelligence. And Hadley's your guy if you want to ask the question. Yes, this is only one episode in the long story of obfuscation and misdirection. But it seems to capture the essential point with great clarity. Why did Hadley twice fight to get the CIA to sign off on the president's making a claim that they didn't think was true? Someone should ask him.

A short note from TPM Reader MC ...

I've obviously missed something. When did it become appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief to go onto a military installation before a military crowd and denounce the opposition party? I cannot remember a time in my 21-year career when anything remotely like this happened. Is it just me or are we embarked on something very dark and dangerous for our democracy?

He might have added that it's also on the eve of a trip abroad.

TPM Reader RW checks in ...

Does the White House’s push back on the intelligence remind you of anything? That’s right—the Social Security battle of earlier this year. Bush and the Republicans trying to sell something by avoiding specifics and trying to get cover from Democrats—except this time all they got is quotes from three years ago, not Allen Boyd. Let’s hope we don’t see town hall meetings on this one—imagine the backdrops: “Didn’t Manipulate Intelligence.” Regular folks get up on the stage with the President and say they were fooled by the Niger documents too.

Not a precise comparison certainly. But the same fingerprints.

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Feeling the heat?

First the White House lashed out at the Washington Post article that recounted the half-truths and untruths in the president's last speech on Iraq. Now the White House plays push back against Sen. Levin with this 'fact-sheet' on Iraq.

Let me comment briefly on the particular claims the White House makes in this fact sheet before proceeding to a more general point because their argument here shows yet more examples of the White House pattern of cherry-picking and misdirection.

The White House fact sheet picks up on this statement that Levin made today on CNN ...

But before the war, the President was saying that you cannot distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Iraq. As a matter of fact, he said that so often that he tried to connect Saddam Hussein with the attackers on us, on 9/11, so often, so frequently and so successfully, even though it was wrong, that the American people overwhelmingly thought, because of the President's misstatements that as a matter of fact, Saddam Hussein had participated in the attack on us on 9/11. That was a deception. That was clearly misinformation. It had a huge effect on the American people.

The White House press release then goes on to say that contrary to this statement, Levin and others Dems have said that "Iraq Was A Part Of The War On Terror ..."

Here are the two statements they adduce from Levin ...

Sen. Levin: "The War Against Terrorism Will Not Be Finished As Long As [Saddam Hussein] Is In Power." (CNN's "Late Edition," 12/16/01)

Sen. Levin: "We Begin With The Common Belief That Saddam Hussein Is A Tyrant And A Threat To The Peace And Stability Of The Region." (Committee On Armed Services, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 9/19/02)

Now, let's unpack this. Levin's point is muddled because he clearly misspoke when he criticized the president for "saying that you cannot distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Iraq." (Presumeably, identifying Saddam with Iraq ain't too much of a stretch.) If you look at the statement in its entirety, it's quite clear that Levin is talking about connecting Saddam Hussein and al Qaida. Here's the entirety of what Levin said (with key points in italics) ...

S. O'BRIEN: You heard what Dan Bartlett had to say, which was essentially, in a nutshell, it's unfair for Democrats who supported the war to now say that the president or the administration misled the public. The information was wrong. Everybody was misled.

LEVIN: Actually, some of the information in the intelligence community was very right and what the administration is doing is trying to, they are continuing a pattern here of deception of the American people.

He just said that the Democrats don't have the facts or the critics don't have the facts and rather than attacking the critics they should be responding to the questions which have been raised. For instance, the intelligence community, the Defense Intelligence Agency, said before the war -- and I'm now reading the unclassified statement of the Defense Intelligence Agency prior to the war -- "that Saddam's regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements."

But before the war, the president was saying that you cannot distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

As a matter of fact, he said that so often they tried to connect Saddam Hussein with the attackers on us on 9/11, so often, so frequently and so successfully, even though it was wrong, that the American people overwhelmingly thought, because of the president's misstatements that, as a matter of fact, Saddam Hussein had participated in the attack on us on 9/11.

That is -- that was a deception. That was clearly misinformation.

The issue here is the White House attempt to connect Saddam Hussein with al Qaida and 9/11. Levin can answer for himself why he made some hot-headed statements about Iraq a few months after 9/11. And there are plenty of stupid things cowardly Democrats said in the first couple years about Iraq, and especially the first couple months.

But he's quite right about this. It was "deception" and it was "misinformation". And most Americans now understand that.

I went through this stuff at admittedly tedious length to make a point: this is just more of the same word-games, misdirection and mendacity. More of the same, more leopards that can't change their spots.

President Bush and his administration spent 18 months trying to convince the American people that there was a tie between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida and even to the 9/11 attacks. There wasn't. There was never any evidence for that. But they knew the charge would be effective. And, for them, that was more than enough.

They can't wash out the taint of that cynicism and infamy no matter how much they try and no matter how loud they yell.

As I said above, many Democrats ran scared in the face of this once-popular president's onslaught and said many things they probably now wish they hadn't. Let's catalog those statements and let them answer for their cowardice and wobbliness. But the president was president -- a fact of accountability he never seems to grasp. He drove the train. He and his advisors cynically worked to convince the public that Saddam was tied to 9/11 -- an explosive claim in the aftermath of the 9/11 horror. That's something they knew wasn't true and which none of the president's critics, to be the best of my knowledge, ever agreed with or argued for. President Bush and his administration are on the line for that.

Now they want to go back and try to wriggle out from under the past we all remember. So to use his words, bring it on. The facts indict him. And his White House's ferocious desperation in response shows they know it.

Let them dig through the transcripts. And if there's collateral damage among today's accusers, so be it. Let the facts get hashed out and the chips fall. There's only one side of this argument running scared from the truth. We know what happened. We were there. We all remember.

Courtesy of the good compilers at pollingreport.com, here is a listing of the last nine public polls. Here we list the organization, followed by the date, followed by the approval rating in bold ...

CNN/USA Today/Gallup 11/11-13/05 37

Newsweek 11/10-11/05 36

FOX/Opinion Dynamics RV 11/8-9/05 36

AP-Ipsos * 11/7-9/05 37

NBC/Wall Street Journal 11/4-7/05 38

Pew 11/3-6/05 36

AP-Ipsos * 10/31 - 11/2/05 37

ABC/Washington Post 10/30 - 11/2/05 39

CBS 10/30 - 11/1/05 35

Pretty much a consensus, ain't it?

CNN-USAToday: Bush at 37%.

And this must be the harshest blow: "A 53% majority say they trust what Bush says less than they trusted previous presidents while they were in office. In a specific comparison with President Clinton, those surveyed by 48%-36% say they trust Bush less."

Given the record, it's shocking that it's even that close. Still, someone in Chappaqua must be smiling.