Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A nice little detail about the quality of the numbers in the new budget.

This from Knight Ridder ...

Noticeably absent from next year's [budget] request is money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. White House budget director Joshua Bolten estimated that another $50 billion would be needed to cover those costs next year. The White House expects to cover the war costs with supplemental funds after next fall's elections.

And why isn't that fifty billion included in the deficit number?

Finally the Democrats start getting a sense of how this works. After various Democratic candidates and their surrogates have pressed the issue of the president's blowing off his military service in the early 1970s, The Washington Post puts together a piece reviewing what we know about the president's time in the Texas Air National Guard.

The Post piece bends over backwards to give plenty of benefits of the doubt. But it makes clear that the president jumped to the head of the line to get into the Guard because of political connections. And then, after he'd been given a comparatively easy way to get out of getting shot at or killed in Vietnam, he proceeded to blow off his service for substantial periods of time while in the Guard.

The Post points out that there is no definitive proof of Bush's non-attendance. But there is an utter lack of any documentation for his showing up for service and the officer he was supposed to report to during the key period in question continues to insist that he never laid eyes on him.

In the president's defense are a) the president's word, b) the memory of some friends who say "they recalled Bush leaving for Guard duty on occasion", and c) the fact that the aforementioned officer, when contacted yesterday by the Post, couldn't specifically remember how often he was on the base at the time.

I strongly recommend reading the article because there are various ins-and-outs that I've just summarized here. And the details are important. But the long and the short of it is that all the strong evidence points to the conclusion that the president blew off a lot of his service in the Guard, while there's enough flimsy and self-serving evidence to believe that he might have actually been there if you really, really, really want to believe he did.

A couple weeks shy of turning thirty-five myself, I'm old enough to understand that the president was pretty much a kid when at least some of this stuff happened -- 22 when he signed up. But if the president is going to run this campaign covering himself in martial glory then this stuff is more than fair game -- especially if he's not coming clean about it.

And the probable Democratic nominee was a kid too -- and he took a different path.

Sometimes you're left zigging when word comes down from <$NoAd$> headquarters that it's time to zag.

Here's a clip from the liner notes of Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror by Laurie Mylroie, chief ideologist and intel maven of the Iraq hawks ...

Combining important new research with an insider's grasp of Beltway politics, Mylroie describes how the CIA and the State Department have systematically discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime, including indisputable evidence of its possession of weapons of mass destruction. She reveals how major elements of the case against Iraq -- including information about possible links to al Qaeda and evidence of potential Iraqi involvement in the fall 2001 anthrax attacks -- were prematurely dismissed by these agencies for cynical reasons.

The Agency made them do it? Let's get our stories straight, shall we?

David Brooks' column in tomorrow's Times has a more nuanced and literary version of the 'CIA sold the president a bill of goods' line.

What we need, says Brooks, isn't less nudging and hammering from politicians, but more. Game-theory, bureaucratic thinking, and hyper-rationalism aren't the answer to the nimble, quick-on-its-feet, lickety-split irrationalism and nihilist violence of the early 21st century terrorist threat.

There's probably a lot of truth in that (though if you read histories of the early CIA you'll see that quite a number of the luminaries were, shall we say, more than a bit in touch with the irrational.)

But I don't know how Brooks gets past the fact that these politicians were pushing for conclusions (and putting them in the president's speeches) three or four times more erroneous than those offered up by the latter-day Von Neumanns at Langley.

And, after reading his column, I don't think Brooks does either.

A question. Going back over the last decade, name me the Democratic president, presidential nominee, or primary frontrunner whom my friend Mickey Kaus has not diagnosed with a ‘character problem’?

A pearl. Lapidary. As Churchill might have said, hypocrisy wrapped in mendacity, bundled up in ridiculousness. A true gem. Richard Perle tells the Times that the CIA did indeed sell the president a bill of goods. “The president is a consumer of intelligence, not a producer of it," Perle told the Times. "I have long thought our intelligence in the gulf has been woefully inadequate."

Right. Perle has long been a staunch critic of the CIA. His argument was that they understated the scope of Saddam’s WMD programs, naively discounted his ties to terrorist organizations and had an overly pessimistic vision of post-war Iraq.

In other words, if the CIA is all wet, Perle is all wet squared. Or probably even cubed.

The skeptical voices in the Intelligence Community --- the ones who are now vindicated in spades --- were the objects of his greatest derision. And his solution was to give even more credence to the unreliable defector testimony which played such a key role in our bamboozlement.

We shouldn't be surprised that the president has now decided to "sign an executive order creating an investigation of intelligence failures in Iraq" or that he's apparently mandated that it not report its finding until after the November election.

But what comes under its purview? "White House sources," tell CBS that "the commission will have full access to materials they need."

But can we get a bit more specificity on that? Will it just look at the collection and analysis of intelligence? And just at the CIA and other intelligence agencies? Or will it look at the administration's use of intelligence, and at the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President?

I confess: I'm just too gullible.

This morning Post columnist James Hoagland endorses the 'CIA sold the president a bill of goods' defense. Hoagland is willing to concede that the president may have "inflated" the "flawed intelligence that [his] spy bosses and senior aides provided."

But still, he writes, "Credulity, not chicanery, would be the plea, your honor."

As I said, or rather as Hoagland says, the Agency sold the president a bill of goods.

Now, here I am at my favorite cafe, laptop on my knees, latte at the ready, trying to make sense of the world. And this all throws me, because Hoagland spent the last two years telling me that the president and his top aides had to bully the Agency and the rest of the career types in the Intelligence Community and the national security establishment into getting religion on the Iraq threat.

And now I hear it's just the opposite?

For instance, take Hoagland's October 20th, 2002 column ("CIA's New Old Iraq File"). That's where he said that the Agency's record of underestimating the Iraqi threat was so dire that "it is no surprise that Bush has until now relied little on the Langley agency for his information on Iraq. There is simply no way to reconcile what the CIA has said on the record and in leaks with the positions Bush has taken on Iraq."

The column -- which I really recommend you read -- describes how the president and his aides had bullied the analysts at the CIA into finally admitting what a threat Saddam posed. "As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that."

A cultural change, indeed.

In that column, and in the ones that followed, Hoagland praised the President's now-notorious October 7th Cincinnati speech as the kind of goods on Saddam that could be wrung from the Intelligence Community when the president asserted sufficient 'leadership.'

So, for instance, a couple weeks later on November 3rd, Hoagland asked where the president got his info about Saddam's ties to al Qaida in the Cincinnati speech? "Sez who?," asked Hoagland, "The answer: Sez the CIA, when pressed to the mat." (Itals added.)

Like so much else in this up-is-down, black-is-white world the president and his backers want us to live in, this new defense doesn't even hold up against the google test. And somehow I imagine that the folks on the inside have access to more evidence and examples than I'm able to track down with my wifi-enabled laptop and a nexis account.

Late Update: And, of course, there's more. This from Hoagland's October 10th, 2002 column ...

A sea change has occurred in official Washington since the president decided last summer that he would soon have to be ready to go to war against Iraq. Public attempts by officials to bury or explain away menacing information about Iraq have largely dried up or gone underground, although the CIA fights a rear-guard action. Now information and intelligence are marshaled to make the case, rather than deflect it.

This is, broadly speaking, political use of information -- no more and no less so than was the previous phase of denial and obfuscation. Bush mobilized facts on Monday to mobilize the nation for a challenge that is no less dangerous for being "largely familiar," as the New York Times labeled Bush's arguments in Tuesday editions.

The State Department and the CIA, institutionally wary and dismissive of the extensive intelligence about Saddam Hussein and his crimes provided by the dissidents of the Iraqi National Congress, had to listen Monday night to the president recite a dossier full of Iraqi National Congress information and insights that have filtered down over the years through the media, the government and academia to the skillful and alert speechwriters on Bush's staff.

Ahh, yes. The INC and the president's speechwriters. Why do we need intelligence agencies when we've got these guys?

The Hoagland archive, truly the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving ...

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