Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In the previous post I noted the section of Steve Hadley's White House Q&A in which he said that Condi Rice had received the memo calling the Niger-uranium story into question . Then I contrasted it with her earlier statements on Meet the Press.

Some readers noted that in that appearance Rice said only that those "in [her] circles" didn't know that the documents in question were forgeries. She didn't address the broader issue of whether there were concerns that the intel itself was simply false.

Now, for my money, this is slicing it rather thin, or a matter of violating that part about telling not just the truth, but the whole truth. If what Rice meant was that they didn't know the documents were forgeries only that the charges themselves were likely bogus, I think you could say she didn't quite level with us.

As it happens, the question is moot. One of my well-placed and cherished spies alerts me to Rice's comment on ABC's This Week on June 8th ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That claim was later discredited by the International Atomic Energy Agency, found that to be based on forged documents. So how did it make it into the State of the Union address?

RICE: At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that they were, the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake, uranium oxide from Africa. And that was taken out of a British report. Clearly, that particular report, we learned subsequently, subsequently, was not credible. But it was also a very small part, George, of a larger picture of a program aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me stop you right there, because many in the United States government knew before then that this, this ...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: George, somebody, somebody down may have known. But I will tell you that when this issue was raised, uh, with the intelligence community, because, uh, we actually do go through the process of asking, uh, the intelligence community, can you say this? Can you say that? Can you say this? The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report.

Either Rice didn't read the memo (possible, but improbable) or she didn't level with George.

A couple days ago I linked to a UPI story that said the just released 9/11 report had concluded not only that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but that there were no ties whatsoever between Iraq and al Qaida. They've now retracted the story.

Why the pass for Condi? This from Hadley's White House Q & A ...

Hadley: The memorandum describes some weakness in the evidence, the fact that the effort was not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already had a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. The memorandum also stated that the CIA had been telling Congress that the Africa story was one of two issues where we differed with the British intelligence. This memorandum was received by the Situation Room here in the White House, and it was sent to both Dr. Rice and myself.


Question: So within the White House, the first time that the CIA concerns about the quality of the British intelligence went up to the level above your level, up to Dr. Rice, would have been with memo number two?

Hadley: I'm hesitating because, again, given you don't know what you don't, given what we put together at this point in time, that's the evidence we had. That's old --

Question: But as of memo number two, certainly Dr. Rice was aware of the concerns, the CIA --

Hadley: What we know is, again, a copy of the memo comes to the Situation Room, it's sent to Dr. Rice, it's sent -- and that's it. You know, I can't tell you she read it. I can't even tell you she received it. But in some sense, it doesn't matter. Memo sent, we're on notice.

Steve Hadley
White House Q&A
July 22nd, 2003

We did not know at the time--no one knew at the time, in our circles--maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the Agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.
Condi Rice
Meet the Press
June 8th, 2003
Speaks for itself doesn't it?

Chatterbox takes the field! Slate's Tim Noah, AKA 'Chatterbox', has a very good run-down of Dick Cheney's speech today at AEI and the larger, shall we say, context of this counter-offensive.

By the way, was that Ahmed Chalabi sitting there in the front row next to Lynne Cheney?

Remember, in this administration, all roads lead to Cheney, especially the ones paved with good intentions and the ones leading to ... well, you know where.

The headline from this article in today's Washington Post is that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz conceded that a number of the administration's assumptions about the occupation of Iraq turned out to be unduly optimistic.

Wolfowitz summed up his implicit defense thus: "There's been a lot of talk that there was no plan. There was a plan, but as any military officer can tell you, no plan survives first contact with reality."

I credit Wolfowitz for his candor. But here's why this explanation doesn't really add up.

Under any set of circumstances this was an extremely ambitious undertaking. There would inevitably have been setbacks and course corrections once hypotheses gave way to realities.

The issue though is not that there are reverses and course corrections, but the extent of them and, even more than that, which way they trend.

Let me explain what I mean in this context by "trend."

In the lead-up to the war there was a broad battle between Pentagon civilian appointees and folks at State, CIA, in the uniformed military, and even career folks at DOD -- those who hadn't already been shipped off to the Hill or NDU -- over what the occupation would look like and what would be required to make it a success.

(I discussed this issue with regards to the CIA in my column this week in The Hill.)

The big issues were how many troops would be needed to secure the country, how much low-level armed resistance would continue after the war, how quickly and under what auspices a new government would come into being, the optimal degree of internationalization, among many others.

Give the Post article a good read, because it contains a lot of good information and a solid overview. But if you read it and other similar articles I think it's hard not to come to one conclusion: that on almost every one one of these key issues the predictions and preferred policies of the career/State/ CIA/uniformed military faction turned out to be far closer to the mark than the thinking that was coming out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) -- the people who ended up in charge of shaping the actual policy.

Some neo-cons and advocates of the Pentagon civilians will argue that an almost equally significant problem was that the NSA, Condi Rice, never forced everyone to get on one page and agree on one policy. So what you had was different parts of the national security bureaucracy devising and pushing contrary policies right up till the last minute, and generally fighting wars with each other while they were supposed to be getting ready to fight a war against Iraq. And there's some measure of truth in this criticism.

The neos also make the argument that if it had been left to the career/State/ CIA/uniformed military faction we probably never would have invaded Iraq in the first place -- though that's not quite the argument ender it was a few months ago.

At the end of the day, though, it just doesn't cut it to say that no plan is perfect and that you never know quite what you'll find until you're actually in country. Because a lot of people did have a fairly good idea of what we'd find in the country, or at least a much better idea than the folks at OSD.

Unfortunately, those folks at OSD spent the last two years pummeling those other dudes into the ground.

According to a story just hitting the wires by UPI's Shaun Waterman, the report from the joint congressional 9/11 inquiry, which will be released tomorrow, concludes not only that Iraq had no connection with the 9/11 attacks but that there was no evidence for any Iraq-al-Qaida connection.

Some interesting tidbits ...

Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who was a member of the joint congressional committee that produced the report, confirmed the official's statement.

Asked whether he believed the report will reveal that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, Cleland replied: "I do ... There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden's terrorist followers."


"The administration sold the connection (between Iraq and al-Qaida) to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war," said Cleland. "What you've seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."


Although the committee completed its work at the end of last year, publication of the report has been delayed by interminable wrangles between the committees and the administration over which parts of it could be declassified.

Cleland accused the administration of deliberately delaying the report's release to avoid having its case for war undercut.

"The reason this report was delayed for so long -- deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created -- is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over ... before (it) came out," he said.

"Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration."


[A government official who's read the report] went on to suggest that the conclusions drawn from the information about [a key piece of alleged evidence for a Iraq-al Qaida connection] was indicative of a wider-ranging problem with the administration's attitude to intelligence on the alleged Iraq al-Qaida link.

"They take a fact that you could draw several different conclusions from, and in every case they draw the conclusion that supports the policy, without any particular evidence that would meet the normal bar that analytic tradecraft would require for you to make that conclusion," he concluded.

Administration backers will reasonably note that former Senator Cleland might be said to have a bit of a bone to pick with the White House. After all, they spearheaded a campaign against him that charged that he, a Vietnam vet and triple amputee, was soft on national defense. So maybe some will say that Cleland's credibility is suspect. But, then, everyone's credibility is stretched a bit thin these days, ain't it ...

Interesting insider info on the CIA-NSC war from today's Nelson Report ...


9. Until or unless the President steps in to provide leadership, the long-awaited showdown between the "neoconservatives" and the "pragmatists" will soon reach crisis proportions…this, due to CIA director George Tenet's extraordinary decision to name the President's staffers responsible for misleading, or false, pre-Iraq war intel, Administration sources confirm today.

-- and the war has just begun, intelligence community sources warn. The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of "a whole series of stories which are ready to break", a source told us today, adding, "I've never seen such hostility and disdain as now being expressed between the White House and the CIA. Never…"

10. As we reported on July 17, Tenet's lengthy, closed Capitol Hill testimony "outed" not just NSC non-proliferation staffer Bob Joseph, but also Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, and, by implication, Condi Rice, and Vice President Cheney, if not Bush himself.

-- yesterday, Hadley performed a virtual repeat of Tenet's highly qualified "taking responsibility" pose by making it clear that if he has to take a fall, then Ms. Rice needs to explain why she didn't read the memos he gave her.

11. As one Administration source put it, privately, today: "Between Tenet and Hadley, Condi now has the choice of saying she's a fool, or a liar…if not both. Bottom line is she failed to protect the President…look at all this lame stuff about him not being a 'fact checker'. It's just incredible."

-- even before last week, a source close to the White House told us, "the President now sees that he's exposed on the intel problems. And he now sees who's been manipulating him, and he's not happy about it. No president likes to be embarrassed, but this stuff goes to the heart of all the reservations, pre-9/11, about his intelligence, his attention span, and his interest in foreign affairs."

12. Three weeks ago, this source speculated that it would be "difficult" for Bush to fire the senior officials responsible, for obvious reasons, since they would include Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice, at a minimum, and that Tenet seemingly had so ingratiated himself at the personal level, he could escape punishment.

-- today, while no one wanted to speculate about Rummy and Cheney, in the absence of new disclosures, disparate Administration sources confirm that it is "generally accepted" that Tenet will be fired from the CIA, if only because of what he started last week.

13. Where this gets really interesting is the apparent response of neoconservatives: just prior to Hadley's self-destruction yesterday, a source reported talk of trying to replace Tenet with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; replacing Wolfowitz with Hadley; and moving Bob Blackwill immediately up to Deputy NSC advisor…even though Blackwill is not a neo-con.

-- parenthetically, sources explain that for neo-cons, Blackwill enjoys the considerable virtue of loathing, and being loathed by, the "leaders" of the pragmatists, Secretary of State Powell, and Deputy Secretary Armitage. State sources say Blackwill was "fired" as Ambassador to India, due to his management of the Embassy, and how he worked with Armitage in various India/Pakistan crises.

More soon ...

So now we have Stephen Hadley, Condi Rice's number two, stepping forward to take the blame for not keeping the uranium line out of the State of the Union speech. This buck may eventually stop at the president's desk, but it's amazing how many stops it makes along the way, isn't it?

An Acela Express it ain't!

Presumably this renders 'inoperative' the earlier White House claim that the CIA didn't warn them about their doubts on the uranium sale.

It would seem that Hadley's 'mea maxima culpa' was triggered by leaks out of the CIA that they had even more evidence to prove that they sent the word to the White House plenty of times. It may also not have been entirely coincidental that the news came out on a day when the administration was celebrating a very real victory in having tracked down Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay.

For what it's worth I think the chain here leads not so much to President Bush as to Vice President Cheney.

Again and again we hear the refrain that this single instance of mentioning discredited intelligence about Iraqi uranium purchases pales in comparison to the much broader set of reasons why the United States invaded Iraq.

In one sense this is certainly false. The possibility that such a hostile and threatening regime could acquire nuclear weapons is sui generis. You simply can't compare it to this or that many liters of VX nerve gas or botulinum toxin. Seemingly strong evidence that Iraq was well on its way to producing nuclear weapons isn't just one "data point" as Condi Rice put it recently.

In another sense, though, it is just one small question or small issue. And if it were taken in isolation or without a broader context, it would hardly be generating the intensity of criticism and scrutiny that it is. The reason it is generating this level of scrutiny is that this one instance of bad faith is of a piece with so much of what went on in the build up to war.

It would be one thing if the administration had pursued this war because of weapons of mass destruction and, in so doing, pumped up the evidence to strengthen the case. Perhaps, one might hypothesize, they knew there was a lot of chemical and biological weapons production underway and the beginnings of a major push for nuclear weapons and, to seal the deal, said the nuclear program was further along than it was.

But this greatly understates the scope of the problem. Not only was the WMD issue (and the allied issue of Iraq's connection to al Qaida) systematically exaggerated, the entire WMD issue -- and the nexus to non-state terrorist groups like al Qaida -- wasn't even the main reason for the war itself. So the case for war amounted to one dishonesty wrapped inside another -- not quite Churchill's "riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma" but not that far off it either.

Now some people on the left are saying, well, the real reason was the possession of Iraqi oil. Or, the real reason was to seal the 2002 election or the 2004 election. Various other real reasons have been and are being proffered. But these are at best secondary or tertiary reasons. Karl Rove certainly exploited the Iraq debate and the war on terror to the hilt in 2002 -- and to great effect. But he was only taking advantage of a situation that had come about for reasons entirely different from his own narrow political ones.

Now, the series of neoconservative rationales for invading Iraq well predate 9/11. And as I've written before I think the desire to achieve this goal -- overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- became such a guiding star for many regime-change advocates that the desire become the parent of the rationale. This was one of the reasons why there was, in the end, such a curious multiplicity of rationales for doing it.

But over time after 9/11 one overriding theory of the war did take shape: it was to get America irrevocably on the ground in the center of the Middle East (thus fundamentally reordering the strategic balance in the region), bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism.

That is why we are in Iraq today. That is the theory of this war. I have little doubt that many in the administration and in certain think-tanks in DC who really don't like much of what they've been reading on this website recently will have little to disagree with in that description.

It's important to note that this theory of the war actually does have a lot to do with stopping terrorism and the generalized instability of region -- but in a way that is almost infinitely more complex than the Saddam-WMD-hand -off-to-al-Qaida idea that the administration pushed in the build-up to the war.

It's much more complicated, much more complex, and vastly more difficult to achieve. It's not that the main war-hawks didn't believe there were WMD or that rooting them out wouldn't have been a great coup for US national security. But it is almost as if administration war-hawks told the public a vastly simplified, fairy-tale version of the Iraq war's connection to stopping terrorism and justified this benign deception because the story contained a deeper truth, almost in the way we tell children similar stories because their minds aren't advanced enough to grasp or process all the factual details connected to the lessons or messages we're trying to convey. Got all that? Good.

Of course, one might also say that the public might have intuited that fighting this sort of war was too risky, improbable and costly than anything it wanted to get involved in.

(I made this argument in an article I wrote in early March and which appeared in the Washington Monthly during the first week of the war. I'd certainly change some things about that piece were I to write it again. But not many.)

As I wrote then, and in several earlier articles, I think this theory of the war contained several penetrating insights into America's position in the Middle East and the long-term losing game we may be playing by identifying ourselves with corrupt autocracies which are in many ways themselves failed states which simply have yet to collapse.

But an insight or even a broad strategy is not a plan -- a fact which we're now seeing played out before our eyes. The fact that the administration never leveled with the public -- or in some ways even itself -- about this shielded it from the kind of scrutiny which would have revealed just how little the administration had thought through the sheer complexity of what it was trying to accomplish. This created the need to goose up secondary issues like WMD to gain a public rationale for the war. If you're wondering why so little planning seems to have gone into what on earth we were going to do once we took the place over it's because so little of the debate leading up to the war had anything to do with these questions or for that matter what we were actually trying to achieve by invading the country.

Now, a few points about the dishonesty at the center of all this. It's bad just on principle not to fundamentally level with the public about why you're getting into a war and just what sort of war you're getting into. Quite apart from that, however, doing so gets you into some practical difficulties. If you don't level with the public that you're getting into a very long-term, extremely costly enterprise you may find that your tough talk about having the staying power to finish the job isn't matched by public sentiment, or that you face a backlash over getting the country into far more than you led voters to believe. You may find that the public really isn't on board for what you're trying to accomplish. And that's a big problem if the public doesn't have the staying power and you have to leave the task half-finished, because this is one of those things that is better not to have tried at all than leave half-done.

So, why is this little matter of the uranium statements such a big deal? Because it is a concrete, demonstrable example of the administration's bad faith in how it led the country to war. To date that bad-faith has been all too apparent on many fronts. But the administration has cowed much of the press into remaining silent or simply not scrutinizing various of the administration's arguments for the war. And success makes up for many sins. No doubt it's painful for the president's partisans to see this stuff dug into. And it produces glee for Democrats who think -- rightly or wrongly -- that it gives them a potent issue to use against the president in the 2004 elections. But quite apart from partisan considerations on either side, we're never going to figure out what we're doing in Iraq, do it well, or accomplish anything good for the future security of the United States unless and until we start talking straight about why we're there, what we need to accomplish, and how we're going to do it.

A few thoughts on under-celebrated reporting of the WMD manipulation story. First, some of the more interesting, not-following-the-pack pieces I've seen have been by Knut Royce in Newsday. (Do I know him? No, never even heard his name before a week or so ago.) And, of course, let's keep in mind that Tom Gjelten of NPR had pretty much the entire story -- the administration's knowledge of the problems with Niger claims, the last minute back-and-forth with the CIA, and even the decision to use the Brits to get around the CIA's objections -- more than a month ago, back on June 19th. Talk about beating everyone else to the story!