Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I see that on his site Andrew Sullivan says that "Kerry's recent attempt to make the fiscal case against the Iraq war almost comically awful."

I don't know specifically what Andrew is talking about. But I assume it's a recent soundbite I heard in which Kerry said something to the effect that all the money that's been poured down the Iraq rathole could be going to improved education, prescription drugs and the rest.

If that's what he was referring to then I have to say that I really agree. This is almost a parody of a Democratic response. And I think it entirely misses what is really at issue with the voters who are potentially in play in the election.

The key with the Iraq war isn't how many dollars have been spent but on what has or hasn't been achieved. And this way of framing the issue entirely misses that.

There is a clear message behind all of President Bush's responses to these sorts of critiques. And it runs like this: 'Sure, I probably wasted a lot of money over there. But there were guys over there who wanted to kill you. And you know what? I killed them first.'

Framed in that way, President Bush wins that argument. Hands down.

Very few voters want to shortchange security for higher cost of living adjustments or more teacher training.

The key is that President Bush has blown vast sums of money (actually way more than $200 billion) and managed to make us less secure than when he started. He's spent that much money to purchase us a prize our most determined enemies would have gladly paid that much for to put in our lap.

The recent run of denial on Iraq has brought back to the fore what a year ago was known as the 'fly paper' thesis.

Namely, that the outbreak of chaos, terrorism and insurgency in Iraq is actually a good thing since it allows us to kill 'the terrorists' in Iraq rather than wait for them to come to our own shores.

Thus the 'fly paper' analogy.

Gregg Easterbrook, in The New Republic, embraces this concept in a new article even today. "What if the invasion of Iraq is having the unintended consequence of drawing terrorists and killers to that country, where our army can fight them on our terms?," he asks.

The only thing complicated about this argument is calibrating a hierarchy of all the levels of foolishness it embodies. Logically it is nonsensical; strategically it is moronic; morally it is close to indefensible.

The key fallacy, as so many have pointed out, is the notion that there are a finite number of 'terrorists' who we can kill and be done with.

Added to this, is the idea -- as antiquated as it is ridiculous -- that fighting 'the terrorists' in Iraq prevents them from hitting us in the United States. Have these fools heard about globalization? Grant the false premise that the Iraqi insurgency is being run by bin Laden. He can't spare a couple dozen jihadis to come over here to spring another 9/11 on us? What about al Qaida demonstrates their strategy of hitting us where our defenses are strongest?

As a TPM reader put it to me both hilariously and brilliantly more than a year ago, this 'fly paper' thesis is like saying we're going to build one super dirty hospital where we can fight the germs on our own terms.

Clearly that analogy points in some uncomfortable directions. But the salient point is clear: everyone who is not an utter fool knows that the number of young and disaffected men in the Muslim world who are potentially willing to take up arms against America is, for practical geopolitical purposes, all but infinite. Killing those already bent on suicide missions againt the US is undeniably a good thing. But doing so in a way that is guaranteed to replace them with ten new volunteers is the most foolish way to go about it. It is the classic case of dousing the fire with gasoline.

Of course that leaves untended the fact the guerillas we're blowing up in Iraq aren't the folks running the safe houses in Karachi and Peshawar who constitute the real threat. Adrift as well is the straightforward matter that turning Iraq into a killing field isn't really compatible with making it into a redoubt of democracy, prosperity and western values.

Knocking holes in this argument is really too easy and after a bit beside the point. The real problem with this argument is its proponents -- folks who seem inclined to put insipid wordplay above the lives of American soldiers and marines, indeed, above against the future security of the country itself.

There are many reasons President Bush has taken a narrow but perceptible lead in the polls. Some are tied to tactical decisions on both sides; others are products of accidental developments; still others emerge from more deeply-rooted trends that won't be clear for months or years.

But all of them amount to the same thing: the president's campaign has managed to take Iraq out of the election debate.

Iraq remains ever-present, but as a rhetorical fixture, not a reality. Who's tougher; who's been consistent; who likes Saddam Hussein more, and so forth -- that's all there. The increasingly tenuous claim that Saddam Hussein had any relationship to Islamic terrorism -- that's there too.

But the actual Iraq war is nowhere to be found. Sunday was a disastrous day in Iraq, both for the Iraqis and for the American enterprise in Iraq.

But it garnered little attention here. The American death rate has creeped up as the occupation has continued. And to anyone who has eyes to see it, the entire American venture in Iraq has become a disaster of truly monumental proportions.

There are many ways the Iraq war could have 'succeeded' in the American political context. If a chamber of horrors had been found in Iraq's WMD factories, Americans would have judged the war a success even if the aftermath would have been as bloody and chaotic as it is today. For most, the necessity of the invasion would have been vindicated.

The same would apply if manifest ties to al Qaida had somehow been unearthed in the rubble of the old regime.

Even with no WMD or al Qaida ties found, the enterprise might still have been vindicated on other grounds. Had the post-war period been even moderately successful in terms of stability, democratization and a pro-western stance on the part of the new government, I suspect that a majority of the public would have quickly forgiven and forgotten the failure to find the weapons which served as the pretext for war.

Yet, of course, none of these things have happened. The claim that Iraq had any meaningful ties to al Qaida style terrorism was always a tissue of falsehood and zealotry. The mistaken belief that Iraq was reconstituting a WMD capacity (though the greatest confidence was on chemical and biological weapons) was a fairly widespread failure in the American intelligence community which the White House then immeasurably inflated to whip up war sentiment. And of course post-war Iraq has been a disaster by really every measure.

The number of Americans who've died in the country still pales in comparison to the numbers lost in Vietnam. But the rate of casualities and fatalities is increasing -- notwithstanding the nominal handover of sovereignty to a caretaker government. And the current policy basically projects the current blood-letting indefinitely into the future. In more basic military terms, the US is losing the war. We are rapidly ceding large parts of the country to control by insurgents. And even major areas like Baghdad seem to be slipping out of control -- as yesterday's upsurge of violence was intended to demonstrate, and to a great degree, did demonstrate.

Back more than a year ago, when it first began to dawn on many that stabilizing, let alone democratizing, Iraq would be a great struggle, the challenge was often framed around the unacceptability of allowing Iraq to 'become another Lebanon' or descend into civil war.

Let's be honest with ourselves. That's already happened. That's the clearest reason why yesterday's violence garnered so little attention. It's not surprising any more. A year ago, when a bomber blew up the Jordanian Embassy, it sent a shock through the United States. The same was more or less the case in the bombings that followed through the rest of 2003 and into early 2004.

Iraq has quite simply become a disaster for the United States. And while people disagree over why this has happened, no thinking person can now fail to see that it has happened.

In the last two months, all of this has been pushed to the side of the election debate -- either by rhetorical tangles over 9/11 and terrorism, or attack politics centered on the two men's war records or lack thereof. That is the reason for the president's resurgence in the polls. It's really that simple.

There's another point that worth noting here too. And it's at least played a role in pushing Iraq out of the political debate. That is, that President Bush has been able to mobilize his manifest failure as a political asset, and the Kerry campaign has allowed him to do so.

Here's what I mean.

Recently, President Bush has sought -- with real success -- to edge Iraq out of the campaign dialogue by putting the issue back on to Kerry, asking what he would do differently and how it would produce a better result.

This puts Kerry in a bit of a bind because the politically-unspeakable answer here is that there are no good solutions anymore. A year ago, even six months ago, there were. Now, there really aren't.

President Bush at least has a straightforward approach: denial. Pressed to come up with a soundbite-able and practical policy, Kerry is, well ... hard-pressed.

(As I said, President Bush, in this way, has managed to derive political advantage from the magnitude of his own failure.)

Politically, Kerry needs to ignore the commentators who will press him to come up with a twenty point plan that will immediately rectify the situation in Iraq. Yes, he needs to give an idea of what he'll do if and when he takes over. But the emphasis should be on the undeniable fact that though the way forward may be murky, the last person you want to lead the country down that foggy path is the guy who screwed everything up so badly in the first place.

As my friend John Judis noted recently, the key to winning an election is often simply a matter of bringing to the surface of the public consciousness what voters already really know. They know Iraq is a disaster. They know it's President Bush's fault.

Coming Soon: two book recommendations, one about the present, another about the distant past.

The Post tomorrow has a good article about a bad situation in Iraq.

Specifically, it's about Fallujah and poorly-thought-out civilian intervention in the course of battle in that restive city.

According to the article, the White House first ordered the assault on the city (in response to the killing and mutilation of four US military contractors) over the advice of the commanders on the ground. Then, again over the advice of those same commanders, they ordered the end of the assault before the mission had been accomplished.

That rapid turnabout managed to achieve most of the ill effects of an iron fist policy (lots of deaths, radicalization of civilians and terrible effects on world opinion) while preventing any of the possible positive ones from being realized.

There is a lively literature about the often fruitful tension between military commanders and their civilian superiors. But this is text book case of the bad effects that can stem from injecting narrowly political considerations into war-fighting, especially when they take little account of facts on the ground.

In any case, read the article. It's an important one.

More tomorrow about how Iraq -- i.e., the actual Iraq as opposed to the rhetorical 'Iraq' -- has disappeared from the 2004 presidential campaign.

I'm actually supposed to be on semi-vacation here at the ocean. But let me offer an update on this memo business. One of the guys who was in the mix in all of this at the time -- Hodges -- told CBS that these documents accurately reflected Killian's thinking at the time. On top of that, the White House -- and thus the president -- made no effort to question the story the documents tell. That tells me that they know the underlying story -- or at least some rough approximation of it -- is true.

All that said, however, the questions raised about these documents seem very compelling. And though those points above are telling about the underlying story, I can't see where they tell us much meaningful about the authenticity of these documents.

Over the last twenty-four hours I've received literally hundreds of emails that point out that each specific criticism, on its own terms, doesn't quite hold up. Thus, for instance, there definitely were proportional type machines widely available at the time. There were ones that did superscripts. There were ones with Times Roman font, or something very near to it.

But that only means that such a document could possibly have been produced at the time; not that it's likely. And taken all together, the criticisms raise big doubts in my mind about their authenticity. Adding even more doubt in my mind is that the author of this site was so easily able to use MS Word to produce a document that to my admittedly untrained eye looks identical to one of the memos in question. Identical.

That combined with the individual criticisms mentioned above seems very hard to get around.

Again, I've gotten a slew of emails. And I have to admit that I haven't plumbed the depths of every one of them because at a basic level I don't think there's much point. This isn't a subject I know anything about. So I'm not in much of a position to judge.

(Perhaps it's not a perfect analogy but it's sort of like my talking to various physicists about contending theories of the Big Bang and deciding which side is right.)

If a few qualified experts came forward and said, 'Well, those criticisms don't add up if you know the subject. And the bottom line is that there's nothing about these documents that raise any question about their being produced in the early seventies" that would be plenty for me -- because I don't have the expertise to evaluate the criticisms and the defenses in the face of such expert opinion.

But I'm not hearing anyone say anything like that. In fact, rather the contrary.

The ball is in the court of the publishers of these documents to authenticate them. And so far I'm not hearing any adequate defense.

Okay, finally we're getting somewhere here.

The thing about these charges that the CBS documents are forgeries is that if it's so clear that they were made on a word processing program then it shouldn't be difficult for an independent news organization to comes up with a list of experts who will say that they don't look legit.

And the Post now has out an article that, at least to some extent, does just that.

Here are the key passages ...

Experts consulted by a range of news organizations pointed typographical and formatting questions about four documents as they considered the possibility that they were forged.


The Post contacted several independent experts who said they appeared to have been generated by a word processor. An examination of the documents by The Post shows that they are formatted differently from other Texas Air National Guard documents whose authenticity is not questioned.

William Flynn, a forensic document specialist with 35 years of experience in police crime labs and private practice, said the CBS documents raise suspicions because of their use of proportional spacing techniques. Documents generated by the kind of typewriters that were widely used in 1972 space letters evenly across the page, so that an "i" uses as much space as an "m." In the CBS documents, by contrast, each letter uses a different amount of space.

While IBM had introduced an electric typewriter that used proportional spacing by the early 1970s, it was not widely used in government. In addition, Flynn said, the CBS documents appear to use proportional spacing both across and down the page, a relatively recent innovation. Other anomalies in the documents include the use of the superscripted letters "th" in phrases such as "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron," Bush's unit.

"It would be nearly impossible for all this technology to have existed at that time," said Flynn, who runs a document authentication company in Phoenix.

Other experts largely concurred. Phil Bouffard, a forensic document examiner from Cleveland, said the font used in the CBS documents appeared to be Times Roman, which is widely used by word-processing programs but was not common on typewriters.

They don't go as far as to say they're certain. <$Ad$>But the questions raised now no longer seem to be limited to amateurs or people doing experiments on their own copies of Microsoft Word.

CBS is sticking by their story, saying they ran them by their own experts and adding that one of their sources or points of confirmation for the genuineness of the documents is Killian's then-superior, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, who is mentioned in one of the documents and was involved in the back-and-forths described in the documents. A CBS source tells the Post that Hodges confirmed that the statements contained in the documents were concerns and thoughts that Killian expressed to him at the time.

The Times, meanwhile, has a piece up quoting Killian's son saying that he believes some of the documents are genuine but doesn't believe his father would have written the 'CYA' document.

The White House is keeping mum but also, needless to say, happy to encourage and/or observe the feeding frenzy of questions about the authenticity of the documents.

It is of course worth noting that the White House is the only player here with ready access to the president. If they had some confidence that the underlying claims contained in the documents were not valid, then presumably they would have more confidence in doubting the documents' authenticity.

But something in all this doesn't fit. For tonight, I'm going to associate myself with Kevin Drum's final thoughts of the evening.

I'm clearly not a forensic expert on document analysis. So I don't have any way of knowing or even coming up with a reasoned opinion about the authenticity of these documents published by CBS.

But one point of criticism doesn't seem as clear as many are presenting it. I'm talking about the suggestion that a superscripted "th" marks these as clearly the product of a word-processing program.

In an article today in Weekly Standard, for instance, Steve Hayes writes that ...

... in some references to Bush's unit--the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron--the "th" is a superscript in a smaller size than the other type. Again, this is typical (and often done automatically) in modern word processing programs. Although several experts allow that such a rendering might have been theoretically possible in the early 1970s, it would have been highly unlikely. Superscripts produced on typewriters--the numbers preceding footnotes in term papers, for example--were almost always in the same size as the regular type.

This AP article also quotes a person presented as a handwriting analyst making the same point.

But if you look at this document from <$Ad$>the official Bush records it shows a list of descriptions of various times Bush served. (See the paranthetical at the bottom of this post for specific notes on where to find this in the pdf I linked to.) Thus, we can assume that the same document was typed on by different people and different machines over time. This document has one entry with a superscripted "th" and another further down on the page with a non-superscripted "th" -- which of course suggests that both kinds of typewriters were being used in the Texas Air National Guard system at the time.

It doesn't look like the same script used in the Killian memos and it strikes me that in this case the typeface looks monospaced rather than proportional. But clearly some typewriter with a superscript was in use. I'll leave it to others to discern the meaning of all this.

This debate has quickly spiralled in so many different directions that I can't keep track of all the different points of suspicion folks have raised about these documents. But this suggestion about the superscripts at least seems not to add up.

(To find the reference in question, click here to see the document on the USAToday website. Then scroll down to page three of the .pdf document -- which is the first vertically-oriented page. If you look at the second entry on that document -- dated "4Sep68" you'll find a superscripted "th".)

It continues to be hard to get a read on exactly where this race is from the polls -- at least that's the case if you go on the basis of toplines. The Rasmussen daily tracking poll has it as a one point race today. And a new Fox poll -- usually a GOP friendly poll -- has the race at a two point margin among likely voters. On the other hand a CBS poll out today has an 8 point Bush lead among registered voters. And I'm told the ABC/WaPo poll that's coming out shortly is in that range or even worse for Kerry.

Hmmm. That's an innovation.

In this morning's press gaggle, one of the reporters asked the following question: "This was a direct order he defied, right? I mean, he did have a direct order that he defied?"

The White House then applied a footnote to this question -- noted with an asterisk -- which referenced this explanatory footnote: "The memos that were released, in fact, show the President was working with his commanders to comply with the order."

This is a bit stunning.

Now it's not enough that we have a transcript in which the press asks questions and McClellan answers them or rebuts their implications. We get editorial notes explaining what the reporter really meant or disputing the question after the fact so that no one can follow up and call them on a demonstrable distortion.

Can't we just go back to the good old days when McClellan's office just edited the transcript after the fact? It was so much simpler.