Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Okay, so who does Iraq owe money to?

As I noted over the weekend, it's a really important question. And here are the beginnings of an answer.

First, one detail: Iraq's debt is overwhelmingly in the 'official' sector, i.e. debts to other countries, rather than private creditors or international institutions.

Next, who does Iraq owe money to in the developed world?

The Club of Paris says that Iraq owes some $21 billion dollars to 'Club of Paris creditor countries.' That includes debts to the US, Russia, France, Germany, Japan and a number of other developed countries. (See this table at the Club of Paris website for details.)

But that's not where the real money is. Or rather, those aren't the countries to which Iraq owes the most money. We hear a lot about France and Russia, but the big debts are closer to home.

According to Oxfam, Iraq owes (see page 23 in linked document) a titanic sum of between $55 and $85 billion to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The $30 billion difference is money from the 1980s (I assume in support of the war against Iran) that the lenders say were loans and Iraq says were grants.

This is the backdrop for Baker's new mission.

Check out this very nice scoop from Newsweek's Hosenball and Isikoff about a June 2002 Iraqi National Congress memo pointing to John Hannah and Bill Luti as the conduits through which the INC filtered its 'intelligence' to the Vice President's office and the Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, respectively.

Frankly, this is only a scoop in the sense that there seems to be documentation (and that's definitely a scoop). I don't think you could find anyone who's covered this story who wouldn't be shocked if these conduits didn't exist. And Hannah and Luti would be logical channels.

The official denials noted in the story really don't pass the laugh test.

"I think it's a moot point."

That was White House Chief of Staff Andy Card today on whether pre-war claims about Iraq's WMD capacity were "faulty."

James Baker, now with his own US government plane and Iraq portfolio, will apparently be making one of his early stops in New Delhi, with an offer The Telegraph of Calcutta says the Indians may not be able to refuse.

Meanwhile, Mark Matthews's piece in Saturday's Baltimore Sun is the first, I think, to place Baker's appointment in proper perspective.

And then there's the matter of Robert Jordan, Texas oil lawyer and America's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia since September 2001.

Jordan and Baker are both partners in the Houston uber-law firm Baker Botts (co-founded by Baker's greatgrandfather, James Addison Baker, in 1873). And both were down in Florida in late 2000 organizing the recount effort. And Jordan represented President Bush in the Harken matter.

Here's the introduction on Baker Botts's Middle East Region page ...

As Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries in the Middle East continue to encourage private sector investment, opportunities for U.S., European and regional companies are growing. Baker Botts is able to assist clients with these opportunities through our depth of experience in the region and broad-based expertise in energy, technology, telecommunications, project development and finance. This position is further strengthened by our recent acquisition of an existing law office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which operates in association with the law office of Mohanned S. Al Rasheed, and a strategic alliance with Afridi & Angell, a law firm with offices in U.A.E. at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, as well as in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Jordan and Baker are, needless to say, longtime friends and professional associates. And perhaps Jordan's assistance will be on offer for Baker, since Jordan stepped down as Ambassador just six weeks ago for "personal reasons" and is now back in the law biz in Texas.

James Risen's got an interesting piece in the Times on rogue -- or not-so-rogue -- operations run out of Doug Feith's office at the Pentagon -- particularly, meetings last year with Iran-Contra luminary Manucher Ghorbanifar. When reading that piece, read it along with this piece from the New York Sun from a few days ago by Eli Lake, which covers another angle on the story.

And another thing: make a note for future reference about where that first meeting took place.

We'll be reporting much more on this in the coming days. But I just wanted to start off this afternoon by saying that I think James Baker's appointment as President Bush's envoy for settling Iraq's foreign debt issues is a much bigger deal than it seems. Much bigger.

My point isn't that there's anything hidden or conspiratorial about it per se. It's just that cutting the deals surrounding the debt issue is central to much of what happens in Iraq next year. And much of what happens in Iraq period.

Settling this debt issue isn't just a bigger version of refinancing your house. It will involve Baker in critical negotiations with the front-line states in the region as well as Iraq's debtors abroad. Those negotiations in turn will have a lot of influence over how helpful or unhelpful these other states choose to be next year -- with potential troops and a lot of other things. (It is also, as a friend of mine notes, a tacit admission that the Madrid donors' conference was a bit of a flop.) Finally, the terms of the deals -- how they're backed up, especially -- will get right into the matter of how the Iraqi economy itself gets structured: who owns what, how it's structured, what other countries get claims on what assets.

(Baker will be assisted in all of this by the fact that he knows everyone in the region -- and represents a number of them. He will also be able to say -- with no little credibility -- that he had nothing to do with all the unpleasantness of last year. "You don't want to deal with me? How'd you like dealing with Doug?")

We already know in late July there was some effort from some parties in the White House to get Baker into Iraq and possibly edge Bremer out. It didn't come off. But I think this move must be, in some sense, seen in the context of that earlier story.

I don't think Bremer is going anywhere. But I'm also not sure that he has to.

The situation in Iraq has become much more militarized in the last six weeks or so. In practice, that's diminished Bremer's role already. Baker's appointment may diminish his role in another part of running the country -- again, the all important nexus between the economic organization of the country itself and its relations with other states and international financial institutions.

Let's remember what Baker's specialty is. Yes, he was White House Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State and various other things. But his real specialty is coming in to save the day when men named George Bush look like they're about to lose their presidencies. He's the family fixer. He did that in 1992 when he gave up State to run Bush's campaign. And he did it eight years later in 2000 when he went to Florida to run the recount battle. The phone just rang again ...

Add to the mix the fact that the neocons react to James Baker's name about the way a gas station attendant does if you try to light a cigarette while you're filling your tank.

So many articles get published every day. And it's a struggle to know which are the must-reads and which can be safely ignored. Read this one ... Jet Lag: How Boeing Blew It by Douglas Gantenbein in Slate.

Richard Perle is now in<$Ad$> yet more hot water over the fact that he wrote an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal supporting the tanker deal now at the center of the Pentagon-Boeing procurement scandal. The reason for the heated water, as we noted yesterday, is the fact that Boeing was a big investor in his 'Trireme Partners.'

But tucked away down in the final graf of this article on the story in the Financial Times is this little nugget ...

Internal Boeing e-mails portray a lobbying campaign the company undertook to have "friends on the Hill" and "think tanks" drum up support for the deal. One Boeing e-mail refers to an Op-Ed article in support of the company by retired Admiral Archie Clemins as being "ghost-written".

I'd say what we might have here is another thread pointing in the direction of the never-truly-busted-open OpEd Payola scandal, which we'll revisit soon.

What a difference an ocean makes ...

The nation's job market continued to strengthen in November, with the unemployment rate falling slightly to 5.9 percent and payroll employment rising for a fourth consecutive month, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Washington Post, December 6th 2003

The US economy generated significantly fewer jobs than expected in November, according to government figures issued on Friday, damping hopes of a swift revival in the sluggish labour market.

Financial Times, December 5th 2003

We cut-n-paste, you decide.