Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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For the last days of shopping frenzy, another daily TPM Featured Book: Colin Martin's and Geoffrey Parker's truly marvelous The Spanish Armada. Actually, this is the The Spanish Armada: Revised Edition, which just came out last year. I've only read the original. But if it's revised it must be even better. And I'm going to assume it still turns out that the Armada didn't manage the hook up down there in the Spanish Netherlands and the fire ships did their business and the anchors were cut. In any case, a wonderful history with splendid new evidence from the archives and the bottom of the sea.

Still, still, still working on this empire essay, so only a few moments to post this morning. But, quickly, a few comments on the Libya deal.

First, this has only a tenuous link to the Bush Doctrine, though the White House and some of the more gullible columnists are going to great lengths to portray it that way. Libya has been trying to get good with the US and Europe for half a dozen years -- as signalled by the first on-going and now just concluded negotiations over the Pan-Am bombing.

(The Libya deal looks like an especially good example of the Bush Doctrine in action if you haven't been paying any attention to Libya for the last dozen years. Along those lines, here's a good article on that history, and a recent update by the same author.)

Second, Libya's 'WMD' are awfully primitive compared to be the big-boys of the rogue state universe. They have mustard gas, a World War I era weapon, and some very preliminary nuclear stuff, not even remotely close to having a serious facility let alone a bomb. So that context is important.

Having said all this, some are pointing to this development as a sign of the merits of talking versus fighting in turning back the scourge of weapons proliferation.

But that won't do either.

Talking, in itself, means nothing. It's only a way of lubricating or finessing the application of different kinds of force or pressure. And the pressure applied to Libya has been fierce. Only it wasn't principally military, but economic.

Libya has been under fierce UN-sanctions for a decade. And the strangling pressure of those sanctions, combined with rising internal political strains which magnified their effect, prompted the shift of course.

Does the backdrop of Iraq play into the decision? Of course, it does. But this isn't a break with the direction Libya's been pursuing, but a continuation of it.

(Juan Cole, as always, has some very perceptive commentary on this whole matter.)

The real story with the Libya development is the light it's showing on where it likely got its nuclear starter kit: i.e., Pakistan.

New information from North Korea and particularly from Iran is starting to show us that, in essence, there really is no global weapons proliferation problem so much as there's a Pakistan problem.

We now know enough to say with increasing confidence that every state we're worrying about got either all of their help, or their most significant help, from the Pakistanis.

This raises so many questions and so many sharp-edged dilemmas that it is truly difficult to know where to start.

Read this brief note from The New Yorker by Philip Gourevitch on where we are now in Iraq. Just right.

Still shopping? For the next week, each afternoon, I'll be recommending a new book in the TPM Featured Book section -- each one a richly-textured work of popular history writing, each one a great find.

This afternoon, Hugh Thomas' Conquest, the history in English of Cortes' conquest of Mexico. A brilliant rendering of the rapid, violent and in many respects catastrophic clash of two civilizations amidst war, mutual discovery and epidemic disease.

For those who read our earlier recommendation, Bernal Diaz's The Conquest of New Spain, a first-hand account of the events in question, Conquest is an almost essential companion.

Do the Shi'a stay on the sidelines?

There are all sorts of potential 'vectors' of violence in Iraq, not at all of which are directed at us, but all of which, by definition, complicate what we are trying to accomplish in the country.

We know much less than we need to about the character of the guerilla violence being directed at US troops. But by and large it seems to come from elements within the Sunni Arab population of the country.

At the same time, those same groups appear to be behind the continuing attacks against Shi'a political leaders.

For instance, a couple days ago suspected Saddam loyalists assassinated a leading member of the al-Hakim family, Muhannad al-Hakim. That family is the moving force behind the most important Shi'a political organization, SCIRI, and just as importantly SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps.

These attacks, of course, must be seen in the context of the earlier assassination of the former head of SCIRI, Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr al-Hakim.

Will they fight back?

To date, this is the shoe that hasn't dropped in Iraq -- a move to open fighting from the well-armed and highly organized Shi'a militias who've decided to stay largely on the sidelines.

To a great degree that makes sense. We're fighting the Sunnis in the center of the country -- their sectarian enemies. So the Shi'a can sit back and have us and the ex-Baathists bloody each other.

Their numerical preponderance in the country isn't going anywhere. So they can afford to wait for the reversion to Iraqi sovereignty which will certainly mean power for them. By a cruel arithmetic, we're doing their dirty work for them.

(Ed. note: references to 'Sunni' and 'Shi'a' and 'ex-Baathists', in this context, should be taken as very general references to allegiance groups and shouldn't be taken to mean that all the members of these groups are implicated in these activities.)

But Sunni paramilitaries -- call them whatever you want -- are hitting Shi'a groups like SCIRI very hard. If the Shi'a start hitting back, the situation on the ground in Iraq could begin to change very quickly. And that must certainly be the strategy of those mounting these attacks.

Perle on what is behind criticism of neoconservatism ...

I can only conclude that the visceral anti-Americanism just runs deeper than any other set of values that is meaningful on the left and hence the obsession with and the disparagement of what they define as a neoconservative approach to international affairs.

We will return to this in the context of a discussion of whether such attitudes about political disagreements suit a person to the task of spreading democracy.

And along these lines, while we're at it, let me again recommend George Soros' new book The Bubble of American Supremacy.

Ralph Nader's Exploratory Committee website says he's deciding now whether to run for president again in 2004 (aka, deciding whether to repeat his tragic error of 2000 by helping give George W. Bush another four years in office and thus at least doing his critics the favor of proving that he's fallen into a black hole of egomania, bad-faith, political solipsism, and crypto-conservatism.)

In any case, he's got an online survey now, asking you to tell him how much you want him to run.

Need I say more?

As many news outlets are reporting, there was a new photo of Saddam published today which caused quite a stir in Baghdad.

It was published by Al-Mutamar, a new daily published by Ahmed Chalabi, and it features a disheveled downcast Saddam sitting before -- who else? -- Ahmed Chalabi.

Chalabi, with hands clasped, is sitting a couple feet from Saddam and seems to be posing some question, as Saddam looks on sheepishly.

This picture was taken shortly after Saddam's capture when the US military brought in four members of the Interim Governing Council to speak with Saddam: Chalabi and three others.

(The best reproductions of the picture I've seen are in the Dallas Morning News.)

Here are a few questions ...

Who took the picture?

Presumably an Army photographer, unless Chalabi was allowed to bring in a camera man from his new paper, which would be, to put it mildly, a bit irregular. Were pictures taken only of Chalabi and Saddam? And regardless of these two questions, why were pictures taken (presumably) by US military photographers given on a exclusive basis to Chalabi?

I bet there's a story there.

LATE UPDATE: I'm told that press reports say that Adnan Pachachi and the other two IGC members were in the photos, but were cropped out to leave only Chalabi. That of course leaves the questions above even more in need of answer.

When I was sitting up at the front table at the neocons' panel on Monday, I noticed there was one young woman in the front row whose downtown haircut and style of dress seemed to set her apart from the rest of the more prim, conservatively attired folks in the room -- almost all of whom seemed to be gritting their teeth at me in a vaguely menacing sort of way whenever I spoke.

It turned out to be Michelle Goldberg from Salon, whose byline I've long been familiar with, but had never met in person.

Here's her piece on the neocons' panel from today's Salon. Some fun stuff -- check it out.