Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

We seem to have a bit of a contradiction, don't we?

Richard Clarke rolled out his book this evening on 60 Minutes, arguing, in brief, that the Bush administration put counter-terrorism and the hunt for al Qaida on the back burner prior to 9/11 and then after 9/11 immediately started focusing on Iraq even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 or even al Qaida terrorism generally.

Meanwhile, on the Washington Post op-ed page, Condi Rice has a lengthy column presenting what can only be called a very, very different picture.

The new administration heeded the warnings of the outgoing Clinton administration and not only focused closely on al Qaida and the rise in chatter in the summer of 2001 but was actually preparing a much more aggressive approach than anything that had been considered previously. What's more, the president himself sensed that not enough was being done and called for further scrutiny into the possibility of a domestic attack and a more aggressive plan to "eliminate" al Qaida.

The president, in the telling of Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, seems to have been more engaged, forward-thinking and insightful on this issue than literally any other major player on the administration's national security team.

Even with all the vastness of the federal bureaucracy and the possible uncertainties of interpretation, there's no question that one of these two people -- Rice or Clarke -- is misleading us.

Rice was (and is) the president's National Security Advisor. Clarke was in charge of counter-terrorism policy at the National Security Council. Nothing discussed by either on this issue should be a mystery to the other. It's possible that neither is lying in a narrow factual sense. But, at a minimum, one must be giving us a deeply partial and misleading account.

(Clarke is yet to get the 'treatment' from the press. So we'll see how his statements hold up. But on this issue -- what happened pre-9/11 -- and the related yellowcake matter, Rice has already developed a track record of inaccurate, misleading, contradictory and contradicted statements -- which we'll be reviewing in future posts.)

This is why we have a press whose job it is not simply to frame this as a potent he-said/she-said but to dig into the details and find out who isn't leveling with us.

One place to start might be this claim which Steve Hadley made on 60 Minutes (and which is also echoed in Rice's editorial) ...

Hadley staunchly defended the president to Stahl: "The president heard those warnings. The president met daily with ... George Tenet and his staff. They kept him fully informed and at one point the president became somewhat impatient with us and said, 'I'm tired of swatting flies. Where's my new strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?'"

Hadley says that, contrary to Clarke's assertion, Mr. Bush didn't ignore the ominous intelligence chatter in the summer of 2001.

"All the chatter was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas. But interestingly enough, the president got concerned about whether there was the possibility of an attack on the homeland. He asked the intelligence community: 'Look hard. See if we're missing something about a threat to the homeland.'

"And at that point various alerts went out from the Federal Aviation Administration to the FBI saying the intelligence suggests a threat overseas. We don't want to be caught unprepared. We don't want to rule out the possibility of a threat to the homeland. And therefore preparatory steps need to be made. So the president put us on battle stations."

We've heard the swatting at flies line before. So presumably there must have been some such conversation. The White House has referenced it again and again. But what was the context? And what did it lead to? Documents must have been generated. Directives must have been written up and executed. What are the details?

Someone is not levelling with us. If the press is worth anything it should find out who, right?

Nota Bene: Monday's New York Times story on Richard Clarke's revelations is written by Judith Miller. Quite a choice -- and problematic for a number of reasons. See Jack Shafer's latest on this from just last month.

It's hard to say which of the Clarke revelations is most damaging. <$NoAd$>But there are many contenders. Here's another -- the video of which just aired a few minutes ago on 60 Minutes ...

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."

More soon.

Atrios quotes this passage from Richard Clarke's interview tonight on CBS at length. But it's worth excerpting again for reasons I note below ...

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

This is the essence of the whole story. Everything.

As Talleyrand said of the restored <$Ad$>Bourbons, they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing during their time in exile. So too with the foreign policy coterie President Bush brought back from the cold in January 2001.

One chilling note in this passage is that Paul Wolfowitz, the prime architect and idea man of the second Iraq war, spent the early months of the Bush administration focused on "Iraqi terrorism against the United States", something that demonstrably did not even exist. A rather bad sign.

The bigger point, however, is this.

The first months of the Bush administration were based on a fundamental strategic miscalcuation about the source of the greatest threats to the United States. They were, as Clark suggests, stuck in a Cold War mindset, focused on Cold War problems, though the terms of debate were superficially reordered to make them appear to address a post-Cold War world.

That screw up is a reality -- their inability to come clean about it is, I suspect, is at the root of all the covering up and stonewalling of the 9/11 commission. And Democrats are both right and within their rights to call the White House on it. But screw-ups happen; mistakes happen. What is inexcusable is the inability, indeed the refusal, to learn from them.

Rather than adjust to this different reality, on September 12th, the Bush war cabinet set about using 9/11 -- exploiting it, really -- to advance an agenda which had, in fact, been largely discredited by 9/11. They shoe-horned everything they'd been trying to do before the attacks into the new boots of 9/11. And the fit was so bad they had to deceive the public and themselves to do it.

As the international relations expert John Ikenberry noted aptly in a recent essay, the Bush hardliners "fancy themselves tough-minded thinkers. But they didn't have the courage of their convictions to level with the American people on what this geopolitical adventure in Iraq was really about and what it would cost."

To revert again to paraphrases of Talleyrandian wisdom, this was worse than a crime. It was a mistake -- though I suspect that when the full story is told, we'll see that it was both.

A little of the old compare and contrast <$NoAd$>...

As you know, our campaign has praised your military service to our nation. Our campaign does not condone any effort to impugn your patriotism. Your letter claims that supporters of our campaign questioned your service and patriotism. In fact, that simply wasn’t the case. Our campaign is not questioning your patriotism or military service, but your votes and statements on the issues now facing our country.

Open Letter to John Kerry
Marc Racicot
Bush-Cheney Campaign Chair
February 22nd, 2004

And now for "The Outrages of the Week." President Bush's reelection campaign is distributing a letter from retired Colonel William Campenni, who served with Mr. Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. After defending Bush's service, Campenni argues that Bush did more to defend the U.S. than John Kerry did in Vietnam, earning three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.

Mark Shields
Capital Gang
March 20th, 2004

While most of America was sleeping and Mr. Kerry was playing antiwar games with Hanoi Jane Fonda, we were answering 3 a.m. scrambles for who knows what inbound threat over the Canadian subarctic, the cold North Atlantic and the shark-filled Gulf of Mexico.

Col. William Campenni (retired)
U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard
Letter to the Editor
Washington Times
February 11, 2004

Back to the foreign policy article.

"Richard A. Clarke said in a television interview airing Sunday that Bush 'ignored terrorism for months' before the 2001 attacks, then looked to attack Iraq rather than Afghanistan, the nation harboring the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which launched the attacks."

That's from Bloomberg.

It is fair to say that anyone who has seriously reported on this issue, or has read a lot of the good reporting on it, already knows this: namely, that the incoming Bush administration downgraded the attention given to terrorism and al Qaida specifically in the last years of the Clinton administration, and this after being warned by out-going members of the Clinton team that combatting al Qaida should be at the top of their agenda.

In short, they pushed al Qaida and a lot of resources aimed at fighting al Qaida to the backburner until the whole thing blew up in their faces on 9/11.

Their focus, as we've noted before, was on the centrality of states rather than shadowy transnational terrorist groups -- thus their preoccuption with issues like national missile defense.

In any case, as I say, we've basically known this.

But it's another thing to have the person who was there at the center of the action as NSC counter-terrorism czar -- both under Clinton and Bush -- saying on camera that the president ignored terrorism and al Qaida right up until the day of the attacks. Clarke was there. In fact, to the extent that Bush and Rice and Cheney and the rest of the team were ignoring the issue, it would have been Clarke's urgent warnings they were ignoring -- since he was the head of counter-terrorism on the NSC staff.

White House Spokesman Sean McCormick told the New York Times: "The president and his team received briefings on the threat from al-Qaida prior to taking office, and fighting terrorism became a top priority when this administration came into office. We actively pursued the Clinton administration's policies on al-Qaida until we could get into place a more comprehensive policy."

But Clark says that's baloney. And he was the one who headed up Clinton's counter-terrorism policies and Bush's. So who are you going to believe?

Now do you understand why they're stonewalling the 9/11 commission?

And while we're discussing the commission, why do they even really need to stonewall it?

Consider this passage from a piece in today's Times ...

They said the warnings were delivered in urgent post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr. Bush's national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now Ms. Rice's deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team, among others.

One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke, who was President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism coordinator, said in an interview that the warning about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence briefings that he led.

At the time of the briefings, there was extensive evidence tying Al Qaeda to the bombing in Yemen two months earlier of an American warship, the Cole, in which 17 sailors were killed.

"It was very explicit," Mr. Clarke said of the warning given to the Bush administration officials. "Rice was briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in." Mr. Clarke served as Mr. Bush's counterterrorism chief in the early months of the administration, but after Sept. 11 was given a more limited portfolio as the president's cyberterrorism adviser.

Now we know about Rice and Hadley, her deputy. But how about Zelikow? He's a former NSC official from the first Bush administration and a close associate of Rice's. The two of them even wrote a book together.

He was in the key meetings where the warnings -- seemingly ignored -- about al Qaida came up. He seems like someone you'd want to talk to to find out what they were warned about and why they didn't take the warnings more seriously.

Well, you don't have to look far to find him. He runs the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow is the Executive Director of the Commission, which means he has operational control of the investigation under the overall management of the two co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.

Now, Zelikow is no hack. He's an accomplished Republican foreign policy hand. But Condi Rice and what happened in the hand-off between the administrations is central to the whole 9/11 investigation enterprise.

Does it make sense to have the guy who's running the investigation be one of her close professional colleagues?

The 9/11 families didn't think so either.

Listen carefully to these passages from a new column in Newsweek by Eleanor Clift ...

Kerry knew this was coming. “Bring it on,” he said so often it became his battle cry. Well, now they’ve brought it on, and what is Kerry doing? He’s going on vacation in Idaho, leaving behind the festering story of his unholy bond with foreign leaders. “Before long they’ll be calling him Jacques Kerry,” says a Republican strategist. “It’s only a matter of time.”


The harsh tone of the attacks this early in the campaign indicates that Bush is willing to drive up his own negatives in order to raise doubts about Kerry. The good news for Kerry is that he fights better when he’s behind, and the way things are going, he’ll soon be behind.

A thought: if your opponent has $100 million to portray you as an effete snob, don't go on vacation to a fancy ski resort in Idaho.

Now read this email from a couple days ago from a very astute Democratic party insider in Washington ...

First, the ballgame will be won or lost in second quarter and early in second quarter. Right now Bush money is gaining him yardage, depicting Kerry as flip-flopper and weak on defense. That's the plan. Simple. Effective. Steamrolling. Fools like Maureen Dowd today echo and enable it in mainstream media, just as she did in 2000. Second, Kerry loses if he can't raise money to buy time to fight back in April. All pundits who say money doesn't matter are wrong, and enable Bush more. Money talks and early money screams. Third, Kerry needs Clinton fundraising and Gore fundraising base badly. Will Clinton really help? Seen any sign of it? Seen him rap Bush lately? Seen Hillary?

This is all true, the Clift passages every bit as much as the email just noted. As the emailer notes, and as we'll return to, this is a very challenging situation. I'm going to note some of the Kerry campaign's mistakes below. But other Democrats need to get off the sidelines too. Now.

(Put Richard Holbrooke, not campaign flacks -- much as I love them -- on every show that will book him. He wants to be Secretary of State. Make him work for it.)

Kerry is now being hit by a barrage of attacks <$Ad$>almost all of which, as I've tried to note here, are based on lies and distortions. They're being organized and planned by the president's partner Karl Rove, a man who has specialized for more than thirty years in vicious campaign tactics (remember McCain in South Carolina) and dirty tricks.

As John Dean notes in his soon to be released book Worse than Watergate -- about which we'll be saying more soon -- even during the Watergate investigation assistant Watergate special prosecutor Richard Davis -- who was tasked with investigating various dirty tricks operations -- was investigating Rove, quizzing Nixon's staffers about Rove's role in various dirty tricks operations.

But you know what? That's life.

Don't complain; fight.

The press is too lazy and insensible to be a watchdog for this sort of business.

Everybody knew who Kerry is going up against. As Clift notes, this is what Kerry told them to bring on. And they're bringing it on. Democrats gave Kerry this chance to take on the president -- whose reelect number is hovering in the low to mid-forties -- because they believed he would fight and that he was electable.

Kerry is a fighter. I saw it first hand during his 1996 senate race against Bill Weld. But Kerry will never successfully parry these hits by getting tangled and stuck in the molasses of the president's lies and distortions. Getting sidetracked into a discussion of legislative maneuvering isn't the answer to the president's attacks; it's precisely what they're trying to elicit.

The answer is simply to say they're lies (while having surrogates and staffers explain why) and then to go on the attack.

For instance, the Kerry campaign should never have let Bush get the upper hand on the issue of combat pay, health care, and getting things like body-armor to front line troops. One need only be a casual reader of the military press to know that the president is extremely vulnerable on these issues.

The Bush campaign against Kerry is already crystal clear: Kerry has no center, no core. That makes him a waffler and weak -- too weak to defend the country in perilous times. That's the whole campaign, the whole message.

The winning campaign against the president is equally clear. He doesn't tell the truth. Almost nothing he has told the American people has turned out to be true (from budgets to jobs, from wmds to his personal past). In many cases, that's because he's lied to them. In others, it's because he's promised things he had no reason to believe were true. In some instances, he just failed to deliver.

As you'll note from the Clift column, Republicans themselves know this is his central vulnerability.

Just as the president only tauntingly alludes to the attacks being mounted by his campaign surrogates, Kerry can't go around calling the president a liar in so many words. But the president's credibility and his ability to deliver on his promises should be the centerpiece of his campaign.

Indeed, the president's loss of <$Ad$>credibility should be central to Kerry's attack on his stewardship of the country's security.

We are accustomed to thinking about a president's and the country's 'credibility' abroad as a factor of his willingness to use force. Credibility is key because it is central to a president's ability to protect the country and advance its interests.

But what we are seeing right now is that the president has lost his credibility with the world. Whether foreign leaders want Bush to be reelected is, from a domestic political perspective, irrelevant. Indeed, it can easily backfire on a candidate who seeks to mobilize it against him.

The key is simply that the president has no credibility. He has lost the trust of the country's allies in part because he has repeatedly deceived them -- dealt with them falsely or simply lied to them. But to a critical degree neither do they fear him. This is what we're seeing as our few remaining allies in Iraq ramp back their deployments in the country (Spain, South Korea, possibly Poland) and abandon our foolishly shortsighted effort to advance our interests by dividing Europe.

Right-wingers in this country are casting this pattern as a cosmic moral drama of appeasement, with the faint of heart cowering before the grand struggle. In fact, the president is reduced to a mix of taunt and begging, pleading with other countries not to abandon him. What is a leader without followers? Not a leader.

The president's campaign ads have heavily pressed the point that when confronted with a threat, he takes action -- but with conspicuous inattention to what action he takes, or whether it makes any sense or diminishes the threat.

The message of these ads amounts to ...

Vote Bush: When Dangers Threaten, You Know He'll Go Berserk!

But again, the president has damaged the country's hard credibility by lying to our allies and isolating us from them. For half a century the United States has been the guardian of a prosperous and increasingly democratic world order. If our allies are really abandoning us and making 'separate peaces' with gangs of murderous religious fanatics what does that tell you about this president's leadership? His credibility abroad or even his ability to use hard power to advance the country's interests?

The president made the mess and he lacks the credibility, thus the strength, to clean it up.

Credibility is the thread that ties this whole election together.

Oops ... Compare these paragraphs from a late afternoon article in the Washington Post to the breathless and wildly over-the-top coverage yesterday on CNN (itals added)...

Several thousand Pakistani army troops have surrounded between 150 and 400 tribal fighters and foreign Islamic guerrillas, some of them associated with al Qaeda, as heavy fighting continued in a remote area near the border with Afghanistan, military officials said Friday.

The intensity of the resistance encountered in the rugged hills of South Waziristan has prompted speculation by some military commanders that the tribal fighters and their foreign allies may be protecting senior al Qaeda figures such as Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy.


Senior Pakistan officials said that the foreign fighters include Chechens, Uzbeks and some Arabs, but they said they had no specific evidence that either bin Laden or Zawahiri was in the area.

"Most recent intelligence inputs do not support the perception that either Osama or Ayman are holed up in that vicinity," said a senior military intelligence officer in Peshawar, the capital of the province in northwestern Pakistan that includes the semi-autonomous tribal area of South Waziristan.

"The idea is to send the strongest message yet to the al Qaeda supporters, but who knows? We may hit the jackpot in the process," the official added.

Who knows?<$Ad$>

Anything could happen.

We don't know he's not there! We could hit the jackpot.

Are we in the Hindu Kush or Vegas?

Everybody ran with this story a bit yesterday. But CNN reeeeaaaaaaalllly ran with it, almost certainly because the 'scoop' (or, what shall we call it, maybe the null scoop?) came in an interview CNN's Aaron Brown did with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

(Here's a good story from the LA Times about how all the nets are hurriedly prepositioning their foreign correspondents in Pakistan because they want to be able to go 24/7 when OBL finally gets grabbed.)

This headline in today's Daily Times, a Pakistani paper, sort of sums it up: "CNN ends up with 'much egg on its face'".

(Allow me a moment here to thoroughly relish South Asian English ... Okay, I'm good.)

What made me suspicious about this from the start was the fact that the announcement came right on the day Powell showed up in Islamabad. Helluva coincidence. I'm sure there was a great desire on the part of the Pakistanis to show how thorough a job they are doing hunting al Qaida in the tribal areas. And perhaps this story just got a bit out of control. (What I heard from a very trusted and knowledgable source also led me to believe that CNN was getting way out ahead of the story.)

Maybe he's there. Maybe they'll find him tomorrow. Could be. But for the moment at least I have to agree that CNN does seem to have much egg on its face.

People have been discussing for weeks <$NoAd$>what would be contained in the soon-to-be-released book by former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke (who served under Clinton and Bush).

CBS is rolling the book on 60 Minutes this Sunday night. And here's the press release they just put out ...

Former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke tells Lesley Stahl that on September 11, 2001 and the day after - when it was clear Al Qaeda had carried out the terrorist attacks - the Bush administration was considering bombing Iraq in retaliation. Clarke's exclusive interview will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday March 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Clarke was surprised that the attention of administration officials was turning toward Iraq when he expected the focus to be on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. "They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12," says Clarke.

The top counter-terrorism advisor, Clarke was briefing the highest government officials, including President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the aftermath of 9/11. "Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq....We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan," recounts Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the 9/11 attacks],'" he tells Stahl.

Clarke goes on to explain what he believes was the reason for the focus on Iraq. "I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection [between Iraq and Al Qaeda] but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there, saying, 'We've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection,'" says Clarke.

Clarke, who advised four presidents, reveals more about the current administration's reaction to terrorism in his new book, "Against All Enemies."

At least among people who've followed this story closely, these facts are broadly known, at least in their outlines. Of course, hearing the details from the guy in charge of counter-terrorism at NSC sort of bumps it up a notch. I'll be curious to hear from Clarke just how far along plans for a lunge against Iraq really got.