Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

David Ignatius today has an excellent column on the politicization of terror alerts and the related matter of the leak of the name of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. As he notes, it"appears that Khan may, all too briefly, have been one of the most important agents in place the United States has managed to recruit in al Qaeda."

The conventional wisdom on this -- or at least the widely aired claim -- is that administration officials leaked Khan's name in order to bolster the credibility of the terror warnings issued just after the end of the Democratic convention, and that they did so out of some mix of organizational incompetence and indifference to the consequences of the leak.

Yet an author in Salon today has a more troubling theory.

Husain Haqqani says there were two leaks from the Pakistanis -- the first, leaking Khan's name and the second, blaming the initial leak on the Americans. The leaks, suggests Haqqani were "motivated by [an] eagerness to show off their success in arresting al-Qaida figures or, more ominously, by a desire to sabotage the penetration of al-Qaida that Khan's arrest had made possible."

The two possibilities are quite different in their implications. But both suggest -- a point Haqqani develops through the piece -- that the US has delegated the al Qaida hunt to an inherently unreliable partner.

(After all, we know Pakistan's intelligence service -- the ISI -- was riddled with Taliban and AQ sympathizers prior to the war. So there's no reason to think that's changed entirely.)

Nor is the author here just some random scribe. If you scan down to the author bio, it notes that Haqqani was an "advisor to former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and ... Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka." Since those are the two previous democratically-elected Pakistani prime ministers, the second of whom was overthrown by the current military head of state, it is fair to infer that Haqqani is not well-disposed toward the current government. But those posts and the high-level diplomatic appointment also suggest that he's pretty wired in the country and probably has pretty good sources in country.

He concludes the piece by noting "As long as the U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains a single-issue alliance based on the quid pro quo of changes in Pakistani policy for U.S. money, the regime in Islamabad will continue to be tempted to take its time in finding all the terrorists at large in Pakistan. After all, most subcontractors who are paid by the hour take longer to get the job done."

Okay, no denying or talking around it. I was in a bit of a blog funk today. So here I was, late in the evening, wondering what would put me back on track. And I knew I had to channel back into the Illinois senate race to get my bearings, knowing as I did that Alan Keyes would never disappoint me.

On most days you can find Alan Keyes explaining why affirmative action either violates the categorical imperative or is specifically rejected in the Declaration of Independence, if of course you interpret it correctly using numerology. But today he thought he'd mix it up a bit. So he said Barack Obama wasn't black enough.

I couldn't find the actual transcript. But this local TV report says that Keyes claimed "Obama can't relate to other blacks because he is not from the same heritage as most African Americans." And just to drive the point home Keyes also claimed Obama advanced the genocide of the black race by supporting abortion rights.

"We're the first people who have ever been pushed into genocide before our babies are born ... So the people who are supporting that position are actually supporting the systematic extermination of black America," he told a local radio station.

All of this may have come because of what happened yesterday when both candidates showed up at the Billiken parade on the South Side of the Chicago -- an event which is billed as the largest African-American parade in the country.

Obama, not surprisingly, got a raucous hero's welcome. And Keyes ... well, he didn't get a hero's welcome. You can read all the details here. But the one nugget that caught my yeye was this moment where, according to the Chicago Tribune, a parade goer "briefly grabbed Keyes' arm and advised Keyes, 'Take your [expletive] back to Maryland.'"

Now Keyes is on to another crowd pleaser: ending elections for senators and giving the choice back to state legislatures. "There has been a steady deleterious erosion of the sovereign role of the states," Keyes told a radio station on Friday and ending popular elections for senators would help put things right.

A number of readers wrote in today noting that TPM was downloading e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y slowly. We're working on rectifying the server issue that was causing that problem. So the site should soon be back to its normal speed.

This, however, is an opportune moment to share with you something we've been working on.

If you access TPM through a high-bandwidth connection, it usually downloads tolerably fast. But if you're using a slower conncetion, like dial-up, for instance, it can be quite slow.

So we've developed a faster downloading version of the site here.

This other version of the site doesn't actually download more quickly, at least not exactly. The difference is that the main TPM site appears all at once. So you have to wait for each piece of the site -- all the text and all the images -- to download until you see anything but the beige background. This other version downloads one piece at a time. That isn't quite as aesthetically pleasing (it can be a touch jagged), but you end up seeing the text more quickly.

As I say, if you're using a fast connection, you probably won't notice much difference. But if you're using a slower connection, you'll probably prefer this alternate, fast-downloading version.

Finally, please let us know what you think about this faster downloading version of the site. If the response is positive, particularly from folks with high bandwidth connections (the great majority of users), we'll likely end up making it the default version of the site.

"If Bush can win reelection despite the failure of his two most consequential -- and truly radical -- decisions, he will truly be a political miracle man. But as his own nominating convention approaches, the odds are against him."

Those are the words of Washington Post columnist David Broder in a column that appeared in Sunday's paper. And I reprint them because I think they mark a significant milestone simply because of Broder's role in defining conventional wisdom in Washington.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about the coverage of the presidential campaign and how Washington's chattering classes have remained stuck in a mind-set that judges this a dead-even race -- or even one the president is bound to win -- long after the objective criteria -- to the extent there can be such a thing -- have said otherwise.

By objective criteria, I'm referring mainly to poll numbers which show Kerry consistently besting the president, though often by numbers which are in the margin of error for the given poll.

(See pollingreport.com's summary table of recent presidential polls for an example. Since August 1st, the Gallup poll has twice found President Bush beating Kerry among likely voters -- by 3 and 4 points. But every other public poll taking this month has Kerry ahead.)

The additional fact to note, of course, is that incumbent presidents tend to get what they poll in head-to-head match-ups. Thus, if past races are any indicator, if a poll says Bush 46, Kerry 47, Bush will probably end up getting about 46% of the vote while Kerry will pick up most of the rest of the uncommitteds.

Other measures of independents all show danger signs for the president. And some further indication can be found down-ballot -- especially on the senate side. But my point here isn't to get into the nitty-gritty of the polling numbers. These are pretty conventional ways to interpret polling data. My point is only to argue -- as Charlie Cook has been arguing in his recent columns -- that if you go by conventional ways of reading the numbers, both nationwide and in key swing states, President Bush is on the way to losing this race.

That sense of the race has hardly settled in among pundits or daily newspaper reporters, or if it has, it hasn't shown through in their copy. And yet here you have David Broder writing a column which, though it says many things, says mainly that President Bush is likely to be thrown out of office -- not because John Kerry is lighting the hustings on fire, but simply because President Bush's fundamental policy decisions have failed and voters are going to hold him accountable.

That perception, that conventional wisdom, once it takes hold, can have a poisonous effect on the efforts of the perceived loser. And when that perception begins to take hold among Republicans, if it does, it will set off a vicious internal dynamic within the party.

And so this, I think, will be the key issue over the next three weeks, as we build up to and then come out of the Republican convention: when does the CW defined by Broder -- the veritable pontiff of beltway CW -- start registering? If the polls change it may never, of course. But if not, when does the president start moving ahead in the polls? Can the GOP convention fundamentally shift the dynamic of the race? And, if not, when do the first signs of panic begin to appear within the president's ranks?

The GOP convention now seems like it'll be a much more high-stakes affair than the DNC.

Every working journalist should read this Kevin Drum post on John Kerry's position on the Iraq war and the Iraq war resolution. It's sad, but perhaps predictable, to see so many members of the print and electronic press getting led around by the nose by the Bush crew on this one.

I think I've demurred from discussing or rather defending Kerry's position on this issue because I have an element of bias, since it is also my position. But as Kevin notes, whether or not you agree with that position, it is really not difficult to understand so long as you are not being willfully obtuse.

Sometimes in baseball a batter decides to take a pitch. He's decided in advance that he's not going to swing no matter what comes down the pike. But in most cases, when a batter steps up to the plate, he doesn't decide whether he's going to swing until he sees the pitch. Only an idiot decides in advance not knowing what he's going to face. And yet this is roughly what the Bush camp says was the only reasonable, or I suppose manly, approach to the Iraq war.

I see the war decision in very similar terms to this baseball analogy. Voting for the war resolution was not remotely the same thing as going to war at the first possible opportunity.

Forcing inspections meant seeing what inspections would yield. And seeing what inspections would yield was the best insurance against getting ourselves into the current situation and finding that the WMD, which constituted the premise for the whole endeavor, didn't even exist.

To extend our baseball analogy, Bush went to the plate knowing he was going to swing at whatever pitch he got.

I've been sketching out notes recently for a retrospective essay on the lead-up to the Iraq war, trying to capture on paper the mood of those months, to think through particularly where I think I saw things correctly and where I went wrong. And it's brought into some perspective for me the silliness of the argument the president makes about the war resolution and the point he means to convey when he says that everyone thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

The point he's trying to make in the latter instance is that you can't blame him for the mess we're in because everybody (or, for these purposes, almost all the leading political figures in Washington) thought Saddam had at least some chemical and biological weapons, and thus everyone else would have gotten us to this same point. But here of course is the beauty of actually taking the WMD issue seriously as opposed to merely using it as a cudgel and a pretext as the president did.

One might well have gone into the whole drama thinking Iraq had a retooled WMD program. But inspections allowed us actually to find out. Not just to guess, but to find out, to know. Certainly inspections would not have been perfect. But they were quite good at answering the key question, which was the status of the Iraqi nuclear program. And they would have been good enough at gauging where other non-conventional weapons programs were too.

(The great undiscussed matter in this whole debate is that well before we pulled the trigger in March 2003 it was quite clear from the IAEA inspections that there was no Iraqi nuclear program to speak of.)

In any case, all of this is merely a too-lengthy way of noting that giving the president the authority and the muscle to force the inspectors back into Iraq (i.e., giving him the authority to go to war if they were not allowed back in) simply cannot be equated with giving the president the go-ahead to game the process and go to war immediately even if they were allowed in.

That doesn't mean that Kerry is in the clear on any legitimate criticism. But ironically the best argument against Kerry's position is one that is simply off-limits to the president -- namely, that Kerry should have or perhaps did know that the president was lying when he said he needed the muscle of the resolution to force the inspectors back in and have some hope of settling the crisis short of war.

The president was dishonest with the world and dishonest with the American people. He gamed the process and it blew up in his face -- though with a long fuse. By any reasonable moral reckoning he deserves all the comeuppance of his bad faith. The tragedy is that the American people, the folks he scammed, have to suffer the brunt of the tragedy and will continue to do so long after he is, hopefully, tossed out of office in just less than a dozen weeks.

In politics, being a little ahead and motionless is a delicate, tremulous place to be. And that is, arguably, where the Kerry campaign is right now. If you look at the rivers of commentary flowing out over the Internet you see a note or an undertone of concern among many Democratic partisans who believe that in the last couple weeks the Kerry campaign has failed to react sharply or dexterously enough to his opponents.

First, there was the back-and-forth between Kerry and the president over the Iraq war resolution, which many seem to think Kerry bobbled. (Why the Kerry campaign has allowed itself to be placed on the offensive on this isn't clear to me at all.)

And then there's the background noise of the swift-boat malarkey, which, if painfully thin and discredited on close inspection, nevertheless may do damage simply through repitition. I do my best to ignore our domestic Falange on matters like this, but at the moment they seem to be exulting in the fact that while they first insisted John Kerry never could have been in Cambodia as he has often claimed it now turns out that he was there, though not in December 1968, but January and February 1969.

I have a certain bias for February 1969 so perhaps that's why I don't see this as a particularly big deal.

In any case, even as these things are going on, and some are beginning to fret, we have an entirely contrary motion, at least reflected in public opinion surveys. After heated words on both sides in the days just after the convention, what now seems clear is that there was a small but appreciable bounce for Kerry. Small compared to previous bounces, as Republicans argued, but perhaps understandably so given the polarized electorate and the fact that Kerry, the challenger, was already slightly ahead, as Democrats replied.

Yet, in the almost two weeks since the convention, something else novel has happened. The logic of a 'bounce' is that it's a run-up in the polls which slowly subsides. But the reverse has happened with Kerry. While his bump in the polls coming out of the convention was relatively small, the numbers which have appeared since that time has shown a slow increase in his lead and -- more pointedly -- a deepening of the underlying bases of that lead, as measured in approval on key issues, trust, likability, and so forth.

The trend has also been apparent in key state match ups. For instance, since the convention, the two independent polls of Florida voters -- one of likelies, another of registereds -- both show Kerry ahead by 7 points. A third poll, the oldest of the three, was done by a Republican firm. And that one shows the race as a tie.

Steady leadership in times of change ...<$NoAd$>

I have told my staff, I want full cooperation with the Justice Department. And when they ask for information, we expect the information to be delivered on a timely basis. I expect it to be delivered on a timely basis. I want there to be full participation, because ... I am most interested in finding out the truth.

In January, Justice Department investigators asked White House staff members to sign a waiver requesting "that no member of the news media assert any privilege or refuse to answer any questions from federal law enforcement authorities on my behalf or for my benefit." But in February the Washington Post reported, "Most officials declined to sign the form on the advice of their attorneys."

No wonder he can't get our allies to do anything he wants them to do.

[Special thanks to TPM reader BG.]

Fred Kaplan has a bleak but, I fear, quite possibly accurate piece on Iraq today in Slate.

The key sentence is this one: "the U.S. military—the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart—finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks."

This is the essence of the present situation. For us Iraq has become the geopolitical equivalent of a Chinese finger puzzle, the more we exert ourselves the more the situation constricts around us and the higher the price becomes to get ourselves out, at least in any way that mainstream foreign policy types, among whom I would class myself, find acceptable.

And the key is Kaplan's point about tactical victories and strategic setbacks. Yet, I think we can go further and say that these don't 'yield' strategic setbacks, they are strategic setbacks in and of themselves.

Winning a pitched battle against Shi'a insurgents in the heart of one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites (and by this I mean not just the Imam Ali Mosque, but the cemetery near it and the area immediately surrounding it) is itself a defeat for us.

(Here is a piece just out from the Post that illustrates the bind into which we've sunk the Army and Marines.)

As the shrewdest thinkers on the left and the right concede on this issue, our true strategic challenges in the Muslim Middle East are not conventional military ones, but hearts-and-minds challenges. The trick is to figure out how we can solve or ameliorate that hearts-and-minds problem while simultaneously destroying the relatively small (in numerical terms) but highly lethal groups that constitute an imminent danger. Or, to put it more crisply, how do we wipe out al Qaida (and al Qaida-like groups) without generating so much bad blood in the Islamic world that the Islamic world keeps producing new al Qaidas faster than we can destroy them?

It's not clear to me necessarily what the best way to strike that balance is. But I think this is probably the worst way -- engaging in pitched battles with fighters who pose no direct danger to the US whatsoever in a way that does profound damage to our standing within the population that al Qaida and other similarly-inclined groups hope to do their recruiting.

On Iraq specifically, think about where we've gotten ourselves. The Shi'a were supposed to be our friends. They were the ones most lorded over by Saddam. They were the community upon which we intended to build an Iraqi democracy.

Now, that is admittedly a broad brush and simplistic way to put it (though I'm not sure the architects of this adventure gave it much deeper thought). And it's quite true that al Sadr and his Mahdi Army do not represent all Iraqi Shi'a. But fighting a pitched battle in Najaf is probably the best way to move things in that direction.