Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Another postcard from the 'responsibility era' ...

It's reassuring in a way when an apparent scoundrel reveals his scoundrelhood straight-out. Straight, no chaser, shall we say. Today, in case you hadn't heard, Don Rumsfeld told reporters that (in the words of the Post's Dana Priest) "critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy are encouraging terrorists and complicating the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism."

Rumsfeld went on to say that ...

To the extent that terrorists are given reason to believe he might, or, if he is not going to, that the opponents might prevail in some way, and they take heart in that, and that leads to more money going into these activities, or that leads to more recruits, or that leads to more encouragement, or that leads to more staying power, obviously that does make our task more difficult.

In other words, the problem is not any shortcoming in the president's policies, but the president's domestic critics who are emboldening 'the terrorists' by pointing out the shortcomings of the president's policies. A week ago I said I saw the first signs of "a 21st century version of the 'stab-in-the-back' charge German militarists used against the fledgling republic which replaced Kaiserdom in the aftermath of World War I."

But I have to confess to some surprise at seeing it so quickly.

In fact, a friend alerted me today to a slightly more literary-minded version of the Rumsfeld storyline in a piece by Stanley Kurtz in the National Review Online.

Kurtz says that internationalizing the mission in the Middle East isn't an ideal solution, but rather a poor one that has nonetheless been forced upon us by unamerican liberalism and the culture war. "The best foreign policy requires not the United Nations," says Kurtz, "but a united nation. Unfortunately, our nation is not united. The occupation of Iraq is not the occupation of Japan or Germany. This is even more because of the fact that we are different than we were back then than the fact that Iraq is not Japan or Germany."

Continues Kurtz ...

A nation where the political opposition stands against our foreign policy, and even secretly (and not so secretly) hopes for its failure, cannot reform a region as recalcitrant as the Middle East. A nation where–even after an event like 9/11–a draft can be offered as a political tactic against the hawks, is a nation unready to manage social transformation on the other side of the world. Our culture war is real. Now it has taken its toll. In many ways we are strong. Yet disunited we are weak. Our turning to the U.N. is not necessarily a disaster. But it is a sign that our internal divisions have finally exacted a cost.

Rumsfeld says that the struggle is harder than it should be because domestic critics are making the country's enemies stronger. Kurtz says our hopes for true success are diminished because the electorate has been degenerated by liberalism.

So here the whole sordid business comes full circle. The administration games the public into an endeavor by exaggerating the gains and minimizing the price. Then the gains are revealed as not quite so great. And the price is revealed as very much greater. And if all that weren't bad enough, the operation is bungled on several fronts. So the gamers and the scammers say it's the fault of the critics who tried to carve through the mumbo-jumbo in the first place. And when the public has a touch of buyers' remorse over a product that was peddled on false advertising, the answer lies in the public's own degeneracy and division.

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.

Great moments in the passive voice ...

BLITZER: But the bottom line is you have to admit that you could have done a better job planning for this current environment.

RICE: The planning went on. Obviously, there were things that were not foreseen. They have now -- are now being addressed.

From today's interview on Late Edition ...

We went into Iraq to eliminate Saddam's stock of weapons of mass destruction, to depose a reckless strongman at the heart of a vital region, and to overawe unfriendly regimes on the country's borders. Agree or not, those were the prime stated reasons. Now we've got a deteriorating security situation and a palpably botched plan for reconstruction. And our effort to recover from our ill-conceived and poorly-executed policy is now the 'central front' in the war on terror, which is among other things extremely convenient.

The president has turned 9/11 into a sort of foreign policy perpetual motion machine in which the problems ginned up by policy failures become the rationale for intensifying those policies. The consequences of screw-ups become examples of the power of 'the terrorists'.

We're not on the offensive. We're on the defensive. A bunch of mumbo-jumbo and flim-flam doesn't change that.

Excerpts from tonight's presidential speech ...

In his address on Sunday night, the President will inform the American people about the current actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will discuss the progress our coalition is making in winning the War on Terror; outline our strategy for meeting our objectives in Iraq; and emphasize why our efforts in Iraq and the Middle East are critical to winning the global war on terror:

"The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and beyond, would be a grave setback for international terrorism."

The President will discuss the recent bombings in Iraq and why the terrorists are making this desperate stand in the heart of the Middle East:

"There is more at work in these attacks than blind rage. The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world."

The President will reaffirm our nation's commitment and outline our strategy to meet this challenge:

"Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated. This will take time, and require sacrifice. Yet we will do whatever is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our Nation more secure."

"Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq, and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future."

Finally, the President will call on the nations of the civilized world to contribute to the efforts in helping the citizens of Iraq transition to self-government:

"Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation?"

"Iraq is ready to take the next steps toward self-government. The Security Council resolution we introduce will encourage Iraq's Governing Council to submit a plan and a timetable for the drafting of a constitution, and for free elections. From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people, and secure the blessings of their own liberty."

Just released by the White House.

An update and (partly) a revision of the post below. Juan Cole throws serious cold water on the Iran element of the Post story, fingering a lot of that info as coming from the Iranian exile community eager to have the US turn our attention to them. Cole, as in recent posts, continues to see the current troubles as much more a matter of ex-Baathists than the still small stream of jihadists coming in from over the borders. See Cole's morning post here and particular the second graf ... Perhaps the name of Sue Schmidt on the byline of the Post piece should have gotten my reportorial defense mechanisms more in gear (alas, such are the dangers of penning political analysis late on a Saturday night.)

Two points seem clear to me. 1) The chaos in Iraq has opened the place up to serious infiltration by all manner of bad-actors from around the region -- a development which is not a justification for administration policy, but an example of its failure. 2) The administration is far from weaned of its propensity for using manipulated or just plain bogus intelligence to advance its policy or cover its tracks. One veteran journalist/sage whose take on things I never discount tells me this morning: "Yes, the more I think of it, the more the timing is suspicious, and reminiscent of the last Sept. 11 'celebration.' Ridge saying there is a new Al Q threat in the US (but not issuing an alert, because they know that alerts are now politically counterproductive). The Wolfowitz opeds on terrorism. I'd watch for Bush to make a reference to the Post article, or at least to its contents, in his speech tonight. The main difference this year is that they are using the Post rather than the Times to do their leaking."

This is one hell of a story in Sunday's Washington Post. The outlines of the tale are ones we've known for a while now: Iraq had little or nothing to do with al Qaida before the war. But the war itself -- the supposed remedy for the tie between Iraq and al Qaida -- ended up making the Iraq/al Qaida mumbo-jumbo into a reality.

You knew that in general terms. But here are the particulars. One confluence of events seems key. By the middle of 2002 al Qaida was seriously damaged, its infrastructure disrupted, many of its soldiers and key leaders dead. The mix of damage to the organization and increased security in the United States made new mass-casualty terrorism in America all but impossible. The organization had to fall back on smaller-scale attacks mainly in Muslim countries, carried out by local affiliated groups.

But the Iraq war -- and the onset of the occupation -- provided the organization (or its remnants) with a new opportunity. It was both a new vehicle to galvanize followers and operating there meant fewer logistical difficulties since it was close by. Even just before the war, in February of this year, key al Qaida operatives started planning the move toward Iraq as the new front.

Also key is the role of Iran, which, according to the Post article, provided key members of the damaged al Qaida organization with a safe-haven during the period between their expulsion from Afghanistan and the opening of their new front in Iraq.

A story like this, culled together from different sources, many of whom are no doubt interested parties, is only a first run at the truth. Points will be refined; major elements of the story may change. But I think this story and those that will follow it will be a major point of discussion for some time to come.

When I read it, the story left me mute, expressionless, bereft -- as though I'd just watched someone die.

Okay, what's up with the departure of Bernard Kerik from Baghdad? When the former New York City Police Commissioner arrived in Iraq in late May to serve as Baghdad's de facto police chief he told reporters, "I will be there at least six months - until the job is done."

According to the ten fingers here in front of me, he wasn't there much longer than three months.

The Pentagon now says Kerik was supposed to leave this summer and "extended his stay to finish his ongoing projects." And Kerik's spokeswoman -- actually the spokeswoman for Kerik's employer, Giuliani Partners -- now says the job was only supposed to last 90 days.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there would seem to be more than enough law enforcement work to do in Iraq right now. And it wouldn't seem like the most opportune time to have the job vacant, as it now is.

And there's more.

Today the FBI recalled its lead agent in Iraq, Thomas Fuentes, who'd been in the region since July and replaced him with Chris Swecker, the head of the Bureau's Charlotte, North Carolina field office.

The FBI switch may well be a standard rotation. But what gives with Kerik? There must be something more to the story, no?

Another postcard from the 'responsibility era' ...

Instead of pointing fingers at the security forces of the coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against Iraqi people in this country, it's important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility.

Donald Rumsfeld
September 6th, 2003

The CBO says the Pentagon can only maintain the Army's current troop strength deployment in Iraq until Spring 2004. How much longer can President Bush maintain Don Rumsfeld's deployment to the Pentagon?