Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Look at this. 117 reformist members of the Iranian parliament have now submitted their resignations over the deepening electoral exclusion crisis. Could this really be coming to a head?

This evening the Post has an article reporting that the <$NoAd$> White House has decided to support an independent probe of the intelligence failure over Iraqi WMD.

Here are the key grafs (emphasis added) ...

The details about the commission are not yet firm, including how much authority it would have to investigate not just the intelligence gathering apparatus but also how the administration used the intelligence it was given.

By joining the effort to create the commission rather than allowing Congress to develop its framework on its own, Bush will likely have more leverage to keep the focus on the CIA and other intelligence organizations rather than on the White House. Democrats have asserted that Bush exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq to justify going war, a theory that was boosted by recent allegations from former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill that Bush had been contemplating the ouster of Hussein long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There it is. They want to wall off the investigation so it only scrutinizes their political enemies at the CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community.

From a story on CNN yesterday evening: "Amid calls for an independent probe into prewar intelligence failures, Vice President Dick Cheney has called key lawmakers to say the administration is open to a range of options, sources tell CNN."

Why is the White House scrambling to get out ahead of these calls for an investigation and contain the potential investigation being called for?

Three data points framed as questions ...

1. Did the White House play fast and loose with the truth about the Iraq threat?

2. Are people in the Intelligence Community likely to know just how they played fast and loose?

3. Do people in the Intelligence Community feel ill-used by this administration?

Add them up.

And one other thing: how credible will an inquiry be if it covers the CIA but not the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President?

There’s just so much to say about this new bubbling-up of the WMD controversy. And I plan to say a lot of it. But, for the moment, let’s see if there’s any way to get the media and various other members of the capital's elect to avoid another round of self-administered bamboozlement.

For months we have known with increasing degrees of certainty that there were, contrary to expectations, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet the fact that David Kay has now stated this baldly has suddenly put this reality at the center of the national debate in a way it wasn’t only a couple weeks ago.

He has also said two other things.

First, he’s said that the CIA was not pressured to reach its erroneous conclusions. Second, he has said that rather than the president owing an explanation or apology to the American people, the CIA owes an explanation or apology to the president.

As to the first point, how would he know?

To the best of my knowledge, Kay wasn’t involved in any of the relevant inter-agency processes and he hasn’t investigated this question after the fact. So how would he know? I think the answer is clear: he doesn't.

The second point is a classic example of that phenomenon we’ve become so familiar with in the Bush years: up-is-downism.

Let me explain.

First, a stipulation. There’s no question that it was widely believed within the US intelligence community that Iraq had on-going weapons of mass destruction efforts and probably had at least a chemical and probably a biological weapons capacity.

Clearly, that assumption was wrong.

There is a subsidiary issue here. Intelligence assessments like this often include worst case scenario or pessimistic case scenario judgments based on incomplete evidence. And a lot of the misjudgments seem to have been of that sort --- a point which we need to get further into. But for the moment let’s stipulate that the US intelligence community got some major facts wrong and that we need to find out why and make improvements.

Having said that, let’s outline the ridiculousness of Kay’s judgment.

We didn’t go to war because Iraq had mustard gas or nerve gas or even anthrax. The threat, as presented by the White House, went far beyond that. All WMD are not created equal. Indeed, the catch-all phrase ‘weapons of mass destruction’ obscures much more than it clarifies. It groups together things like mustard gas, which is really a battlefield weapon, with nuclear weapons, which really are weapons of mass destruction.

The White House was well aware of this. And for that reason it repeatedly pressed the argument that Iraq was close to creating nuclear warheads --- a point over which there was very real disagreement within the Intelligence Community. The other component of the argument for war was Iraq’s supposed ties with international terrorist organizations like al Qaida. It was this nexus between illicit weapons and connections to non-deterrable terrorist organizations that was the essence of the White House’s case for war.

On the question of ties to al Qaida one can’t say there was a great deal of disagreement within the Intelligence Community, because the White House had real difficulty finding any intelligence professionals who believed that this was true. This, after all, is why administration officials at the Pentagon set up their own intelligence analysis shop --- because most people in the Intelligence Community didn't buy their argument about the connections between the Iraqi regime and al Qaida.

Now, Kay is saying, in essence, that the CIA sold the president a bill of goods. And they owe him an explanation.

But let’s review what we know.

We know that after 9/11 there were intense battles pitting the Intelligence Community against political appointees in the administration and that those battles were over almost every aspect of the Iraqi threat: nuclear weapons capacity, ties to terrorism, whether Saddam would use his arsenal against the United States, degrees of certainty about the state of Saddam’s chemical and biological programs, everything.

To the best of my knowledge there is not one single instance we know of in which any portion of the Intelligence Community pressed for a more ominous view of the threat in the face of skepticism from the political appointees at DOD, the Office of the Vice President, the White House or anywhere else in the administration. Not one.

We know of many points of controversy. And, to the best of my knowledge, every last one involved administration politicals pressing for more extreme and ominous interpretations of the Iraqi threat against skeptical members of the Intelligence Community. Every last one.

This is hardly even a controversial point. The hawks themselves made the same argument endlessly. They only stopped when the evidence came in and they were shown to have been wrong in almost every particular.

An internal review at the CIA conducted by Richard J. Kerr, a retired senior CIA official, has now also concluded that there is no evidence the CIA shaded its estimates to support the administration's case for war. But even if we grant the accuracy of that judgment it really doesn't get at the true question.

Why? Because we know that there were numerous cases in which people in the Intelligence Community tried to stop the White House from making various hyperbolic or unsubstantiated claims, precisely because they were not supported by the Intelligence Community's consensus estimates.

What we have here is a serious intelligence failure, but one that in itself would almost certainly not have led to war, at least not on the grounds of there being an imminent threat to the United States. Recognizing that it was an insufficient casus belli the White House then hyped it up with all manner of unsubstantiated mumbo-jumbo.

And for this the Intelligence Community owes the president an apology?

Just as the president did last summer when he forced an apology from George Tenet over the Niger-uranium claims and then tried to put the matter to rest without firing Tenet or asking for any kind of investigation, he now wants to pocket the blame being heaped on the Agency (because it absolves him politically) without having any sort of investigation to get to the heart of what happened.

Why? Simple. Because any truly independent investigation of how this all unfolded would expose the administration's systematic exaggeration of what we knew about the threat Iraq posed and, almost certainly, its willful deception of the American people.

Friends, a brief personal and house-keeping note. As I wrote when I arrived in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago, I wasn't able to send email, only receive it. I eventually came up with a work-around that allowed to send a few time-sensitive emails. But sending that way was complicated and time-consuming. So lots of emails went unanswered. And, with all the rush of running from one campaign event to another, a backlog of unread emails numbering upwards of a thousand built up too.

In any case, I'm not going to be able to respond to all of these. But I will read them all and respond to as many as I can. So if you've asked some question and haven't heard back from me yet, please bear with me for a few days while I'm working through the backlog, which I'm going to try to do this weekend.

Also, some of you have noticed that we've been having intermittent server problems going back a week or so. In most cases this has just been slow downloading. But in a few cases on one day over the weekend the site was, albeit briefly, almost totally inaccessible.

Part of this is due to some egregiously bad service by our Web hosting provider. Some has been due to the spike in traffic during the last week before the primary (if we're lucky I think we'll have a bit over 400,000 individual readers this month). But the big issue is that the hosting set up that worked when we were dishing out six or seven hundred page views a day two or three years ago just isn't up to the task of managing the sixty or seventy thousand page views per day we're serving up now.

We didn't want to make a switch to an altogether new set up while I was reporting from New Hampshire because when you make such a switch-over there's always a chance that the site can go down entirely or various other glitches can come up. As it happened, there was quite enough mixing of two worlds for my taste, sitting down for a quick meal at the Merrimack restaurant, trying to find my way out of my oversized parka, and yelling into my cell phone to the tech support dudes down in Georgia about why a guaranteed 72 hour turn-around for getting my site fixed (three days before the primary) really didn't strike me as a satisfactory answer.

In any case, we're going to be working on finding a robust set-up that will be able to grow with the site. So a new faster-loading TPM should be on the way soon.

Roy Neel has a message up on the Dean blog introducing himself and giving a status report to the campaign's supporters. It's worth a read. And I think he strikes the right note -- to some extent just by communicating in this fashion.

None of this changes my view that the outlook for the Dean campaign is bleak. (I think the window of opportunity is closing. And if Dean doesn't even contest the Feb. 3rd contests and doesn't place well, titanic forces will come into play that will be all but impossible to turn back.) But I admire their pluck. And who knows? Stranger things have happened. In fact, one just did. Two months ago, Kerry's campaign looked like a sinking ship and today he's probably on the way to the nomination.

Also of interest, Lisa DePaulo's new piece on Joe Trippi is available on the GQ web site.

Drats! There I go again, giving Mr. Perle too much credit. In my last post I told you how Richard Perle is in another controversy after giving a speech at a fundraiser for an organization the United States government classes as a terrorist group.

But a reader just pointed out to me that I seem to have gotten one detail a bit off.

I said that Perle had told the Post that his speaking fee was going to the Red Cross, and that Perle was surprised when the Post reporter told him that the Red Cross had decided not to accept any monies from the event.

But that's not quite what it says he said. The article quotes Perle telling the Post that "all of the proceeds [from the fundraiser] will go to the Red Cross."

But he says nothing about his speaking fee going to the Red Cross.

In fact, the article doesn't say explicitly that Perle even received a speaking fee, though it clearly implies that he did.

The article reports that "Perle declined to say how much he received." Later, the article has Perle explaining that the speech was arranged by something called the Premiere Speakers Bureau. Now, speakers' bureaus generally set up paid speeches. Not always, I suppose. But it's a good indication. Also, if he did the speech gratis why would he decline to say how much he got? Why not say he did it gratis and avoid any question or controversy?

As I say, we don't know, but the logic of the Post's piece points strongly toward the conclusion that Perle was paid to give this speech at a fundraiser for a terrorist organization. And if he got one, there's no indication he's given that fee back or given it to some other charity.

Should an advisor to the Pentagon be pocketing a fee for helping to raise money for a terrorist organization?

Useful Idiot? Isn’t that the phrase we use for well-meaning enthusiasts who get duped into supporting front-groups for bad-acting causes?

As you’ve probably seen already, The Washington Post today has a piece about how Richard Perle gave a speech last weekend to a group that US law enforcement and intelligence suspects is actually a front for a terrorist group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). According to the Post, US law enforcement had debated whether they had the authority to shut the fundraiser down. And on Monday the Treasury Department froze the assets of the event's main sponsor, Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia.

Perle told the Post that he wasn’t aware of the MEK’s involvement in the event, believing instead that it was intended to help the victims of the Bam earthquake. He also said his speaking fee was going to the Red Cross. When the Post reporter told him that the Red Cross had already ruled out receiving any monies from the event, he said he didn’t know that either.

Perle says he didn’t know about any of this. But, as this fella points out, the capitol hill newspaper The Hill reported last Wednesday (“Terrorists plan D.C. fundraiser,” Jan.21st) that House Administration Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) asked John Ashcroft to investigate the fundraiser for its ties to terrorists.

Now, as it happens, I’m not sure that Perle was just another in that long line of wide-eyed do-gooders whose humanitarian impulses are darkly preyed upon by the dregs of the world's dustbin-bound ideologies.

The MEK is a terrorist organization (recognized as such by the US government since 1997) fighting the Iranian government. For years it’s worked out of an enclave in Iraq with most of its support coming from Saddam Hussein. Other than these facts the group is best known for violence and its mélange of bizarre beliefs.

Since the war there’s been an-going battle within the administration over whether to root out the MEK or, if not quite sponsor them, then at least tolerate their continued battle against the mullahs of Iran.

Perle and his faction, not surprisingly, have been on the side pushing for sorta-kinda sponsorship.

Of my essay this <$NoAd$>week in The New Yorker Andrew Sullivan writes …

I read it yesterday and then re-read it. Josh manages to write about the Clinton era "soft-imperialism" and the Bush era "hard imperialism" with nary a mention of a certain even that occurred on September 11, 2001. Maybe I missed something. I doubt if his editors noticed the lacuna. Why should they? For the Clintonites, 9/11 didn't really happen.

I’ll let readers judge whether the essay really ignores 9/11 and the effect it’s had on the country --- an interpretation which strikes me as rather strained. But as to the particular point, yes, I think he did miss something.

After September 11th, a left-wing accusation became a right-wing aspiration: conservatives increasingly began to espouse a world view that was unapologetically imperialist.

And in case there’s any unclarity, when I referred to September 11th, I was referring to the terrorist attacks that happened on that day. And in the previous sentence when I referred to 'terrorist attacks' I was referring to the hijacked airliners that were flown into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the field in central Pennsylvania.

Andrew is of course right that I don’t see Bush administration foreign policy as simply a logical and unavoidable response to 9/11. I see it as both a pretext for and a catalyst of the implementation of an approach which the architects of the administration’s foreign policy had supported long before they even considered al Qaida type terrorism much of a threat.

During the time I was in New Hampshire, and especially in the last couple days, there was lots of chatter to the effect that the Dean campaign was all but out of money. There was (and is) really no other way to explain their decision to pull their ads down from all the post-New Hampshire contests unless they were facing an acute funding crisis. (After all, assuming a good showing in New Hampshire, they would pretty quickly need to start advertising in at least a few of those states anyway.) And this article in Thursday's Post pretty much confirms it.

Dean raised more than $40 million. And it's apparently almost completely gone.

According to the Post article, the Dean camp believes he can essentially hang back through the February 3rd contests "remain[ing] credible by picking up enough votes to win some delegates ... even without renewed advertising or a first-place finish."

He'll then make a push in Michigan and Washington, which come later in the week, banking on the fact that these caucus states give more advantage to organizational strength.

Frankly, I think we all know that these are the sorts of things campaigns say just a bit before they give up the ghost, focusing on 'winning delegates' rather than actually winning any contests -- sort of like the hapless dry goods salesman who loses money on every sale but thinks he's going to make it up in volume.

There are other problems with this approach too. The most recent poll of Michigan -- out earlier this week -- shows Kerry holding a 37% to 14% lead over Dean.