Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

All in the Family ...

President Bush named James A. Baker III, the <$NoAd$>former secretary of state, as his personal envoy to Iraq today to help the country grapple with its debt problem.

"Secretary Baker will report directly to me," Mr. Bush said in a statement, "and will lead an effort to work with the world's governments at the highest levels, with international organizations and with the Iraqis, in seeking the restructuring and reduction of Iraq's official debt."

New York Times, December 5th 2003

Saudi Arabia will withhold the $1 billion in loans and credits that it pledged last month for Iraq's reconstruction until the security situation is stabilized and a sovereign government takes office, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

Los Angeles Times, December 1st 2003

Baker is one of the Saudi government's chief supporters in the US. His law firm, Baker Botts, is now representing the Saudi government in the $ 1 trillion law suit filed against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks by the victims' families. Baker also serves as senior counsel and partner in the Carlyle investment group, which is a financial adviser to the Saudi government.

Jerusalem Post, August 15th 2003

For more than three decades, Saudi Arabia has sought to influence American politicians, often through investment in American business. While they have occasionally sought out Democrats, they are far more comfortable with Republicans -- and in particular, with Bush Republicans. At the moment, for example, the kingdom's defense attorney in a lawsuit brought by families of 9/11 victims happens to be James Baker, that ultimate Bushie whose resume includes stints as Secretary of State and Treasury. (Mr. Baker's last big court case was Bush v. Gore.)

New York Observer, August 11th 2003

A fine illustration of this Washington tradition took place at the capital's Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, former secretary of state James Baker, former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci and a parade of other former government officials convened at those swank quarters to attend the annual investor conference of the Carlyle Group, a private investment company known for putting lucrative business deals together for the Saudi royal family (and also known for its roster of all-star advisers, including Baker and the elder George Bush). Among those gathered to schmooze with Washington's power brokers was one Shafiq bin Laden, a Saudi captain of industry whose brother would slaughter thousands of Americans before the conferees broke for lunch. The meeting, notes Robert Baer, whose Sleeping With the Devil catalogs many others like it, "was the perfect metaphor for Washington's strange affair with Saudi Arabia."

Washington Post, July 27th 2003

I'm not a Saudi-basher. But it seems to me that there's some difficulty with this appointment.

We'll be talking more about this in coming days. But there are more and more signs of the IRS and other arms of the federal government taking a conspicuous interest in the finances and political spending of Democratic-leaning organizations.

Most establishment, mainstream Dems don't want to think this sort of thing is happening. But I've spoken to several in recent days who are starting to think that it is. The IRS, for instance, has just began a top-to-bottom audit of the NEA's (the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union) finances.

Here's a question for you.

How many prominent Democrats has Charles Krauthammer not publicly diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. (Krauthammer has an MD and trained as a psychiatrist, though I'm uncertain how long, or even if, he practiced beyond his residency.)

Clinton's out of the running; Gore's out; Dean's out; presumably others too.

Just the kind of shrink you'd want to go to -- the kind who uses the expertise as a cudgel ...

There's some interesting insidery stuff going on with an inter-agency tussle pitting -- contrary to form -- State and DOD <$NoAd$>against the NSC on Taiwan policy.

Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt touched on it in a piece in the Standard on Tuesday. And in the Nelson Report this afternoon, Chris Nelson -- with his inimitable style and dazzling sources -- says the following ...

9. Finally for today, from last night's Report, we incorrectly stated that NSC Asia director Jim Moriarity spent all his time in Taipei before returning to Washington…sources say he also was sent to Beijing to personally explain the President's intentions in writing, privately, to Taiwan President Chen Shuibian.

-- we don't know if Moriarity carried a "second letter" from Bush to President Hu…Loyal Readers who may have such knowledge are reminded that e-mail works both ways.

10. But feedback today confirms that while the State Department certainly supports the intention of the NSC in trying to reign-in Chen's efforts to push the envelope in redefining Taiwan's position vis a vis China…that State, including Secretary Powell, is very, very unhappy with how the NSC handled the Moriarity visit.

-- no one wants to admit this…but it turns out that Powell felt constrained to send Bush a letter reminding him of the acceptable ways to discuss what the U.S. "opposes", and why any changes in the mantra can themselves be de-stabilizing.

11. Sources familiar with the Bush/Hu letter confirm our Report last night, that it did use the "approved" or "time tested" language that the U.S. "opposes" unilateral moves by either China or Taiwan which might upset the peaceful status quo.

-- but evidence of the tactical blood bath over Moriarity's visit comes with word that National Security Advisor Condi Rice had to personally order Moriarity to read the draft Bush/Hu letter to Deputy Secretary of State Randy Schriver.

12. And even at this late date, the Bush/Hu letter having been delivered in Taipei, and, apparently, discussed in Beijing, State has not been given an actual text of what Moriarity put together for the President's signature.

-- does any of this really matter? After all, the bottom line is that both State and the NSC are on the same page when it comes to concern over the risks posed now, and in the future, by Chen Shuibian.

13. Our guess is that it does matter, in that the fight isn't merely tactical, but is fundamentally conceptual. Our guess is that Moriarity's effort reflects a Bush White House which continues to view all foreign policy through the prism of counter-terrorism (and, in Asia, this includes dealing with N. Korea).

-- recall that Bush's personal anger with Chen goes back to at least August, 2002, as we reported at the time, when even pro-Taiwan officials were furious with Chen for "upsetting larger U.S. interests" vis a vis China.

14. Despite Bush's letter, this issue is not going away, and is likely to get a good deal more "difficult", not the least because the growing support for Taiwan on Capitol Hill is fundamentally based on support for democracy writ large…and a basic innocence of historical appreciation of the reasons for the Cross-Straits dialogue.

-- as one DOD wag put it today, "What happens when Wolfowitz decides that if we support democracy for Iraq, we can hardly turn our back on Taiwan?" How Capitol Hill might play with that is anyone's guess.

We can discuss later the fact that the president's brother, Neil Bush, is now in business with the son of the former President of the PRC, Jiang Zemin, and Neil's recent 'summit' meeting with Taiwanese President Chen in New York.

Not that any of these things have anything to do with each other of course ...

Okay, when can we all just admit that the Rosetta Stone of today's Washington (viz, the defense-intel -money-chase -homeland-security-lobbying mumbo-jumbotron) is the account book of Richard Perle's "Trireme Partners"?

Turns out now that Boeing (themselves now in a bit of military-industrial complex hot water) 'invested' $20 million too.

Here is a frightening and revealing article about protests and threats from Israelis and Palestinians against the architects of the new 'Geneva Accord.' (See this post below for more thoughts on what the Accord represents.)

Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin, hideously, called it "a Swiss golden calf," and an assembly of rabbis said the authors should be "cast out from human society and brought to trial."

Meanwhile, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades denounced the Palestinian authors as "collaborators" and someone opened fire on Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo's home.

A new TPM Featured Book: Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman by W. Montgomery Watt.

To specialists, it's no doubt dated, published as it was in 1961. But it's a short, concise and elegant account of Muhammad's life, the birth of Islam, and the religion's first decades.

An unadorned narrative with lots of informative detail -- I found it an excellent book and recommend it highly.

My God! I am always a bit leery of Zogby polls because about as often as his polls are dead right, they're dead wrong.

But even if his numbers can be erratic, there's no ignoring his new poll out of New Hampshire.

Dean 42%

Kerry 12%

Clark 9%

Lieberman 7%

A thirty point spread. That's amazing.

Zogby also gives Dean a 26% to 22% edge over Dick Gephardt in Iowa. That's basically neck-and-neck. But it's always better to be a neck ahead than a neck behind.

What's really telling about those New Hampshire numbers is that Dean's number (42%) has been right about there for the last month, going by the last several public polls. (I looked at three public polls from November -- two gave Dean 38%, one gave him 44%.)

The difference is in Kerry's number, which continues to fall. That's the lowest number he's ever tracked at in the state, judging from a quick scan of public polls stretching back to last spring.

I think this state records thing in Vermont is making Dean look foolish and the gaffes (Soviet Union for Russia) don't help either. But for the moment at least none of that is showing up in the polls -- at least not the top-lines; I haven't seen any internals.

Also, see this analysis of the race from MSNBC. For the moment, the most consequential battle is the Dean-Gephardt fracas in Iowa.

Okay, in case you haven't heard, Mike Allen has a story in the Post tomorrow. And the lede is that the big yummy Turkey President Bush was photographed taking to the troops wasn't actually going to get eaten. It was some sort of display Turkey, seemingly gussied for the photo-op.

On the one hand, who cares? The Clinton-test would lead me to that conclusion.

But you go down into the article and the other malarkey starts to add up.

Next there's the issue of the made-for-TV-movie British Airways fly-by that never happened. The White House, as we noted yesterday, changed the story. But British Airways says the new story isn't true either.

I love this bit of snide understatement from Allen's piece ...

"I don't think everybody was clear on exactly how that conversation happened," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

British Airways said it has been unable to confirm the new version. "We've looked into it," a spokeswoman said from London. "It didn't happen."

Unable to confirm ... didn't happen. I think we get the idea.

Then there's the choicest selection in the whole article ...

White House officials do not deny that they craft elaborate events to showcase Bush, but they maintain that these events are designed to accurately dramatize his policies and to convey qualities about him that are real.

"This was effective, because it captured something about the president that people know is true, that he really cares about the soldiers and gets emotional when he sees them," Mary Matalin, a former administration official, said about the trip to Baghdad. "You have to figure out how to capture the Bush we know, even if it doesn't come through in a speech situation or a press conference. He regularly rejects anything that is not him."

The explanation is worse than what's being explained. Fake scenes are good becaue they capture deeper truths about the president "that people know [are] true." That's classic. Sorta like how the Santa Claus story captures the deeper meaning of Christmas or that other story about the Stork.


I had thought that the "Geneva Accord", an unofficial peace plan authored by Yossi Beilin (a prime architect of the Oslo accords) and Yasser Abed Rabbo (a Palestinian moderate and former PA cabinet minister), would end up as just one more well-intentioned irrelevancy that provided some momentary diversion from the butcher shop which is now Israel and the West Bank.

But now I don't think so.

First is the context in which this is happening.

For all those who have eyes to see, a sea change has been taking place of late in Israeli public opinion. It's not that they are abandoning Sharon (not yet at least) or embracing Arafat. But there is a coalescing sense that the current situation isn't so much a get-tough policy as a state of perpetual bloodshed, which itself may be setting the stage for something far worse. Sharon has been just as hardline as he promised. And even more Israelis are dying than before, not to mention Palestinians.

The change has been most conspicuously signaled by a series of statements by current and former senior members of the Israeli military and security services arguing that the current policies simply aren't working.

The other significance of the Geneva Accord, as Michael Moran explains very ably in this piece, is that -- in a certain sense -- they put the lie to the purported intractability of the current situation. For all the rancor and hatred that has built up over the last three years (and it wasn't exactly a bed of roses before that) everyone pretty much knows what the final deal looks like -- and pretty much everyone knows that it looks a lot like what's included in the Geneva Accords.

So, it's not that it'll be easy to make this deal. But, in a certain sense, the two sides aren't really that far apart.

The other thing which I take some heart from is that Arafat and Sharon clearly feel threatened by this plan that has been put on the table. There have been demonstrations against it on the Palestinian side. Sharon has condemned it. And Ehud Olmert, the Vice Prime Minister, who represents almost all of what is immoderate and narrow-minded in Israeli politics, has been publicly scolding Colin Powell for considering meeting with Beilin and Rabbo.

And now, to his -- and the administration's -- credit, Powell is going to do just that.

And Paul Wolfowitz -- who also deserves great credit -- will be meeting with Beilin and Rabbo too.

We'll return to the significance of the Wolfowitz meeting in a subsequent post.