Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As I wrote yesterday, the president’s attempt to pass off the “Mission Accomplished” sign as something the sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln foisted on him was a big mistake.

It’s dishonest, for one.

And having the commander-in-chief trying to pass off one of his political problems --- if admittedly one of the more minor ones --- on members of his military during wartime sends a rather inglorious message.

But this small story also points to a bigger one: this president’s political relationship with the American military and more broadly, his party’s relationship with the military.

During the last presidential election a number of high-ranking, recently retired generals --- including Anthony Zinni --- endorsed president Bush. That wasn’t quite unprecedented. But it got a lot of attention because it was outside the mold for what’s been expected of retired four-star generals, especially ones just recently retired.

Yet, as I wrote back in early 2002, pretty much from the start the brass at the Pentagon ended up getting something very different from what they’d expected. Though the ire focused on the president’s civilian appointees, rather than the president himself, the disgruntlement came quickly and grew apace over the president’s first two years in office.

Much of this was muted or set aside as the Pentagon ratcheted up for war in early 2003. But it resurfaced with a vengeance at mid-year as problems began to crop up in Iraq and it became increasingly clear that the president had taken the country -- and his military -- into a conflict on questionable pretenses and with no good plan for what we’d do there once we toppled the government.

Two things have happened in recent months. First, the animosity toward the administration --- or at least its appointees at the Pentagon --- has seeped down from the highest echelons of the officer corps down into its more junior ranks and the enlisted men and women on the ground. Second, there’s a creeping sense that the problem goes higher than Don Rumsfeld. (To get some sense of this progression, leaf through publications like Army Times.)

As a political matter, the politics of the US military has implications beyond who the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines themselves vote for. There is a whole class of civilian voters that take their own cue from which party does better by the US military.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why members of the military -- when disgruntled with or angry with Republicans and President Bush -- don’t necessarily shift to the Democrats. But this growing alienation of many in the military from this president and his party could prove very important next year.

I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about this issue in coming months. But the cover story ("Corps Voters" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells) of the new Washington Monthly begins the discussion with an excellent article on the subject. Take a look. It’s up this morning over at the Monthly website.

There's no question that President Bush stepped very deep in it yesterday when he sidestepped responsibility for the "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background at his announcement of the end of 'major combat operations' on board the USS Abraham Lincoln last May 1st.

As you may have seen, the president said that it was the Navy's idea to put up the sign, not the White House's. (The sign was carefully placed to frame the image of the president as he gave his speech.)

"We took care of the production of it," said Scott McClellan, "We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up."

So it was all the Navy's idea, but the White House was happy to step in with their sign-makers to help out.

Yeah. (They forced him to get on that plane too ...)

This is so ridiculous that I'm surprised they're even trying it. It's an example of how bedraggled and out-of-it they are at the moment.

I think it's at least possible that someone on board the ship or in the Navy suggested such a sign. But even if that's true, it's irrelevant.

This event aboard the Abraham Lincoln was a particularly crass exercise. But every such major event for a modern president is minutely choreographed. For Clinton as much as for Bush. Nothing isn't debated. And nothing, no image or word, is left to chance.

I doubt the Navy actually suggested this idea. But if they did -- and they may have -- there is no way that the idea was not debated, planned, vetted and everything else in the White House's political and communications offices. No way.

Everybody knows that it's ridiculous. And yet the president is on the record saying it.

And unlike a lot of other inherently more important issues, this is the sort of thing the White House press corps grabs onto and won't let go of.

A few points to cover.

First, though the administration seems like it’s in disarray over Iraq, I believe the internal disarray and in-fighting is much more pronounced than is now apparent. Much more.

Second, in various conversations yesterday I was struck by how similarly many Democrats and many neocons in (and in the orbit of) the administration are viewing the situation in Iraq. Or, at least one key aspect of it, one key fear.

At the American Progress conference yesterday I sat in on a press roundtable Q&A with John Podesta and Sandy Berger. Berger said his greatest fear was that we would withdraw from Iraq prematurely.

I heard this anxiety expressed by a lot of people at the conference. The concern is that the politicals at the White House will dictate a hasty and potentially disastrous withdrawal from Iraq --- one engineered not to create a long-term good outcome in the country, but to create a very specific short-term benefit, to eliminate or reduce the president’s political vulnerability on the issue in the fall of 2004.

The neocons seem to share that anxiety in spades.

One other thing to keep an eye on. Here’s a graf from an article in the Times today …

In a second day of high-level meetings at the Pentagon to refine American plans, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met on Tuesday with Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander of American forces in Iraq; and L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian administrator in Iraq.

What did Bremer tell Rumsfeld?

There was a very insightful, if troubling in its implications, op-ed in The Washington Post on Monday. With all the tumult of recent days, I fear it may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

The point of the article, though this is a great simplification, is that 'victory' in military contests seldom rests on objective or even clearly measureable standards. It depends mainly on having your adversaries agree that they are in fact defeated.

Perhaps another way to say it is that it depends on engineering military victories of such a totality and such a nature that your adversaries will accept defeat. Read the piece. It's quite perceptive. It raises an issue similar to one I discussed in this column in The Hill ("Shock and awe — nothing more — for Bush in Iraq") last March.

After finishing my column for The Hill this morning, I spent the whole day at the “New American Strategies for Security and Peace” conference. This is the conference put on by the Center for American Progress, and cosponsored by The Century Foundation and some magazine called The American Prospect.

The event kicked off with a speech by Wes Clark, which was quite good. (There’s no question that the long-form exposition is Clark’s forte and in this case it showed.)

Clark was invited before he announced his candidacy. And though his speech was quite well-received, there was some chatter about whether he should have been given such a prominent and singular role, given that he’s contesting for the nomination against nine other Democrats.

I thought his speech was sufficiently un-campaign-like to be appropriate for the venue (Clark spoke by satellite). But Ted Sorensen’s introduction of Clark was surprisingly fulsome.

In any case, Clark was good. He was followed by a number of good panels filled with various luminaries. (Between you and me, I had to spend a lot of my time in the hallways on my cell phone working on reporting out a certain story.) But what stood out to me over everything else was the speech in the early evening by Zbigniew Brzezinski.

I don’t know whether a transcript of the speech will be available. I’m not even sure how much of it was precisely written out or just extemporaneous. But the basic sanity, wisdom and tough-mindedness of it was bracing. And for me it brought home the nature of our historical moment, and the critical turning point we’re at, more powerfully than any other public address I’ve heard. I don’t know if the transcript will be available or if there’ll be some sort of recorded live feed on the conference website. But if it is, watch it. Balanced, powerful, shrewd -- it was that good.

Fresh from the Department of Sublime Understatement ...

Experts in public opinion said it would be difficult for Bush to convince Americans that the violence was a byproduct of success.

From Dana Milbank's and Thomas Ricks' article on Bush and the bombings in Tuesday's Post.

Let me touch gingerly on this topic: the forged Niger documents.

Who forged them? And why?

It’s one of the most intriguing and possibly one of most important questions surrounding the whole manipulated Iraq intelligence story. And yet it also seems to have generated the least curiosity.

I’ve picked up a few clues that tell me that could change awfully quickly. And in a pretty dramatic fashion.

Along those lines, let me suggest a couple questions worth asking.

Question #1

We know that everything got started when Dick Cheney brought up the Niger claims at a regularly scheduled CIA briefing in the early spring of 2002. Apparently, the briefer didn’t bring it up. Cheney did. There are various timing issues that come up here, which we’ll address in subsequent posts. But the basic question is, if Cheney didn’t hear about it from one of his intel briefings, where’d he hear about it? Specifically. Who put Cheney on to the Niger uranium story?

The answer to that question could prove very important. Especially when combined with the answer to question two.

Question #2

We know that the actual forged documents first surfaced months later in Italy when an informant offered them to an Italian journalist working for Panaroma. Let’s pick the story up from Sy Hersh’s current story in The New Yorker …

At that moment, in early October, 2002, a set of documents suddenly appeared that promised to provide solid evidence that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear program. The first notice of the documents’ existence came when Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama, a glossy Italian weekly owned by the publishing empire of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, received a telephone call from an Italian businessman and security consultant whom she believed to have once been connected to Italian intelligence. He told her that he had information connecting Saddam Hussein to the purchase of uranium in Africa. She considered the informant credible. In 1995, when she worked for the magazine Epoca, he had provided her with detailed information, apparently from Western intelligence sources, for articles she published dealing with the peace process in Bosnia and with an Islamic charity that was linked to international terrorism. The information, some of it in English, proved to be accurate.

Who’s this “Italian businessman and security consultant”? Who’s he do his security consulting for? Any associations to any folks with names we know? Any connections to noteworthy figures in the United States?

More on this to come.

I never thought I’d say this, but: No More Contributions!

Okay, let me explain.

I've been cobbling together this site on pennies for just shy of three years. And contributions for the general support of TPM are as needed as ever. So please keep contributing. But yesterday I announced that TPM would be covering the New Hampshire primary on location for the ten days leading up to the vote, and that the trip would be funded by reader contributions ear-marked just for this purpose.

My plan was that today I’d put up a funding target amount and perhaps one of those thermometers that they use at fundraisers to track the progress toward that goal. But things went a little more quickly than I’d anticipated.

In fact, the response has been literally overwhelming.

The original post went up at 3:08 PM yesterday afternoon. And as of 2:49 PM today we had already raised $4864.00.

That is, certainly, more than is necessary.

The point here was never to hit the Granite State in, you know, princely Howard Fineman-fashion --- you know, gold-plated quill pen, vellum notebook, personal food-taster, etc. All that I need is transportation to Manchester, a room at a mid-range hotel, a rental car to drive around the state, and some money for gas and miscellaneous expenses.

With the jacked-up hotel rates in Manchester in primary season, probably just the hotel and the rental car for ten days, plus taxes, will likely run a couple grand.

So here’s what I intend to do. I’m swamped working on a couple stories today. So this is tentative. But here’s my plan. I’m going to put together a budget. Then I’m going to go through the list of contributors and find the people who sent in contributions after the amount required under the budget had been reached. I’m going to contact those people individually. And they’ll have the choice of either having their money refunded or having it put into the general fund for the support of the site.

In any case, if you’re itching to contribute please do so early and often for the general support of the site. But we already have plenty for the New Hampshire trip. And to all the supporters of the site --- financial and otherwise --- a very sincere ‘thank you.’

There they go again.

As long time readers of this site know, we devoted a good deal of time last fall to the Republican voter suppression and intimidation efforts in South Dakota, as well as in a few other states around the country.

At the moment, there’s a close-fought race for the governorship in Kentucky and, as often happens when these races come down to the wire, Republicans are at it again.

(In South Dakota last year these efforts were directed at Native Americans, but in this case African-Americans are the targeted group.)

As recent press reports have noted, state Republicans plan to flood predominantly African-American precincts in western and central Louisville with poll watchers to challenge the eligibility of voters.

On Thursday, Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jack Richardson IV told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the precincts in question weren’t chosen on the basis of racial make-up or voting patterns. But a flyer sent out in July advertising a meeting to recruit poll watchers tells a different story.

(We've just added the flyer itself to the TPM Document Collection, click here to see it.)

The flyer is signed by Mike Czerwonka, a Republican activist from Louisville. In the flyer he says he has been "asked by the Fletcher Campaign for Governor to serve in the capacity of insuring the integrity of the election process" in portions of Louisville, and that Fletcher, the Republican candidate for governor, would himself be attending the meeting.

When I spoke to a representative of the Fletcher campaign this morning, he told me that to the best of his knowledge Fletcher had not attended the meeting and that Czerwonka is working with the state party rather than the campaign.

We'll try to make a few more calls to sort that out, but what does the letter say?

Under the headline "Gubernatorial Election Integrity Call to Arms" it asks a rhetorical question ...

What do a series of close-fought races in Kentucky and Louisiana in recent years have in common, the flyer asks? It then answers the question …

All were adversely impacted by the presence and influence of the Democratic National Committee and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (the black militant division of the AFL-CIO and funded in part by the DNC), and the NAACP and their efforts to marshal the Get Out To Vote (sic) efforts targeted toward the black, poor voters in selected communities and selected targeted races of national impact.

More, I suspect much more, to come on this …

Late Update: The Czerwonka flyer says “Please join Ernie Fletcher and me for an informational meeting at the ABC Office’s in Louisville … to learn more about this most important and vital issue.” (To get more of a sense of the context, see the letter itself.)

The ABC offices are the offices of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

A spokesman for the Fletcher campaign, Wes Irvin, tells me that Congressman Fletcher did attend a board meeting of the Executive Board of the ABC on the morning in question. But this, said Irvin, was a normal campaign outreach meeting to a group of political supporters and was unrelated to any issues about voting or ballot integrity.

Would you like to see wall-to-wall coverage of the New Hampshire primary on TPM?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to going to New Hampshire in January to cover the primary – probably for the last ten days or so before the actual vote on January 27th. That’s about the time things really heat up and all hell starts to break loose. That’s more or less what I did in 2000 when I was the Washington Editor of the American Prospect, of which nothing more need be said.

Now, the normal way to do this would be for me to go to one of the publications I write for, get them to pick up the tab (hotel room, transportation, etc.), and write it up for them.

But that would mean saving most of the reporting for some magazine or website or newspaper and not doing much or any of it for TPM. And, frankly, I think blog coverage is much better suited to covering something like the New Hampshire primary than magazines or newspapers. Because it’s really about moment-to-moment reports, running commentary, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t easily fit into the rubrics of conventional journalism. Besides, you want to know what’s happening while it’s happening, not in a lazy summing-up a week after the votes have been counted.

For better or worse I think the nomination battle will be largely determined in New Hampshire. That doesn’t mean the nominal winner will win the nomination. Not at all. But the primaries come fast and furious after January 27th (more than ever before) and the momentum or lack thereof coming out of New Hampshire will, I think, prove decisive.

We’ve tried to find various ways to innovatively combine blogging with traditional journalism. And this will be another experiment in doing just that.

In any case, what to do? I want to dedicate this trip entirely to blog coverage so I want to fund it with reader support, reader subscriptions. That’ll be part of the experiment too --- whether this kind of independent journalism can come up with the resources to fund high-quality on-the-ground play-by-play reporting.

‘Subscription’ in this case doesn’t mean anything exclusive. TPM will be freely available to anyone and everyone who wants to read it, whether they’ve contributed or not, just like always. (And of course many readers have already generously contributed to the general upkeep of the site.) Here I’m using the term in a somewhat old-fashioned sense to refer to putting some money up, not for the general support of the site, but to fund a specific project you’re going to make use of or benefit from.

Anyway, you get the idea. Soon, we’ll be posting probably a graphic, more details, what we need to raise, and so forth. So more news to come. But if this is something you’d like to see happen, you can click here now (contributions no longer being accepted: thank you to all who contributed.) to put some money in the pot set aside specifically for the New Hampshire reporting trip.

Come on board. I think it’ll be exciting. More details to come soon …