Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There is a sobering, though also oddly encouraging article about Iraq in Saturday's Washington Post -- actually an odd mix of sobering and encouraging. The topic is the new Iraqi government now being planned and organized jointly by the US and the UN and the fact that the decision has been made to toss overboard most if not all of the folks we put on the Interim Governing Council.

At the top of the list of those to get the heave-ho is Ahmed Chalabi.

According to the article, the administration is seriously considering cutting off the amazingly ill-conceived $340,000 a month subsidy we still give Chalabi. Meanwhile, his role as head of the de-Baathification committee has just been publicly criticized by Paul Bremer.

Says the Post ...

Chalabi has headed the committee in charge of removing former Baathist officials. In a nationwide address yesterday designed to promote national reconciliation, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said complaints that the program is "unevenly and unjustly" administered are "legitimate" and that the overall program has been "poorly implemented."

There is of course a larger issue at work here. Late in the game, the CPA is trying to reach out to some broad segment of the Sunni minority to invest them in the process of creating a new Iraqi state. And <$Ad$>that is a difficult, thorny task -- which may necessitate drawing back from a more ambitious program of de-Baathifcation.

Still, putting Chalabi in charge of such an operation was always an egregious mistake. And it's not hard to imagine he used the post to settle scores and advance his own personal interests, just as he did with his possession of much of the archives of the former regime's secret police.

(As we've discussed previously, the US occupation authority acquisced in Chalabi's seizure and continued possession of much of the archive of Saddam's secret police, which he has used to blackmail his enemies both in Iraq and in the rest of the region. I'm even told that he's using them to prepare a lawsuit against King Abdullah of Jordan, to be filed in US courts.)

In any case, the news seems to be Chalabi out the nearest air lock. And there's some added details in there about his new scheming against UN representative Lakdar Brahimi, claiming Brahimi is an enemy of the Shia and so forth. Basically Chalabi continues to be a rogue and self-dealer and schemer and scammer till the end. As I said a while back (and not really in jest), the real question is whether we should take this man into custody now, while we are still the sovereign authority in the country, to ensure that he can be held to account for pocketing US taxpayer dollars and helping bamboozle the country into war with his phony intelligence findings.

There are still more than a few of the Chalabi crowd here in DC who persist in calling this charlatan the "Leader of Free Iraq", as they did for last several years or 'the greatest Arab since Mohammed' as one of his acolytish handlers often refers to him. (Believe me, I'm not making this stuff up.) And those folks are after Brahimi, claiming that he is a creature of the Arab League and up to no good.

I know little about Brahimi and perhaps there are legitimate criticisms of him. But anyone who can help usher Chalabi out of the political process at least has one good thing to recommend him.

So ditching Chalabi is a good thing, and encouraging.

More sobering is the apparent decision to ditch most of the other folks involved in the Interim Governing Council. They'll come up with some gentle way to frame the decision. But the bottom line seems clear: we've decided that the entire year-long experiment in building up the rudiments of a liberal Iraqi state have just been a wash and that it's best just to start over from scratch. And when you think about it, that's pretty terrible.

Ideally, you'd use the period of occupation to build up at least the nucleus of the institutions you'd want to see take root under full sovereignty. But the IGC, by all accounts and all the available polling data, is wildly unpopular in the country. And we hear more and more reports about its being laced with corruption, self-dealing and lots of other ridiculousness.

That's not to say there aren't many genuine democrats at work in the process who've tried to build the country up rather than exploit the situation for personal gain. Yet the overall reality seems pretty bad. And I suspect we're only at the start of hearing all manner of horror stories about what's really happened to much of the money we've poured into the place.

There's an interesting follow-on to the story of Tami Silicio, the contract worker in Kuwait who was fired for taking the picture of homeward-bound military dead, which appeared in the Seattle Times.

The picture got into the Times' hands because Silicio sent a copy to her friend Amy Katz. Katz sent it to the Times; and then the Times published it after getting Silicio's permission.

It turns out that Silicio and Katz also worked as contract workers for a Halliburton subsidiary in Kosovo in 1999. And they are the two who sued Halliburton -- and Dick Cheney in his capacity as CEO -- for sexual harassment and also for the firm's policy of having separate toilets for Americans and for locals -- something that garnered a bit of attention during the 2000 election.

Right-wing talk radio seems to be making something of this, arguing that it discredits the two in the whole matter of the photograph. But it seems equally plausibly to credit them -- at least in my mind. Though I suspect that no more defense contracting work is in line for either.

I'm still curious to find out more about the planning to seize Iraq's southern oil fields which began roughly a week after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Whatever President Bush's ambitions to launch a war against Iraq and whatever early discussions there were at Camp David, according to Bob Woodward, the president was quite sensitive to the potentially explosive public consequences of having it become known too quickly that he was preparing to launch a war against Iraq. According to Woodward, he waited until late November -- after the initial military phase of the Afghanistan war was essentially over -- to tell Don Rumsfeld to start drawing up plans for war against Iraq.

Yet that's not when the planning started. As I noted, it started two months earlier.

At the same time Centcom was tasked with drawing up plans to attack the Taliban -- in fact, in the very same document -- they were also tasked with putting together plans to seize the oil fields of southern Iraq -- same document, same order.

Whose idea was that? And why were we dividing the war planners' time with gaming out this oil fields gambit when they had the more pressing issue of planning the Afghanistan war? And why the idea of seizing Iraq's oil fields in the first place?

Yesterday I was going to post a link to this story in the Seattle Times which describes one stop on the way home for the American soldiers and marines killed in Iraq -- a loading bay at the US military section of Kuwait International Airport.

The article begins: "The aluminum boxes, in ordered rows, are bound by clean white straps on freshly scrubbed pallets. American flags are draped evenly over the boxes."

The painfully antiseptic quality of those words pervades the piece. And it is one which, quite apart from your political views, it's worth your time to read -- each of these young Americans, motionless in a box, the focus of a tragedy beginning to unfold thousands of miles away, silent.

The focus of the story is a 50 year old mother of three, a civilian contract worker, Tami Silicio, who works at the loading bay in question. The article tells the broader story of the processing of these remains through the prism of Silicio's work in that process.

The article ends with these three grafs ...

Since the 1991 Gulf War, photographs of coffins as they return to the United States have been tightly restricted. And few such photographs have been published during the conflict in Iraq.

On the April day depicted in the photograph that accompanies this story, more than 20 coffins went into a cargo plane bound for Germany. Silicio says those who lost loved ones in Iraq should understand the care and devotion that civilians and military crews dedicate to the task of returning the soldiers home.

Silicio says she shares her motto, "Purpose and Cause," with colleagues who appear worn down from the job: "We serve a purpose and we have a cause — that's what living life is all about."

As the second graf notes, the article is paired with a photograph of coffins on those pallets in the hull of a cargo plane. Apparently, Silicio, who took the photograph, had sent a copy to a friend. The paper got it from the friend. They contacted Silicio. And things went from there.

Now, I don't know the precise timeline and cause and effect. But this photo came up just before a batch of similar photos from Dover Air Force Base, which were apparently the product of FOIA requests from the Pentagon, hit the Internet. And Silicio's photo seems in some sense to have opened the floodgates.

Today, the Seattle Times reported that Silicio and David Landry, a co-worker she recently married, were fired over the photo by the civilian contractor that employed them, Maytag Aircraft.

"I feel like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out. I have to admit I liked my job, and I liked what I did," Silicio told the Times. "It wasn't my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything."

Now, I have a degree of ambivalence about this question of media coverage of the fallen soldiers coming back to Dover. For many opponents of the war there is an unmistakable interest in getting these photographs before the public in order to weaken support for the war. There's no getting around that. I don't mean to imply that most who want these pictures out believe that, or even that that's an illegitimate goal. And there's a long record of governments managing bad news during wartime to keep up civilian morale.

But one needn't oppose the war to find something morally unseemly about the strict enforcement of the regulations barring any images of the reality behind these numbers we keep hearing on TV. There is some problem of accountability here, of putting on airs of national sacrifice and not having the courage to risk the real thing, some dark echo of the Rumsfeldian penchant for 4th generation, high-tech warfare where data transfers and throw weights replace bodies at every level.

Of course, the rationale for this policy of barring these images is that to publicize them would be an invasion of the privacy of the families. And certainly if the issue were one of barring photographers from private funerals, perhaps that notion would have merit. But the idea that the privacy of the families is advanced by barring any sort of public grieving and witnessing of these sacrifices just seems ridiculous on its face -- especially when we are often talking about rows of anonymous flag-draped coffins.

All the arguments aside, there's something wrong about the fact that we're seeing none of this.

Then there's Silicio.

Every job has rules. Civilians working in war zones probably have more than most. And taking pictures of things you're not supposed to take pictures of and allowing them to be published is probably high on the list.

But here we have a situation where this woman was the first one to give Americans a view of something they should have seen a year ago. And for that she loses her job.

For all the rules, this is a case where the sum (her getting fired over this) isn't more or less but just entirely different from the sum of its parts.

Whatever the rules say, that fact that she lost her job over this is wrong.

I have a newspaper column out tomorrow which pursues the hypothesis I mentioned a few days ago that an escalating crisis in Iraq might actually help President Bush, even though the crisis is demonstrably of his own making.

Meanwhile, Ruy Teixeira has a post on his blog DonkeyRising which says Bush's recent rise in the polls reflects his bulking up on support in the bright red states without making much if any headway in the battleground states where the race will be won or lost.

For what it's worth, I remain fundamentally optimistic about this race.

Secret liberal influence at the Coalition Provisional Authority?

Compare and contrast the CPA Website with that of the Brookings Institution.

Who knew Strobe's influence still stretched so far?

Actually, a quick look under the hood of each site shows that either the CPA or Brookings snagged the other outfit's website and remodeled it as their own.

The presence of this line ("submenu name="Brookings Review" id="brs" url="/press/review/rev_des.htm") buried in the code of both websites seems to give a pretty good sign of who did the deed.

Now if they'd just crib the policy proposals and not just the html!

Oh, the Humanity!

Hey, at least those CPA folks are saving money!

Okay, I'm done.

Another follow-up on the White House press conference question.

As I said before, for the reasons I noted below, I'm sure the Presidential press conferences don't work from presubmitted questions.

However, as I noted a couple days ago, that doesn't mean the president's aides, don't give him "must-calls" -- a list of ringer journalists who they know will toss the president a lifeline with some gimme question.

Bill Sammon of the Washington Times was one of the 'must-calls' from last week.

He served up this ridiculous question: "You have been accused of letting the 9-11 threat mature too far, but not letting the Iraq threat mature far enough. First, could you respond to that general criticism?"

For all I know, maybe Sammon gave Scott or Bartlett at look at his question in advance. Who knows? But I really doubt it. After all, they could be pretty confident it would either be something like this or maybe: "Mr. President, many commentators claim John Kerry is a ridiculous liberal who can't stand up to the bad guys. Can you comment?" You get the idea.

In any case, this strikes me as a separate point. I remain quite sure the journalists from the straight-up publications (real newspapers and TV nets) don't submit their questions in advance.

There's been quite a lot of chatter in the last couple days about an article in the Daily Trojan (no snickers, please), the USC student newspaper, which reports the following about what author Ron Suskind allegedly said at at a public forum on campus ...

One of Suskind's most severe critiques of Bush was not only Bush's lack of press conferences but also his management of those conferences.

For each press conference, the White House press secretary asks the reporters for their questions, selects six or seven of the questions to answer and those reporters are the only ones called upon to ask their questions during the press conference, Suskind said.

I'd never heard of such a <$Ad$>thing and couldn't believe it was true. But Suskind's a serious person and a first-rate journalist. And a bunch of readers asked if I knew anything about it. And, frankly, I've gotten burned a few times underestimating the degree of skullduggery this White House is capable of. So, with some trepidation, I emailed two friends from the White House press corps just to make sure.

I know and trust both of them and both assured me, categorically, that this is not what happens.

In the words of one of them: "It's complete ---------. As in 'I can't believe that he was quoted accurately' ---------. Occasionally, before background briefings, White House aides will canvass reporters to ask what we're interested in on that day (but "the Middle East" is plenty answer for them). But I have never, ever heard of submitting questions in writing, orally, by email, or any other way before a presidential press conference. Not under Ari, not under Scott."