Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

ABC News is currently running a web headline which reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Did Kerry lie about Vietnam War medals?"

Here's a question. Can someone tell me the last time ABC used the "L" word about President Bush? Or is it always 'exaggeration' when it's President Bush?

And yes, I noticed Chris Vlasto's name too.

Late Update: As of 2:54 PM, the headline now reads: "Medal Dispute, EXCLUSIVE: Why did Kerry change story about Vietnam medals?

That, and why did ABC change its headline?

Would you like to read on-location TPM coverage <$NoAd$>from the Democratic and Republican conventions?

Well, here's your chance.

TPM's readership is more than twice the size it was last October when we last did this. So newer readers won't remember. But we first did this last October 26th when we put out a call for reader contributions to fund a reporting trip to New Hampshire. The funding part of the experiment was overwhelmingly successful and ... well, you have to be the judge, but I thought the reporting part of it went well too.

(You can see most of the results from the TPM archives of the third and fourth weeks of January.)

In any case, the pitch this time is really pretty much the same as last time. So let me quote from that post from October 26th ...

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 ... 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.

Now, conventions aren't like primaries. We know who's going to be nominated, more or less precisely what time in the evening, on what day, and so forth. But the party conventions are also the only time in four years and certainly the only time during the campaigns when, if not the whole party, then at least most party professionals and activists, get together in one place. So it's a unique opportunity to get a read on where people are at, how enthused they are, how confident or demoralized, scattered or focused they are just before the race moves into the home stretch.

So there it is. The Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 26th - 29th and the Republican National Convention in New York on August 30th - September 2nd. Travel, basic expenses, accommodations, perhaps a bodyguard for the Republican convention. You get the idea.

We'll be following up with more details. But if you'd like to contribute and make this possible, you can click here to make a contribution through paypal.

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

Yesterday the president's longtime handler and current campaign advisor Karen Hughes was on CNN attacking John Kerry's military service record and subsequent work as a Vietnam war protester.

But before getting lost in the details of Hughes' attacks, let's draw back and see the big picture -- something the press would do well to consider and try.

What's the signature pattern of the president's life?

When he faces a challenge or a tough scrape, he lets his family and friends bail him out, do his fighting for him. You see it again and again through failed businesses, legal scrapes, the whole matter of ducking service in Vietnam and then getting help cleaning up subsequent unfortunateness while he was serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

It's even come up again and again on the campaign trail. George W. Bush has faced three opponents (McCain, Gore and Kerry) since he came onto the national political stage -- each served in Vietnam, though each under very different circumstances. He's had his lieutenants attack the service of each one.

So here we have the same pattern again -- no different. The president wants to challenge John Kerry's military service. So he gets Karen to do it for him. You can get tripped in the chutzpah of this because this not only throws light on an earlier period when the president couldn't fight his own fights, it repeats the pattern.

But here's some free advice for Kerry.

Don't get mixed up on the details. Take this directly to the president. Tell him to turn over a new leaf in life and stop being a coward. If the president wants to attack or question your war record or what you did after the war, tell him to do it himself. No special deals, no hidden help from family retainers, no hiding behind Karen Hughes. Tell him, for once, to fight his own fights.

Just a brief follow-up on this secret trip to Swansea, Wales, which Jim Woolsey made on behalf of the US government, with a government jet and FBI personnel in tow, to verify Laurie Mylroie's theory that Saddam Hussein was the mastermind behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

Another article out in Newsweek says Richard Clarke tried to tell this story in Against All Enemies but White House lawyers excised his recounting because it included 'classified information', that inviolate shroud of state that can only be pierced when some political opponent needs to be smeared (i.e., Clinton, Plame, Wilson, Clarke, Gorelick, et al.)

Now, I thought I remembered the Inspector Woolsey escapade coming up in Clarke's book. So I went back to the source. And sure enough, there it is. Right there on page 95. But a quick perusal reveals what happened. The discussion is not in Clarke's words but rather in an at-length quote from an article by that unique and irreplaceable chronicler of neocon folly, Jason Vest.

So presumably, Al Gonzales's censors said no-can-do. And to this Clarke replied, "Fine, I'll just grab this graf out of Jason Vest's article in the Village Voice. And that's already public. So what's the problem?"

Considering that this whole enterprise was an elaborate joke, a fact of which only the instigators were unaware, it's difficult to see what about this really needs to be kept secret -- unless, of course, you're considering the damage to national prestige caused by revealing the fact that high-level US government officials could have involved themselves in such an amateurish stunt.

Though there may be elements of this we don't know about, the most probable reason this get nixed is that it would be embarrassing for the administration.

Now, one other point.

There's been a lot of attention and hand-wringing over the last few days over the release of a new poll which claims that a majority of Americans -- not an overwhelming majority but solid ones -- believe that Iraq was either behind the 9/11 attacks or provided ''substantial support'' to al Qaida and either had WMD at the outset of the war or had major on-going weapons programs.

And to this people say, well, what is it with people? How can so many people not have heard the reports of David Kay and all the rest?

But consider this. And let's consider this a thought experiment, probing the limits of passive presidential deception.

Let's say that 55% of Americans still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the war and that they were providing material support to al Qaida. Let's not question why they believe it. Let's just put it out there.

Now, what would happen if in some major forum -- a press conference or a major speech -- the president were to go before the public and say: "Before the invasion, we believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We made the best guess based on the intelligence we had. But, now, having looked at all the evidence, it's clear we were wrong. He didn't have them."

Clearly, here we're setting aside questions of bad-faith and willful deception. But let's give him the best foot to put forward.

A week after that speech, or that comment in a press conference, how much do you think those numbers (55%) would change? I suspect they'd change quite a bit.

And what that tells me is that, to a great degree, the portion of the public that is is misinformed on this issue is misinformed because the president continues to deceive them, even if in a passive manner.

And why does he do so? Because it is in his political interest that they remain deceived.

Late Update: Juan Cole also has some very perceptive comments on this poll: "Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs? One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology."

There is an excellent article just out in The New York Review of Books by Peter W. Galbraith called 'How to Get Out of Iraq'. Given the highly polarized state of the debate about what we should do in Iraq, that title may give the impression that this is a 'turn tail' and run sort of prescription. But that's not at all what the piece is about.

Because of his background researching Saddam's atrocities and his diplomatic work in the Balkans in the 1990s, Galbraith brings to this issue a unique credibility and authority. And there is much in the piece to bruise the comfortable assumptions of proponents and opponents of the war.

Above all this is an informed and honest portrayal of what's happening in Iraq; and it is not quite bleak, but pretty close. In his prescription, Galbraith is looking, as Fareed Zakaria was in his own way a couple weeks ago, for a political solution, or perhaps better to say, a political equilibrium in the country that will allow the US military to draw back from a costly, enervating and ultimately self-destructive Gazafication of the parts of Iraq it continues to occupy.

Galbraith proposes what amounts to a de facto partition of the country -- something on the model of the old Yugoslavia, with three highly autonomous republics within a loose national government charged with handling diplomacy, monetary policy and certain aspects of national defense. I don't think I'm willing to go that far yet. But it's a proposal which is, I guess, worth considering. And the article is well worth your attention.

I had missed this recent article by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball in Newsweek on yet more of the ridiculous efforts Paul Wolfowitz and others in the administration have gone to to find that Holy Grail of the neocon knighthood, the fabled Iraq-al Qaida link.

Some of the antics from the Round Table at 17th & M are more comic than truly troubling, and ones we've heard of before -- like the secret mission they sent Jim Woolsey on to Swansea, Wales to verify Laurie Mylroie's endlessly discredited theory that Saddam was behind the first attack on World Trade Center in 1993.

There's no need to get too bogged down in the details. But Mylroie's theory rests in part on a claim of faked identities that makes Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the attack, into an Iraqi agent. I knew about Woolsey's trip. I didn't know, or perhaps had just forgotten, that his efforts apparently conclusively debunked Mylroie's theory.

One more thought on Mylroie et al. One point that is seldom noted, or too quietly if at all, is that while the neocons and their press defenders endlessly charge their critics with peddling 'conspiracy theories' about them, they themselves hold tenaciously to a series of crackpot theories that make the more wild-eyed interpretations of the Kennedy assassination sound cautious, judicious and restrained by comparison.

In any case, what's new in the Newsweek article is that sending Woolsey on this little spy mission to Wales wasn't the only gambit they tried. And the other was far more serious. Wolfowitz apparently repeatedly pushed to have Yousef retroactively declared an 'enemy combatant' in the war on terror so that he could be taken out of the custody of the federal prison system, placed into military custody and presumably sweated or have his fingernails peeled back until he copped to all Mylroie's ridiculousness.

It takes a moment to unravel the tangle of bad values, bad instincts and poor judgment here. But let's give it a crack.

First there's this matter of the rule of law.

One of the challenges of really believing in the rule of law is that really sticking to it very frequently means going by the book and following proper procedures even in the case of thoroughly bad actors. Certainly, Yousef is close to as bad as they come. So there's some awkwardness perhaps in pointing out that though the guy has been sentenced to solitary confinement for the rest of his life, you can't just pull him out of our criminal justice system and upend five hundred years of legal precedent on a whim.

And this matter of a whim is an important point.

I remember back just after 9/11 going through some thought experiments in my head over these questions -- and living in Washington just after 9/11 and during the anthrax scare, these thought experiments took on a palpable urgency. In any case, the question was, what if we had someone in custody who we knew had knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack? How far would we go to make him talk?

As the saying goes, the constitution is not a suicide pact. Certainly, in extremis, there must be things we would do in such circumstances, that would never be allowable under normal conditions. I'm not saying what those things would be. And the question itself is one I find troubling. But the sort of terrorist threat we face is one that transcends normal criminal law enforcement.

In any case, think of the difference between that and going back and pulling a federal criminal inmate out of the criminal justice system to make him admit that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. To my mind, all the difference in the world.

And here you have the kernel of the problem with these folks: the combustible mix of poor judgment, a rich ideological fantasy life and pervasive disrespect for the rule of a law. It's a very dangerous combination.

There's an article by Ryan Lizza in the current New Republic that I strongly recommend you read. The upshot of the piece is that there's some wisdom -- and certainly a strategy behind John Kerry's relative absence from the airwaves over the last six to eight weeks.

The conventional rule of campaigning is that you don't let your opponent define you before you get a chance to define yourself.

Yet, as Ryan describes it, the Kerry plan is to do something very near the opposite. The plan is to take these punches from the Bush campaign and let Bush burn through a lot of his money. Hopefully, in the view of the Kerry campaign, Kerry comes through that without having suffered too much damage. Then Kerry fights back with hard-hitting ads through the late spring and summer with Bush having squandered his huge money advantage.

Now, what to make of this?

This is one of those strategies that is improbably brilliant unless it turns out to be completely stupid. And the difficulty, as with so many high stakes decisions in life, is that it's hard to know in advance which it will be.

There is, however, as Ryan points out, at least some reason to think the Kerry campaign may be on to something. If I recall correctly, the Bush campaign spent something on the order of $50 million in March alone -- most of it on ads -- and certainly tens of millions more through April. So Bush has burned through a ton of money while Kerry has been raising it at a blinding clip. Ryan notes the following ...

On March 1, Kerry had $2.4 million in the bank and Bush had $110 million. By the end of April, a rough educated guess, based on how both candidates are raising and spending money, would put Kerry's cash on hand at about $60 million and Bush's at about $75 million.

Now, there's been a lot of attention to Bush's bounce in the polls. But even so Republican-friendly a poll as the Fox News poll, which is the most recent national poll out, has Bush 43%, Kerry 42%. That's within the margin of error; and by most calculations an incumbent who barely pulls more than 40% is in serious trouble.

So there's certainly a way of looking at what's happened over the last month or so and say that Bush has essentially squandered his entire financial advantage over Kerry. And the race is still neck and neck.

Famous last words? Could be.

I don't put any of this forward to endorse this strategy or criticize it. I'm uncertain. It just seems to me that it is at least arguable that Kerry's getting bruised a bit was a price worth paying to even the campaign funds playing field. Again, at least arguable.

One other point.

I've watched presidential campaigns with some degree or another of attention back to 1980. But the 2000 election was the first I observed with any sort of inside access. Looking back on that race -- and I say this as a real admirer of Gore -- the problem was not the strategy so much as the multiplicity and mutability of strategies the Gore campaign had. Indeed, the real problem, one might say, was the campaign's susceptibility to mau-mauing and aggressively proffered free-advice from pundits and other Democrats.

Putting that more simply, the Gore campaign listened too closely to its critics and paid a price for it.

The Kerry campaign doesn't seem to have that problem. And my gut tells me that's a good thing.

Of course, if the strategy is bad, commitment to it simply ensures a bad result. And that, I suppose, would make Kerry rather like Bush, who intends to continue demonstrating leadership by adhering to an already demonstrably failed strategy until he runs the whole nation right off the cliff.

Steady leadership, as the president's campaign posters say, in times of change.

Economic sabotage. This from Reuters: "At least one boat attacked Iraq's main oil terminal offshore in the Gulf on Saturday, a British military spokesman said ... Iraq is almost completely dependent on the Basra terminal to export around 1.9 million barrels per day, providing badly needed state funding."

Two more data points on the order to begin planning to seize Iraq's southern oil fields, which was included in the order Centcom got to make plans to attack Afghanistan just after September 11th, 2001.

The April 17th article on Bob Woodward's book in the Washington Post suggested that such an idea <$NoAd$>was pushed before 9/11 by Paul Wolfowitz but rejected as "lunacy" by Colin Powell ...

Early discussions among the administration's national security "principals" -- Cheney, Powell, Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- and their deputies focused on how to weaken Hussein diplomatically. But Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz proposed sending in the military to seize Iraq's southern oil fields and establish the area as a foothold from which opposition groups could overthrow Hussein.

Then there is this intriguing passage from Jane Mayer's February article in The New Yorker about the Cheney Energy Task Force (itals added)...
For months there has been a debate in Washington about when the Bush Administration decided to go to war against Saddam. In Ron Suskind’s recent book “The Price of Loyalty,” former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill charges that Cheney agitated for U.S. intervention well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Additional evidence that Cheney played an early planning role is contained in a previously undisclosed National Security Council document, dated February 3, 2001. The top-secret document, written by a high-level N.S.C. official, concerned Cheney’s newly formed Energy Task Force. It directed the N.S.C. staff to coöperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the “melding” of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards rogue states,” such as Iraq, and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”

Chatter at the time at Centcom -- that is, late September 2001 -- suggested Wolfowitz as the prime mover.

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.