Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

Another stumble? Do not miss this new post up on Ryan Lizza's campaign blog over at The New Republic website. Ryan previews the new ad the president is rolling out this evening, one that warns about John Kerry's plan to "Weaken [the] Fight Against Terrorists" and features a helpfully ominous image of a swarthy-looking (pretty obviously Arab- or Arab-American-looking) man to drive home the point.

How soon we forget<$NoAd$> ...

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), said Kerry should apologize for a comment "outside the bounds of where people who want to hold the highest office in this country should be making."

Washington Post
March 11th, 2004

Bush, standing on a stage outside of Naperville North High School, pointed reporter Adam Clymer out to his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Then Bush described Clymer using a common obscenity.

"There's Adam Clymer, major-league assh--e from the New York Times," Bush said.

"Oh, yeah, he is, big-time," Cheney responded.

Houston Chronicle
September 5th, 2000

A major-league Santorum ...

As of 2:55 PM CNN is running this breaking <$Ad$>headline: "Spanish interior minister says new line of Madrid blast investigation opened after police find van with detonators and Arabic-language tapes. Details soon."

Frankly, this makes a lot of sense. I don't know much more about the Basque separatist movement than one can glean over the years from the American press. But I have no recollection of the ETA mounting an operation which came even remotely close to accounting for this amount of loss of life and casualties.

My recollection is of bombings and other forms of terrorism on the scale of the old IRA. Horrific, certainly, but significantly different from September 11th sort of stuff.

And the multiple, simultaneous detonations is a hallmark of al Qaida, or Islamist groups operating under that broad umbrella.

All other campaign funny-business aside <$NoAd$> (on both sides of the aisle), there's been a pretty high bar in place on using congressional websites for explict political campaign uses and electioneering.

Along those lines, almost all the space on the House Committee on Resources website today is devoted to fronting these two grafs ....

Headline: "That black stuff is hurting us." Sen. John Kerry on oil (Greenwire)

Washington, DC - Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry is quoted in today’s edition of Greenwire as saying, “that black stuff is hurting us,” with regard to oil. Members of the House Committee on Resources found the Senator’s comment absurd.

“John Kerry is dead wrong,” Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) said. “Oil doesn’t hurt Americans; John Kerry’s anti-energy policies hurt Americans. In fact, this is exactly the kind of rhetoric and bad policy that has led to the outsourcing of good American energy jobs. Last year alone, the United States outsourced more than $100 billion worth of American jobs, economic growth, and national security to foreign countries for our energy needs. Americans are left with a supply and demand imbalance that creates higher prices at the pump and longer waits on the unemployment line."

Read More

This is a taxpayer-funded website -- one for a House committee. This seems hands-down inappropriate, if not a breach of House rules.

The "read more" link is to this page, which contains straight-up GOP anti-Kerry bullet points. Perfectly legit as campaign material; but stuff that obviously has no place on this site.

For those of you interested in this weird mystery of the 'mercernary' plane in Zimbabwe, here's a good article from a South African newspaper, The Star, on what we know, what we still don't know, and how much of this remains unsubstantiated speculation.

One thing that does now seem clear is that the South African government is supporting the idea that this plane's mission was tied to an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

This article suggests that the South African government gave a crucial tip-off to the EG government which helped foil the effort.