Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

What's going on here exactly?

Thomas Kean, former Governor of New Jersey, and Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, is threatening to subpoena the White House for 9/11-related documents it's apparently refusing the turn over. This according to an article in Sunday's Times.

The documents in question are apparently Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) President Bush received in the days leading up to 9/11. Kean says the White House is "quite nervous" about the contents of the documents becoming publicly known. But he wants them anyway.

(To the best of my knowledge, there is no reason to think that Commission would make such documents public, at least not in their entirety. They just want to see them and make their own judgments about what's there.)

Meanwhile, Commission member and former Senator Max Cleland says the White House is trying to run out the clock on the Commission. And, he says, he can understand why they're stalling. "As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before Sept. 11 than it has ever admitted," he told the Times.

Now, in addition to, I suspect, being right, Cleland was also the victim of a vicious campaign offensive directed by the White House last year (the Vietnam-era triple-amputee was faulted for lacking patriotism). Because of that, it's only fair to say that you can see why he might take such an aggressive approach toward the White House.

Mind you, I'm not saying Cleland's wrong. I suspect he's right. My point is only that his well-justified bitterness at the White House can and will be portrayed by partisans as the source of his damning statements.

The same simply cannot be said about Kean, who has no partisan interest whatsoever in making trouble for the White House.

You can see why they wanted Henry Kissinger ...

Now it's the Washington Post's fault ...

Yesterday we gave Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, another citation for great moments in water-carrying.

Looking at the unfolding pre-war intel debacle, Roberts put all the blame on the CIA, telling the Post that "the executive was ill-served by the intelligence community."

Now he says the Post "mischaracterized" his statement. This from Knight Ridder ...

Roberts issued a statement late Friday, saying the Post article had "mischaracterized" his statements. "The committee has not finished its review of the intelligence and has not reached any final conclusions or finished a report," Roberts said.

A Roberts aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the senator's remarks to the Post weren't meant to be a broad critique of the CIA, but were instead aimed at specific instances of flawed intelligence work, such as the now-debunked claims about Niger sales of uranium to Iraq.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave ...

Let’s call it the overt response and the covert response.

As we noted on Friday, there’s a pretty clear effort afoot to pin the whole intel debacle on the CIA. According to this new storyline, the White House didn’t deceive the country. They were themselves led down the garden path by the CIA.

(The next TPM Featured Book is going to be The Day I Woke Up as a Character in a Kafka Novel by George Tenet with Joseph Persico. But the pub date is still a few years off. So I may have to wait to post.)

In the Times on Saturday you have what you might call the official unofficial response from the Agency, a testy push-back from “four senior intelligence officials."

Here are the two key grafs …

The senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they outlined findings from a 405-page review being conducted by the National Intelligence Council, said David Kay, the American heading the search for illicit weapons in Iraq, would ultimately determine if the C.I.A. had been right.

"We don't think what we did was deficient, we don't think it was sloppy, and we're waiting to see what David finds to see whether we got it right," a senior official said. In an interim report this month, Mr. Kay said his team had not yet found any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq. The search is to be completed sometime next year.

In other words, these guys are living in fantasy land.

Nothing’s wrong. It's not that we share blame for the problems: there were no problems. Everything we said was right. David Kay is going to find the weapons. And then everything will be cool.

Up-is-downism would appear to be a pretty catchy malady.

Rather than living in fantasy land, it’s probably better to say that their positions and their complicity in the mess compel them to act as though they’re living in fantasy land.

What everyone is waiting for now is the other shoe to drop, the slow seep of leaks coming out of the Agency, and from the cadre of ex-CIA types who still have channels back in. In their own way, many of these folks are as embittered at Tenet as they are with the White House.

(Hersh's piece in The New Yorker is a preview.)

And even with Tenet, the picture isn’t so clear. Remember what happened the last time he ‘fell on his sword’ for the White House?

More on this later…

Something I came across ...

“[His] principal issue was the war. The issue of the war was not like other issues. To a significant part of the electorate, the war was a passion, and opposing it had become something like a way of life. It had defined the politics of a generation. And now the war had been going on so long that to passion was added memory. To [this] generation, it was not only a candidate’s current position on the war that counted but his position on the war at every moment in the war’s long history. To them, a man’s record on the war was an index to his character, and [his] opposition had been strong and consistent from an early date.”

page 214
Jonathan Schell
The Time of Illusion
Published 1975

Just food for thought.

I've been getting tons of emails over the transom this evening about the arrest of Abdurahman M. Alamoudi on various charges of illegal financial transactions tied to terrorist organizations and his ties to Grover Norquist.

Norquist, of course, is the capo di tutti capi of Republican insiders, and a close friend and advisor to the president and Karl Rove.

I don't have any unique insight into this particular relationship.

But if you want to know more, a good place to start is the excellent piece Frank Foer wrote on the subject back in November 2001: "Grover Norquist's Strange Alliance with Radical Islam."

Unfortunately, I think the piece is on the TNR site for subscribers only. But it may be worth paying a few bucks to read.

Now, I do know a bit about the "Free Markets and Democracy" conference that Norquist put on in Doha, Qatar back in the spring of 2001.

Norquist brought a dozen congressmen over and at least one of them had a sit down with the then-Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Taliban grandee Ahmad Muttawakil. When I talked to him in August of last year, Norquist told me that he himself didn't meet with Muttawakil. The congressman who did meet with him was Dana Rohrabacher.

My sense has always been that Norquist got into the Islam business back in the late 1990s when it looked like a growth industry for the Republican coalition.

He had a lot of ideas about Muslims being natural cultural conservatives and free marketeers, and so forth. This three-cheers for Muslim capitalism! conference in Doha is a prime example.

His 'Islamic Institute' is run out the offices of his main operation, 'Americans for Tax Reform.' (I just checked the website and apparently it's now 'The Islamic Free Market Institute.' So, you know, Mohamed von Hayek.)

In any case, after 9/11 came along he probably realized that he might have gotten tied up with at least a few questionable characters. But he was too proud to admit he'd been naive and then just dug himself deeper.

That's always been my sense. But when people start getting arrested, maybe it's time to give the whole thing a closer look.

What's wrong with this <$NoAd$>picture?

Here's the Washington Post's headline about the Madrid Donors' Conference ...

Iraq Donations Fall Short: Many Pledges in the Form of Loans, Debt Relief, Not Grants

Here's the headline in Reuters ...

Donors Promise Iraq $33 Billion, Smashing Expectations

And, yes, in case you're wondering, they're talking about the same conference.

It's pretty hard to figure out from the articles just what was pledged whether in loans or grants or anything else. But one key sign seems to be that the biggest donors turn out to be the IMF and the World Bank.

The Washington Post says most of the aid pledges coming out of the Madrid Conference are in the form of loans rather than grants. Other pledges appear to be debt forgiveness for past loans which were likely uncollectable.

Meanwhile, most of the $1.5 billion pledge from Kuwait seems actually to be money the Kuwaitis say they've already given to the Iraqis.

I think we're going to have to wait at least a few days to figure out just what was put on the table and what was not.

My God, this is such a joke.

We’re really in Moscow show trial territory here.

You’ve probably seen these stories which report that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is set to issue a blistering report on the CIA’s (and the broader intelligence community’s) pre-war Iraq intelligence. It was hastily prepared, the report will say. Much of the evidence was thin and circumstantial. And even much of that was single-sourced, and often to unreliable sources.

“The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), the lockstep Committee Chairman told the Washington Post.

(Roberts is one of the White House’s greatest assets in this whole mess, since he will literally do or say anything to keep the White House in the clear.)

Now, by and large, the bill of particulars above is a fair characterization of the National Intelligence Estimate which was assembled in the fall of 2002. And George Tenet deserves all sorts of criticism for his role in all this.

But this isn’t the criticism he should be getting.

What he’s guilty of isn’t ill-serving the White House but allowing the White House to stack the intel deck in favor of alarmist reports about Iraq.

As I say, we’ll be saying much more about the details of this. But let’s start with the essential observation. Why was the NIE so rushed?

An NIE is a systematic evaluation of all the Intelligence Community knows about a given subject. And it’s put together to help the government frame a policy to address a given problem or challenge.

But as the articles in the Washington Post today note (if rather obliquely), that’s not what happened here.

This NIE was done after the White House had already chosen its policy. And it wasn’t even the White House that called for it, but rather Senate Democrats who were miffed that the administration had never requested an NIE.

In fact, the White House specifically resisted requesting an NIE because it didn’t want the findings getting in the way of its policy.

So Roberts' claim that the White House was “ill-served” fails on chronology and simple logic. The NIE could not have failed the White House, because the White House didn’t use it. Simple as that.

(The point of this NIE was not to frame policy but to sway votes in the Senate. And on that count, if one wanted to be cheeky, one would say the administration was served rather well.)

And why was the NIE so rushed? Because it was a double-quick affair rushed into print at the last minute to get Senate Democrats to vote for the Iraq resolution.

The NIE was done after the White House was already on the record with a policy. So the White House’s views on what it wanted the NIE to say were, shall we say, rather clear. And this whole project came after 18 months in which the administration was mau-mauing the CIA to come up with more alarmist reports about Iraq.

George Tenet deserves censure for allowing himself to become complicit in the politicization and manipulation of intelligence on an almost unprecedented scale. Other top officials at the Agency do as well. (And there are certainly many other issues on which the Agency itself deserves to be taken to task.)

But this fish is rotting from the head down. And the head’s not George Tenet. It’s a many-headed monster. And they’re all at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the OSD.

This is up-is-downism of the worst and most transparent sort.

Who will say so? Who will go along with it? Who will say, 'Enough. No more!'

Some good news out of the donors' conference in Madrid.

The BBC says the conference is finishing up with pledges of between $18 and $20 billion. A good bit of that seems to be in form of low-interest loans. And I'm not certain just how that fits into the equation.

Most reports note that this remains well short of the $36 billion the US was looking for. But I don't think anybody thought that was even remotely possible.

I remain curious about the spread of loans and grants.

This is the passage <$NoAd$>that caught my eye in the analysis of the new Democracy Corps poll. It's from Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Bob Shrum, though I hear Greenberg's voice the most ...

The country still wants to continue the Bush direction on the war on terrorism. (64 to the 32 percent who want significant change). While the country is looking for change and increasingly, new leadership, it is not seeking an anti-war President. Large majorities of the country think it was right to remove Saddam Hussein. The war on terrorism continues and the Democratic Presidential candidates will surely advocate carrying it forward in effective and credible ways.

But the public is in a very different mood with respect to Iraq and with respect to our relations with our allies and countries around the world. Just 48 percent believe the war was worth the cost, while 46 percent now say it was not. Support for the war has dropped in every poll, including this one, since May. While 49 percent say they want to continue Bush’s direction on Iraq, 47 percent say they want to go in a significantly different direction.

On foreign policy, more voters now say they want to go in a significantly different direction than continue with Bush (47 to 45 percent). People understand the instability and the cost of a unilateralist foreign policy, borne in the front line by the troops and paid here at home with reduced funding for essential programs. Bush continues to lose people’s confidence in this critical area.

When it comes to the 87 billion dollars, voters are conflicted because they do not want to leave the troops exposed. In this survey, 47 percent support the money and 49 percent oppose, though there are many more strong opponents. But when it comes to the vote in Congress, a majority opts for "yes," largely because of the argument to support the troops. The biggest bloc of voters agrees with a member .who votes yes to support the troops but expresses many doubts about the open-ended reconstruction aid.

There's a lot for the current crop of Democratic contenders to ponder there.