Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's some interesting follow-up on the bombings in Turkey from the Associated Press. According to suspect interrogations, al Qaida operatives initially tried to target US military installations but found them too hardened and heavily guarded.

Instead they turned to civilian targets.

Reports such as these stream through two inherently questionable sources: First, a suspect under questioning who may have any number of reasons for deceit. Second, a foreign intelligence service -- in this case the Turks -- which may have their own reasons for massaging the story.

However that may be, the suspect allegedly told interrogators that the attacks were approved by bin Laden on the condition that they not target Muslim Turks. And the attacks were apparently deemed a failure by high-level al Qaida leaders because it was mainly Muslim Turks who died.

That scruple about killing Muslims seems hard to reconcile with other al Qaida attacks in places like Saudi Arabia. So the report makes me wonder.

One thing I was struck by in my exchanges with Richard Perle at the Hudson Institute panel discussion on Monday was that this didn't seem like someone who had the confidence to discuss the issues at hand without resorting to risible caricatures of the opposing arguments. Having watched Perle's discussions of these issues over the last two years I have the sense that the intensity of the arguments has rather increased as their factual support has, shall we say, frayed.

In any case, to the business at hand.

In his opening remarks Perle noted that he had recently been on a radio program with Independent columnist Robert Fisk (he then made a throwaway line suggesting that Fisk and I were 'pals'). Fisk had said that he thought the capture of Saddam Hussein would strengthen the resistance movement by removing the taint of Saddam and thus allowing it to become a more broadly national or at least pan-Sunni enterprise.

Perle mocked what he took to be Fisk's desperate spin and said it was an example of trying to make the facts fit your ideology, rather than vice versa.

At this point I was sitting in my chair thinking, man, this guy's really the pot calling the kettle black, isn't he?

However that may be, today comes word that another whacked-out left-wing organization had come to a similar conclusion. Who? The US Army.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports that an intelligence report prepared for the US military in Iraq argued that "seizing Hussein could provoke more attacks by making the insurgency more acceptable to Sunni Muslims who were not members of Hussein's Baath Party elite."

Now, another thing occurs to me, which is that at least when he was Chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Perle had access to a pretty wide range of highly classified reports and information at the Pentagon. I assume that that privilege continues even as a mere member of the board.

Certainly, having theoretical access to various reports doesn't mean Perle has read them all. Perhaps the report is only circulating at the CPA in Baghdad, though the Inquirer story did quote two "senior administration officials" who had read it.

Hard to say. But it did make me wonder.

Now, I don't know if that Army report is on the mark or not. Juan Cole advances the theory that taking Saddam out of the picture may embolden the Shi'a. Both reasonings seems plausible enough. But plausibility and logic are poor guides when so many of the underlying facts remain obscure.

Friends, first, thank you very much for all the 'get well' emails. I am hoping to be able to do some posting tomorrow. But for the moment it's all water and chicken soup and sleep. So probably none today, save this one.

A couple weeks ago I agreed to sit on a panel about the future of neoconservatism. The date ended up being yesterday. And under normal circumstances I probably would have cancelled. But I figured it was important to go and have someone there representing the Roosevelt/Truman legacy in foreign policy. So I went.

My main antagonist on the panel was none other than Richard Perle, who ended up in person being about as gentlemanly and fair-minded as his view of foreign affairs and America's posture on the world stage would lead you to expect.

In any case, you can view the panel here on the CSPAN website.

This will be a shorter post than might be expected under the circumstances because I am, shall we say, reporting directly from the official TPM sickbed. Some sort of cold or flu, not sure which, but plenty nasty.

In any case, the big news of the day: the capture of Saddam.

Clearly, this is very big news and very good news on all sorts of levels. In the United States we've long become accustomed to treating Saddam as a symbol, a shorthand involved in all sorts of political arguments in our country.

But on a day like this it's worth stepping back and remembering that this was a man who took what is probably the most educated, cultured, and close to the most wealthy country in the Arab middle east and ground it down almost into dust over more than thirty years of rule (Saddam was the de facto ruler of the country prior to becoming the official head of state.) He tortured and killed untold numbers of his own people and launched two unnecessary and, for his own country, disastrous wars.

(Here's some interesting and surreal material from Saddam's initial interrogation.)

Yet, looking forward from today, there is one fundamental question: was Saddam Hussein central to the guerilla war or resistance fighting in Iraq? Either operationally or as a symbol (the person they were trying to put back in power)?

I've never thought either was true. And if it's not, then his capture should not fundamentally change the situation on the ground in the country.

From the beginning, I think, we've explained to ourselves that the reason the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq hasn't gone according to plan is that the resistance is being run by Saddam or his people or that the Iraqis won't get down to work on rebuilding their country until they're sure Saddam isn't coming back, until the veil of fear is lifted, etc.

In other words, they're not acting like they're liberated because, in a sense, their liberation is not complete.

This after all was the reason for making such a show of the deaths of Saddam's sons -- as a symbol that any sort of dynastic hand-off would be impossible.

That, again, was the idea. But I don't think we've seen any real evidence that it's true.

There's no question most Iraqis hate Saddam. But since the invasion I think Saddam has been mainly a thing of the past. The problems we face on the ground in Iraq are ones of the present.

Along those lines, in this article out this afternoon, Fareed Zakaria argues that Saddam's capture may be part of a more widespread cooperation on the part of Iraqis with US troops, which is garnering more and better intelligence for US forces. That seems plausible. And if better intelligence can be matched up with -- and this remains the heart of the matter -- a better political strategy on the ground in Iraq and internationally, then there may be hope of a good outcome.

Okay, this may call for what, back in the old days, we used to call reporting.

Yesterday, President Bush said that if Halliburton's overcharged then they've gotta pay up.

"I appreciate the Pentagon looking out after the taxpayers' money," the president said. "They put the issue right out there on the table for everybody to see, and they're doing good work. We're going to watch, we're going to make sure that as we spend the money in Iraq that it's spent well and spent wisely. And their investigation will lay the facts out for everybody to see."

Yet, just a week earlier, acting on the president's orders, the Deputy Secretary of Defense signed a directive which hamstrung precisely the sort of internal audits of the funds Congress just approved for work in Iraq -- just the sort of crackerjack oversight the president says he loves.

Earth to daily newspaper reporters: these two things don't match up.

Don't be scared off. This one doesn't even require any serious investigtive reporting. Just get a hold of the December 3rd memo Paul Wolfowitz wrote, which set up the IG's office that Congress authorized to oversee the money to be disbursed under the 2004 Emergency Supplemental.

C'mon, you can do it! I believe in you!

Department of the ugly <$NoAd$>truth ...

If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of ... I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.

George W. Bush on the Plame Investigation
University of Chicago
September 30, 2003

And then more recently...

We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one (i.e. the Plame investigation).

"Senior White House official"
Financial Times
December 5th, 2003

If you slap the press around enough and keep your people's mouths shut you usually get what you want.

Usually ...

There are a bunch of right-wingers out there thumping their chests about how we're right to stick it to the Europeans and make them pay a price for not supporting us -- as though the issue here were justice for French multi-nationals ("Free Le Such-n-Such!").

Guys, they don't need our contracts.

The issue isn't that this policy is unfair but that it's stupid. As those notorious Francophiles Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan put in a column in the Standard yesterday, this policy is "stupid, and should be abandoned."

Some folks seem to be under the misimpression that there's some clever bargaining going on here. There's not.

Think about it. The whole pot is about $20 billion. Let's imagine the French and the Germans both got fabulously lucky and their companies managed to land contracts for a billion a piece. Does anyone think that Germany or France are going to write off billions of dollars in Iraqi loans or invite a backlash from their anti-Iraq war publics by sending in some troops all for the privilege of having the French or German versions of Halliburton or Bechtel make a few million dollars?

Of course, not.

The heart of the matter here is that for some folks there's a certain failure to appreciate the situation we're in.

Think back to your grade school science class.

We're like the Saber-toothed Tiger sinking into the tar pit. And over on dry land are a few giraffes munching away on some leaves. And we're taunting them with what terms we're going to give them to buy into the good thing we've got going on.

Yes, an over-dramatic metaphor. But you get the idea.

What a surprise ...

When Congress voted the $87 billion for military expenditures and reconstruction in Iraq they were keen to create an office of Inspector General at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to watch out for all manner of waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging and various other shenanigans.

Now it seems that Paul Wolfowitz has gutted that provision.

According to Inside the Pentagon, a weekly newsletter, "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz last week directed a newly formed inspector general's office in Iraq not to request sensitive information about Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) activities related to intelligence or operational plans."

The report goes on to quote Wolfowitz's order ...

In his statement, upon approving the act, the president directed that, in exercising these authorities and responsibilities, the IG/CPA shall refrain from initiating, carrying out, or completing an audit or investigation, or from issuing a subpoena, which requires access to sensitive operation plans, intelligence matters, counterintelligence matters, ongoing criminal investigations by other administration units of the [Defense Department] related to national security, or other matters the disclosure of which would constitute a serious threat to national security.

In plain English, that sounds a lot like the IG should refrain from doing anything.

On the surface, you can see why you wouldn't want green-eye-shade types rustling through sensitive intelligence and war-fighting information willy-nilly.

But common sense also tells you that all the other IGs at the Pentagon must have to work with classified information all the time. So certainly they've worked out some way of dealing with these issues. And as the article goes to say, they have.

"In the Defense Department," says Inside the Pentagon, "auditors with appropriate clearances have access to all internal information deemed necessary to carry out their duties."

But under the new rules IGs can only make the kinds of requests noted above "if so directed by the defense secretary."

That makes the new CPA IG sound a tad less than fully independent, doesn't it?

Again, according to the article, the highly restrictive rules Wolfowitz has set forth for the CPA Inspector General are different from those which apply to all the rest of the Pentagon.

Don't you feel better now?

A few people have suggested that the whole brouhaha over the contracts is largely symbolic since even countries that are barred from bidding on the top-tier contracts can bid on the subcontracts. So, in other words, everyone gets a piece of the action and everyone is happy.

That's not what I hear.

The big contracts are where the real money is -- or, more specifically, where you get the comfortable margins and the insulation from risk. Down the food chain, the competition is stiffer, the margins are leaner and the risks are greater -- sort of like in old fashioned capitalism.

This operation really runs like a well-oiled machine, doesn't it.

Almost half of the 700 members of the first battalion of the new Iraqi army to undergo training have, in the Pentagon's words, 'resigned.'

(Reports last night said close to a third had bailed. But it seems like they're just putting a different spin on the same number: roughly 300 out of 700.)

I thought that when enlisted men hit the road without permission that's called desertion, not resignation. But who knows?