Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The results of a very interesting poll (co-sponsored by ABC, the German broadcasting network ARD, the BBC and Japan's NHK) are available at the ABC News website and are really well worth reading. It's a broad survey of Iraqi public opinion one year after the war.

The results (and this is a case where you really want to dig into the details and specifics, not just the headlines) contain findings that will challenge both supporters and opponents of the war.

One detail, which is not surprising really, but still notable, is the stark divergence of views held by the three different ethno-regional groupings.

For instance, 48% of Iraqis say the US was right to invade, versus 39% who say it was wrong. But the breakdown shows that 40% of Arab Iraqis say it was right while 87% of Iraqi Kurds say it was the right thing to do.

There's a similar disparity on the related question of whether Iraq was 'liberated rather than humiliated.' A third of Iraqi Arabs say yes, while 82% of Kurds answered in the affirmative.

Again, not surprising given the history involved, but it's interesting to see in concrete form nonetheless. Many other interesting details are included.

A new CBS/NYT poll. This one with Bush over Kerry 46% to 43%. Other recent soundings include a American Research Group poll (March 9-11) of registered voters, Kerry over Bush 50% to 43%, and a Investor's Business Daily poll (March 8-11) also of registered voters, with Bush over Kerry 46% to 43%.

I’ve been reading emails and articles on the Spanish elections and attacks this morning. And one thing that seems worth keeping in mind for those across the political spectrum in this country is how hard it is for us to make sense of the particulars of just what happened yesterday in Spain.

But general points --- especially ones which are as much about our politics as Spain’s or even Europe’s generally --- seem worthy of discussion.

I notice that on his site yesterday evening Andrew Sullivan portrays the Spanish election results as a straight-up win for bin Laden. He also argues that you cannot on the one hand say that this is al Qaida payback against Spain for supporting the Iraq war and then also argue that the Iraq war itself was irrelevant to the war on terror. If it's irrelevant to the war on terror (i.e., the war against al qaida), Andrew argues, why are the terrorists retaliating?

There is a certain logic to this argument. But I think it's a superficial one --- indeed an incorrect one.

Certainly, I think we have to entertain the possibility that --- to the extent that nations make collective judgments --- the Spanish see the US as caught in a fight with militant Islam and they just want to get out of the way.

But on the whole question of the relationship between terrorism and the Iraq war there’s a very different way to see this from the one Sullivan is proposing.

Just because you’ve inflamed or emboldened your enemies doesn’t mean you’ve used the most effective means of attacking them. Indeed, quite the opposite can be true.

For instance, consider this thought experiment. What if the US, Britain and Spain had attacked and occupied Egypt or Jordan? Do you suppose that Islamic radicals wouldn’t strike at the sponsors of that war much as they seem to have last week?

I suspect there’d be little if any difference.

The point I think is clear. Contrary to what Andrew says, in this case, you can have it both ways. This may be retaliation for Spanish support of the Iraq war without that meaning that hitting Iraq had anything to do with fighting terror in the way Andrew suggests.

Let’s fall back for a moment and think about what this whole fight is about. Al Qaida (and militant Islam generally) sees itself as the inheritor of a world-historical religious movement which, according to their view of cosmology and eschatology, is supposed to be at the vanguard of history. In the orthodox Muslim view of history, the ‘lands of Islam’ expand but they never recede. The Islamic world should be the most powerful, the most advanced by various measures, probably the wealthiest. Viewed from that perspective almost everything about the contemporary world is turned upside down, almost a blasphemy in itself. The US, from their perspective both a secular and a Christian power, is the dominant power even in the heartlands of Islam. Add to this that our secularism is another level of blasphemy. From the perspective of revanchist, militant Islam, almost everything about today’s world is nearly the opposite of what they believe their religion says it should be. (Thus, they're somewhat aggravated.)

So the whole point of this endeavor is to sweep us out of the heartlands of Islam, put Islam back on the march on its frontiers and purify the religion itself within the Abode of Islam, as they call it.

From that point the whole program becomes more muddled and inchoate, but whether they want to reestablish the caliphate within the existing lands of Islam or take over the whole world or whatever doesn’t really matter for our present purposes.

The key point is that it’s not hard to see how invading and occupying part of the heartland of Islam is going to rile them up a bit since it brings into sharper relief their whole worldview of a cataclysmic struggle between the West and Islam. (In itself that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. But even if we supposed there would be positive effects, we'd have to realize that there would be at least short-term negative ones as well.) Whether they use our presence there cynically (as yet another rallying cry to bring followers to their side) or whether it just confirms them in their view of the reality of the situation is also not all that relevant for our present purposes.

We know for instance that over the last several years al Qaida has spoken more and more about Palestine --- an issue with which it didn’t originally seem to have that much interest. And they started to do the same with Iraq just as the US increasingly turned its attention to the country. But again, that doesn’t really prove anything more than al Qaida’s opportunism or their addled worldview, take your pick.

Many of us are familiar with early- and mid-20th century Communists or modern-day LaRouchies who will glom onto almost any movement or issue under the sun in order to use it as a vehicle to advance their own interests and enhance their own power. I don’t think there’s that much difference in this case.

In just such fashion, in the middle decades of the 20th century, Communists sought to infiltrate the American Civil Rights movement --- repeatedly and, by and large, remarkably unsuccessfully. The analogy is imperfect certainly. But the parallels are telling. The point wasn’t that the Civil Rights movement was Communist, but that Communists were trying to use the movement for its own purposes. Attacking the Civil Rights movement as part of attacking Communism wouldn’t have damaged Communism but rather strengthened it since doing so would have tended to push those committed to Civil Rights into the Communists’ arms. Indeed, this was precisely the idea.

Of course, there were those who had their own reasons for attacking both the Communists and the Civil Rights Movement. For them, this equation the Communists were trying to create between Communism and Civil Rights wasn’t a distraction but rather a convenience. And those folks most definitely have their modern-day equivalents among us now as well, though we can focus on that point at a later time.

In any case, just because al Qaida has adopted the Iraq cause as their own doesn’t mean we’ve damaged al Qaida by taking down the Baathist regime --- especially by doing it so incompetently. Just as likely --- in fact far more likely --- is that we’ve just handed them a useful recruiting tool while distracting ourselves from pursuing more effective means of extirpating them.

More deliberate deception from the Vice President of the United States -- something that has become terribly familiar.

The latest example comes from an article today in The New York Times, which quotes the Vice President, at a recent political event, saying that John Kerry has "embraced the strategy of the 1990's, which holds that when we are attacked, we ought to round up those directly responsible, put them on trial, and then call it a day."

He then said that was insufficient because "it leaves the network behind the attacks virtually untouched."

There are so many layers of misinformation here that it's difficult to know where to start. But it probably makes most sense to note that this even misstates his administration's position as even the administration's theorists or idea men themselves understand and articulate it.

The debate is not whether you leave terrorist networks intact. That's the baseline -- rooting out the networks. The real question -- the one on which there may be said to be a true debate -- is whether the terrorist networks are truly independent actors or whether they cannot subsist without states backing them, whether they are in fact the pawns of states.

The Bush approach has been fundamentally the latter one -- a belief in the continuing centrality of states as the actors in international affairs. Thus, the focus on taking down states as a means of combatting al Qaida. The contrary approach is one that actually focuses much more on the terrorist networks.

Cheney has doubly misstated the facts of the matter.

Let me very strongly recommend you go visit gadflyer.com, which is having its official roll-up today. Gadflyer is a mix of Internet magazine and blog, all with a progressive and aggressive bent. Some of the names of the folks involved you'll recognize as writers for progressive publications and others you'll remember as guest-posters on other blogs. In any case, definitely stop by the site and check them out. Their entry into the mix is an exciting and much-needed development. Do go take a look.

I should preface this post by saying that I have only a loose knowledge of Spain's internal politics. But judging by English language press reports in this country and abroad, one can glean some basic outlines about the stunning finish of today's election in the country.

We've long known that Spanish Prime Minister Aznar's support for the Iraq war masked the war's profound unpopularity within Spain. But a good economy and time had pushed Iraq from the political front-burner. And thus Aznar's Popular Party seemed on track for a clear, if not overwhelming victory.

The Madrid attacks pushed Iraq back to the forefront, thus crystallizing opposition to the government. And that opposition was mightily intensified by an apparently widespread and growing belief (also seemingly an accurate one) that the government had deliberately withheld or obscured information about who was behind the attacks so as to avoid the backlash which eventually occurred. Namely, they fixed on blaming ETA -- the Basque separatist group -- despite increasing evidence pointing toward some sort of al Qaida connection.

That seems to be a rough consensus analysis, though it must be extraordinarily difficult to make sense of the volatility of public opinion reacting so rapidly to such a traumatic event.

A couple points suggest themselves.

One of them -- discussed in this article in the Post -- is just how little Spanish or other Western intelligence services seem to have known about this. There was no chatter, no hints. The entire operation seems to have slipped through entirely unnoticed by anyone. That suggests the possibility that we're really flying blind on the actual terrorist threat, or at least that it's quite possible for al Qaida or affiliated groups to launch a major attack without our even getting hints that it's going to occur, let alone being able to stop it.

Another point touches on the assumptions that many seem to bring to this whole event.

Just after the bombings there was a rush of commentary and news coverage to the effect that this was Spain's (and Europe's) 9/11 and that, confronted with the reality of what we're up against, they'd get religion, shall we say, on the war on terror. And in this case the war on terror could be loosely read as the Iraq War.

Now, clearly, that doesn't seem to have happened in Spain. But the issue here isn't simply one of predictive accuracy. The whole line of thinking is based on flawed assumptions and, to a degree, on crediting the administration's spin about why our policies have been so unpopular in Europe.

America and Europe never saw eye-to-eye on how to take down the network of terror cells and associated Islamist terror groups we know as al Qaida. But the disagreements have been greatly overstated. The heart of the matter, the rub, has always been about whether the 'war on terror' in any way included or was in any respect advanced by overthrowing the government of Iraq.

(To frame the matter ungenerously but with real precision, the question came down to whether you fight back against the terrorists by striking back at the terrorists or at someone else.)

Whatever else they thought of the Iraq war, very few people in Europe saw any real logic to the (terror war = Iraq war) equation. Some supported the Iraq war for other reasons. But few saw the two connected as the Bush administration tried to present them. And not a few saw the Iraq adventure as positively counterproductive to stemming the tide of Islamist terror.

Whoever you think is right or wrong in this, that is the nature of the rift over the 'war on terror'.

Now, if that's the war as you see it, that Iraq war was either irrelevant to fighting terror or would itself produce more terorrism, then the apparent response of the Spaniards doesn't seem at all difficult to fathom. Nor is it reducible to facile claims of appeasements.

We'll be reading these tea-leaves for some time to come.

The Kerry campaign went up with an ad today in response to the president's new round of negative ads. The Kerry one took aim at the president's claims about the economy.

But Kerry really needs to hit back on defense too. Now.

I don't think that there's been a White House this off-balance in the last decade or two. That doesn't mean the president is going to lose the election. And it doesn't mean he's going to stay off-balance. But that's all the more reason for Kerry to move on the defense issue now.

The president has all the look of a prize-fighter who's in a daze after taking a few hits to the head and is struggling to get to the end of the round to steady himself.

Just consider the run of missteps.

I don't know anyone who thinks the president's first round of ads wasn't a goof. The new Mohammed Horton ads look likely to be the same. Then just yesterday the president had to cancel plans to announce his new 'jobs czar' (a new assistant secretary of Commerce with a brief to deal with off-shoring of American jobs) when it emerged that he was available for the gig because he'd done such a good job himself sending a whole slew of jobs to China.


In a sense, the problem is just one of appearances, just political. His ability to do the job -- whatever it was actually supposed to be -- wouldn't be affected by whatever he'd done previously. But then the whole 'jobs czar' stunt itself was political. So same difference. It was an immensely clumsy goof -- one for which, I assure you, someone at the White Huose got a monumental chewing out.

I speculated in my Hill column on Thursday about why the White House has had this run of stumbles. (My argument is that we're seeing how out of touch the White House is with how much its credibility has atrophied over the last eight months.) But that they've had them is really beyond dispute.

That's why it's time for Kerry to engage on the defense and national security issue. Since that's really what this election will come down to.

The president cannot win this election on the economy. Barring a rapid change of circumstances over the next three months the data and people's experience of the economy is as best too muddled for the president to run on it successfully.

But he can win on national security. And that's the reason Kerry should engage him on this issue now -- at a moment when the White House seems to be having great difficulty reacting to quickly changing events and shaping the direction of the campaign debate. This is the one issue on which Kerry cannot allow himself to be pigeonholed or adversely defined.

Does this take the debate onto more friendly territory for the president? Perhaps. But the shift will come eventually. And it's difficult to imagine a more propitious moment.

You know something's amiss when a campaign rolls out positive ads one week and then hurries out negative and cutting ones just a week later.

In any case, the new Bush ads out today say John Kerry "wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved."


When was that?

What the right wanteth, the right geteth. Or maybe not.

I should probably come up with a more elegant way to put it. But things just seem to have gotten pretty weird at the Senate Judiciary Committee this evening.

All the Democrats and two, three or perhaps even more of the Republicans on the committee favored asking the Justice Department to appoint a prosecutor or perhaps even a special counsel to investigate the case of the pilfered Democratic staff memos.

Several different iterations of a possible letter were moving along and being edited and so forth, all trying to come up with a document that all or most members of the committee could sign. But then things just seemed to break down, though I'm not completely clear why.

Senator Hatch, the committee chairman, with five Republicans present, called the committee to order while the Democrats were off caucusing. He then announced that no agreement would be possible and gaveled the session to a close. And that was it.

It all seems to have happened before the Dems even realized what was going on.

Hatch then told Bill Pickle, the sergeant-at-arms, to do what he thought was best -- as far as whether to refer the matter to DOJ.

This, of course, puts Pickle in an impossible position since he's not supposed to be a partisan and this issue was so contentious and charged that even the senators themselves could not agree amongst themselves what to do.

In any case, after all this brouhaha went down, six senators -- three Dems and three Republicans -- got together and agreed on a letter that was similar to the letter earlier agreed upon by all the Dems and at least two of the Republicans. (Follow that? Good.)

We've just posted the letter that was sent.

This Reuters article, which describes what happened, says that "six senators signed a similar though more softly worded request."

But reading it, it's actually difficult for me to see just how much more strongly it could have been written. As you can see, the letter asks Justice to investigate, suggests a special counsel should be appointed, and even suggests that Patrick Fitzgerald -- the guy now heading up the Plame investigation -- would be a good candidate for the job.

I don't see quite how much more you could ask for.

In any case, one more point to note: the three Republicans who signed are Lindsay Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Mike DeWine.

DeWine's definitely a moderate. But you can't really say the same for the other two -- at least not in conventional ideological terms. In fact, it's pretty difficult to find any rationale for their signing this letter other than their belief that it was the right thing to do -- which says a lot for both of them.

I think the Dems have right on their side too certainly. But in their case right coincides with interest. And that always makes it easier.

The 'moderate' former prosecutor Arlen Specter seems to have decided to take a breather on this one.

Fresh from the department of says-it-all. "The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan."

That's the lede from this article out tonight from Knight-Ridder.

Sound like a familiar MO?

Think about it.