Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Fred Kaplan has a bleak but, I fear, quite possibly accurate piece on Iraq today in Slate.

The key sentence is this one: "the U.S. military—the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart—finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks."

This is the essence of the present situation. For us Iraq has become the geopolitical equivalent of a Chinese finger puzzle, the more we exert ourselves the more the situation constricts around us and the higher the price becomes to get ourselves out, at least in any way that mainstream foreign policy types, among whom I would class myself, find acceptable.

And the key is Kaplan's point about tactical victories and strategic setbacks. Yet, I think we can go further and say that these don't 'yield' strategic setbacks, they are strategic setbacks in and of themselves.

Winning a pitched battle against Shi'a insurgents in the heart of one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites (and by this I mean not just the Imam Ali Mosque, but the cemetery near it and the area immediately surrounding it) is itself a defeat for us.

(Here is a piece just out from the Post that illustrates the bind into which we've sunk the Army and Marines.)

As the shrewdest thinkers on the left and the right concede on this issue, our true strategic challenges in the Muslim Middle East are not conventional military ones, but hearts-and-minds challenges. The trick is to figure out how we can solve or ameliorate that hearts-and-minds problem while simultaneously destroying the relatively small (in numerical terms) but highly lethal groups that constitute an imminent danger. Or, to put it more crisply, how do we wipe out al Qaida (and al Qaida-like groups) without generating so much bad blood in the Islamic world that the Islamic world keeps producing new al Qaidas faster than we can destroy them?

It's not clear to me necessarily what the best way to strike that balance is. But I think this is probably the worst way -- engaging in pitched battles with fighters who pose no direct danger to the US whatsoever in a way that does profound damage to our standing within the population that al Qaida and other similarly-inclined groups hope to do their recruiting.

On Iraq specifically, think about where we've gotten ourselves. The Shi'a were supposed to be our friends. They were the ones most lorded over by Saddam. They were the community upon which we intended to build an Iraqi democracy.

Now, that is admittedly a broad brush and simplistic way to put it (though I'm not sure the architects of this adventure gave it much deeper thought). And it's quite true that al Sadr and his Mahdi Army do not represent all Iraqi Shi'a. But fighting a pitched battle in Najaf is probably the best way to move things in that direction.

You've no doubt now seen Jim McGreevey's announcement: "My truth is that I am a gay American." etc.

I don't have anything to add or bright comments. Clearly, if the expected sexual harassment allegations are valid, then obviously it's just as bad as heterosexual sexual harassment. But, for the moment, leaving that as an open question, McGreevey managed to give some true nobility to a painful, ignoble moment.

You can see the video of the press conference here.

Take a look. It's worth seeing it for yourself.

Okay, enough Alan Keyes for the moment. Let's go back to a golden oldie from yesteryear, the GOP phone-jamming stunt from 2002.

You'll remember that this was the case in which the New Hampshire Republican Party hired an outfit called GOP Marketplace to arrange for a barrage of hang-up calls to phone banks doing get-out-the-vote work for the Dems, thus putting them out of commission for most of election day morning.

Well, in the background this case has been plugging along. And two folks -- the executive director of the state party, Chuck McGee and Allen Raymond, head of the now-defunct GOP Marketplace -- have pled guilty to federal charges in the case.

A lingering question coming out of the investigation though is the identity of this "official in a national political organization" who played a role in putting the whole scam together.

Now, a little while back I got a tip about who this person was, a certain someone involved in the Bush-Cheney reelection effort. I can't tell you a lot about the person other than that he has very poor phone etiquette.

I called this person several times, told him who I was and who I was with, and that I'd like to ask him some questions about the phone-jamming case. Try as I might, though, he never returned my calls, which struck me as somewhat rude. But what could I do?

I wasn't sure where else to go with that story and I had a convention to cover and other matters that needed attending to. But now it seems the Manchester Union Leader has comfirmed the involvement of the person in question.

Saith the Union Leader today: "We can’t tell you who it is or whether he broke any laws, but we can tell you the person questioned by the feds has a significant role in the Bush-Cheney campaign."

Perhaps some of the national outlets should start poking around on this one?

Not a happy day for the New Jersey Democratic Party. I don't know any more than I read in the papers on this one. But it don't look good.

Thank God it's not a swing state anymore ...

Perhaps Obama can work in some version of this clever quip <$NoAd$>once used by now-Sen. Chris Dodd. This from a piece in the New York Times, dated October 28th, 1980 and sent along this afternoon by a friend ...

Connecticut's most spirited race, appropriately, is also the most significant. It is a contest for the Senate between Representative Chris Dodd, a Democrat, and James Buckley, the Republican who sat in the Senate from 1970 to 1976 as a Conservative from New York. Mr. Dodd mocks him with a reminder that each state elects two senators, not each senator two states.

Of course, it's difficult for Obama to keep up when it comes to getting laughs at the expense of Keyes' outsider status. Keyes is far, far ahead of him.

When CNN's Candy Crowley asked Keyes why his out-of-state run in Illinois was any different from that of Hillary Clinton in New York, he pointed out the as-yet-unexplored 9/11 connection ...

Well, I think I have addressed the issue of the very deep differences between what I am doing and Hillary Clinton. She used the state of New York as a platform for her own personal ambition. I had no thought of coming to Illinois to run until the people here in the state party decided there was a need. Just as people faced with a flood, or people in the case of 9/11, would call on folks, firefighters and others to help them deal with the crisis that they were faced with. The people in Illinois have called on me to help deal with what they regard as a crisis.

Alan Keyes: Ambassador, Talk Show Host, First-Responder ...

This endorsement of Alan Keyes by a prominent Illinois Republican is so deeply feeble that I'm not certain it counts as an endorsement. But former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson tells the Sun-Times: ""I'd be inclined to vote Republican. His views are very conservative. Some of his positions would make me uncomfortable as a voter. I'm willing to give him a chance to tell the people of Illinois what his views are. I have not endorsed him."

Okay, I guess on second thought we can say definitively that that was not an endorsement. But I'm going to let it in anyway.

Meanwhile, yesterday Keyes gave a Chicago television station an impromptu performance of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', which you can see here.

It's actually not bad, makes me think he may have missed his true calling. Of course, Keyes isn't in Maryland any more, or Kansas for that matter. So, if he's offering renditions of appropriate-to-the-moment tunes, I think I would have suggested Otis Redding's classic 'Mr. Pitiful." But of course I wasn't there.

And finally we have one of the first verbal clashes between the two men. Keyes is insisting that Obama agree to meet him in no less than six debates, as he had apparently agreed to do with departed-nominee Jack Ryan.

Obama says he'll debate Keyes two or three times, not six.

To which Keyes responded: "So let's see. Before I came on the scene, Barack Obama thought of himself as if he was in the same class as Lincoln and Douglas in the critical drama of American life. And now he realizes that he's not in that class. Well, I think that the state of Illinois remains in that class. . . . And I think that it is a disservice to the people of this state to allow him to cower in timidity, and before the real historic challenge that is before us in this campaign."

Obama replied, pretty cleverly I thought, that the six debate offer was "a special for in-state residents."

And then Keyes with this marvelous piece of ridiculousness: "OK. So a guy from out of state steps into the ring, and Barack Obama wants to get out of the ring. I don't know, because you see when he goes into the Senate of the United States, if he should get there, he's not going to find one person from out of state standing there. He's going to find 98 people from out of state. . . . If he's not ready for me, he's not ready for the Senate of the United States."

From the Post editorial page ...<$NoAd$>

Ahmed Chalabi played a prominent role in convincing many people in Washington of the threat Saddam Hussein posed to this country, and his Iraqi National Congress received U.S. intelligence resources and funding to help overthrow the Baathist regime. The American administration in Iraq played a role both in appointing him to the Iraqi Governing Council and, later, in limiting his influence. As many remember, Mr. Chalabi sat behind Laura Bush this year during the president's State of the Union speech. If he is a fraudster, then those who supported him must be held accountable for doing so. If he is not, then the United States has an obligation to insist, publicly, that he not become the new Iraq's first political prisoner.

Held accountable?

Do the folks at the editorial page need to take a look in the mirror on this one?

I just saw a preview of a study that finds the Swift Boat ads quite effective among independents in raising doubts about John Kerry's war record. And that suggests that Karl Rove will want to send more money toward the group running the ad.

This of course is only the beginning. The temperature will get much higher in the next couple months since, as Charlie Cook, aptly argues this week, President Bush is in the process of losing this election unless there's a major change in the dynamic of the race.

I've gotten quite a few responses to my discussion of the priorities and interests involved in whether journalists should be compelled to disclose confidential conversations with White House officials who may or may not have leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Most of them critical, some supportive.

I suspect that the journalists in question -- for the moment, Matt Cooper of Time -- will run through their appeals and lose. As a matter of law, as I wrote earlier, I think I agree with that, though I also support journalists' refusing to comply and accepting the consequences.

I expect to have more to say about the various issues involved in this case. But before we get tangled in debate over journalistic ethics here and see Matt Cooper become the only person to serve a day in jail over this, let's draw back and see the big picture.

President Bush could have settled this matter in a flash a long time ago and spared the country a destructive exploration of the limits of journalistic confidences before the law. He still could.

Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, has now freed at least two journalists from their obligation of confidentiality to him. Presumably, in at least those two cases, he has nothing to hide.

There must be others still relying on a confidence who do have something to hide.

President Bush could make it known either implicitly or explicitly that he wants to get to the bottom of this mystery and that anyone who is asked should free journalists in the way Libby has. If they don't feel they can do so -- which is certainly their right, working in the White House doesn't mean you lose your right to defend yourself -- they should take a leave of absence from their job or quit.

When I mentioned this possibility some time ago, many readers said this was wrong as it compromised the rights of possible targets of prosecution. But I don't think that's a problem here. Everyone has a right to defend themselves in a criminal probe. But there's no constitutional right to work at the White House.

Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. But let's not lose sight of the president's passivity and indifference to this probe. He's dragging the country through this. And the reason, I think, is obvious. He doesn't want the probe to succeed.

I truly wonder sometimes about the New York Times. Judith Miller was not the only reporter to be bamboozled by Ahmed Chalabi. But her case was one of the most long-standing, thorough-going and troubling -- and it has never been fully or adequately addressed.

Today, Miller writes about the Volcker investigation into alleged corruption in the UN's oil-for-food program. And Chalabi, though not mentioned by name in the article, is at the center of that story.

The investigation, you'll remember, has several layers. Two key questions are a) whether the former regime skimmed money off the funds generated by the program (a given, and something that was known before the war) and b) whether the regime used oil-for-food funds to give bribes and kickbacks to various diplomats, politicians and international luminaries, including Benon Sevan, the head of the UN office that administered the program.

The second, far more inflammatory charge is the heart of the matter. Indeed, it is the accusation that got the whole series of investigations at the UN, on Capitol Hill and in Iraq under way. And that charge stems entirely from a series of documents discovered by members of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

We've noted earlier Chalabi's rather suspicious unwillingness to allow anyone who can even remotely be considered an independent observer to review these documents to determine their authenticity -- something which, given Chalabi's track record, is rather more than a matter of passing concern. And Miller's article reveals that Volcker still hasn't gotten to see them.

According to the Times, he has still "not yet received the original list of oil vouchers supposedly awarded to diplomats and United Nations officials, which was published by an Iraqi newspaper several months ago. Nor had he determined how his panel would vet such documents to see if they were forgeries."

Perhaps it's difficult at the moment for Chalabi to produce the documents and verify their authenticity given that he is apparently holed up in Tehran on the run from counterfeiting charges in Iraq. But then irony is no defense and he's had plenty of time already.

Miller repeats the charges against Sevan, as well as his denial. But she would have done better to note the highly dubious source of the original allegations.