Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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The more I read that passage (below) from this morning's gaggle, the more perplexed I become. Why couldn't Scott McClellan give a straight denial to any of the questions about whether Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar had pledged to President Bush that his country would lower gas prices in time for the November election?

It's not that I don't think it could be true. In fact I find it quite plausible. It makes sense to me given the ties between the Bush family and the House of Saud -- particularly to Bandar. It makes sense given Bandar's Republicanism. And, perhaps most of all, it rings true because such an understanding would play to Bandar's once-exalted role as facilitator and intermediary between elites in both countries.

As David Plotz explained in this December 2001 article in Slate, Bandar's role in Washington and the essence of his once-vast power was as the man who created the illusion that elites from these two deeply dissimilar and in many ways antagonistic countries could hash out mutual understandings and find common interests in places like Aspen and other getaways far removed from the true pulse of both societies.

(Think about that when considering the ties between the Bushes and the Sauds.)

So, yes, I think such an arrangement or understanding is quite possible. Yet such agreements aren't written out on paper. And they should be easily deniable even if they are true -- especially with a White House that, from my experience, seldom gets hung up on such minor quibbles.

So, again, why the evasion?

Even odder is that Woodward now seems to be backing off the original claim. At least that's what I gleaned from this exchange from last night between Bandar and Woodward on Larry King (a cast of three characters about whom many funny things could certainly be said) ...

KING: The story that Mr. Woodward has about the promise to lower the oil prices by the election. Your government has denied has.

WOODWARD: That's not my story. What I say in the book is that the Saudis, and maybe you looked at this section of the book, Ambassador, that the Saudis hoped to keep oil prices low during the period for -- before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.

BIN SULTAN: I think the way that Bob said it now is accurate. We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy, but more important, it's good for our economy and the international economy, and this is not -- nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the malaise. So yes, it's in our interests and in America's interests to keep the prices down.

Clearly we're in good hands.

The Bandar Oil Deal Gaggle<$NoAd$> ...

QUESTION: Can you describe conversations between the White House and Prince Bandar about his essential promise to lower oil prices before the election?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from Prince Bandar a few weeks ago about --

QUESTION: He didn’t talk specifically about the election.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the most recent conversation that we had with him regarding oil prices. And he expressed his views out at the stakeout to you all that Saudi Arabia is committed to making sure prices remained in a range, I believe it’s $22 to $28 price per barrel of oil, and that they don’t want to do anything that would harm our consumers or harm our economy. So he made those comments at the stakeout and we’ve made our views very clear that prices should be determined by market forces, and that we are always in close contact with producers around the world on these issues to make sure that actions aren’t taken that harm our consumers or harm our economy.

QUESTION: There were no conversations specifically about the President’s reelection?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask Prince Bandar to --

QUESTION: But from the point -- I mean, conversations are obviously two ways.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- what his comments were. But the conversations we have are related to our long-held views that we have stated repeatedly publicly, that market forces should determine prices.

QUESTION: To follow up on that then, I would gather that the White House view is one of expectation that the Saudis would increase oil production between now and November.

MR. McCLELLAN: Our views are very well-known to Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar made a commitment at the stakeout that I will let speak for itself. You all should look back to those remarks.

QUESTION: We’re missing the allegation here, which is that Prince Bandar and the Saudis have made a commitment to lower oil prices to help the President politically. Is that your --

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those comments to him. I can tell you that what our views are and what he said at the stakeout is what we know his views are, as well.

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions --

QUESTION: Is there a deal?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. You can direct those questions to him, but I’m telling you --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate either. Do you have knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m telling you what our views are and what we've stated, and I'm telling you what I do know, which is that our position is very clear when it comes to oil prices and what our views are. And Prince Bandar spoke to you all just a few weeks ago out at the stakeout after meeting with some White House officials and expressed --

QUESTION: So you have no knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and expressed their view. I'm not going to try to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions to him.

QUESTION: The President is confident that the American elections are not being manipulated by the world's largest oil producer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our view is that the markets should determine --

QUESTION: The market doesn't. It's a cartel.

MR. McCLELLAN: But our view is that that's what -- that the markets should determine prices. And that's the view we make very clear to producers around the world, including our friends in OPEC.

Did you get a straight answer out of that?

A few more details on the September planning for seizing the oilfields of southern Iraq, which I mentioned last night.

The United States military, indeed every general staff, will have plans on file not only for the wars a country might likely face, but even for many of the most improbable scenarios -- even potential conflict against current allies. If I'm not mistaken, I think I recall that the United States had war plans on file for war against the United Kingdom well into the early decades of the 20th century.

This isn't a sign of agression or bad faith, just preparedness for any eventuality. And besides planning for wars is what staff officers do.

In any case, war against Iraq was something Pentagon planners had been preparing for for years -- especially after 1991. So there was an existing plan on the shelf when 9/11 came along.

That, however, is not what I was referring to in the post below when I spoke about planning for war against Iraq in September 2001.

When Centcom planners were tasked with preparing to seize Iraq's southern oilfields they took the existing plan for an all-out invasion and essentially whittled it down, since conquering southern Iraq was a smaller version of what would be needed to conquer the entire country.

The chatter around Centcom at the time was this gambit was being pushed by Wolfowitz and was not necessarily done on the say-so of the White House.

How do I know this? From a highly credible source with first-hand knowledge.

Bob Woodward's new book is making a lot of news with the report that President Bush directed Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to began planning for war with Iraq on November 21, 2001 -- little more than two months after the 9/11 attacks.

I hear it was much sooner than two months -- more like two weeks. That is to say, in September 2001.

In mid-September 2001, at the same time Don Rumsfeld tasked Centcom with drawing up plans for attacking the Taliban, they were also tasked with putting together a plan to seize Iraq's southern oil fields.

(British officers, who were embedded in the planning process and actually on location in Tampa, Florida from mid-September 2001 onwards, reacted with something close to disbelief that this was what the Secretary of Defense had ordered.)

This plan -- pushed by Wolfowitz -- is referred to obliquely in the Saturday article on Woodward's book in the Post. But this wasn't just some idea Wolfowitz proposed prior to 9/11, as the author implies. Centcom planners began putting together the plan for it right as they were putting together the war plan for Afghanistan.

What happened in November was still important, and qualitatively different, because this earlier tasking was not explicitly aimed at regime change, simply seizing the southern oil fields. But whether it was formally aimed at regime change or no, within less than two weeks after 9/11, Centcom planners were at work putting in place a plan to make war on Iraq.

Tune in late this evening for some more news on just how early Centcom was tasked with drawing up plans to attack Iraq.

From my friend in Iraq, late in the afternoon of April 16th, local time<$NoAd$> ...

Dear Josh, I would like you to share with your readers that the four abducted Italian bodyguards worked for me. They were people I had brought in to provide close protection for my former company's contractors. Fabrizio, who was executed, was a great guy and it appears he died with honor, knowing what was about to happen. If the rumors are true that he stated "Cosi Morare Un Italiano - Here is how an Italian man dies" well it would be just like him ... all of the others Incusori, Bersagalieri, Alpini and other Italians have such honor filled sayings tattooed on their arms and chests ...

The guys were returning home to Italy from Baghdad via route 10 to Amman. I don't know why they thought they could make it and I am racked with guilt for not having been there to weigh in on such a simple decision ... it would have been NO! Fly royal Jordanian! Everyone would have gone home happy and safe. They and the other Italians who worked for us were/are consummate professionals and our staff loved them. I can only hope the others make it home in safety and this madness of abduction ends. I am headed back to Baghdad now and my family is terrified. If I am not there things will swiftly fall apart as our Iraqi staff are loyal and have offered to protect us with their families and their lives. However I need to give them much more training. So for now I am too grief stricken to assess whether this was worth the adventure that is Fallujah but all I ask is ... how can we assault a city of 300,000 and not have the largest east-west highway secure for logistics and commerce by Military Police?? Allah only knows how many people were killed by ignoring a basic military principle ... secure your lines of communications and supply!

More soon.

Beyond belief? How about way, way beyond <$NoAd$>belief.

This from the Associated Press ...

Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of the country, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency reported after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up in European scrapyards.


According to ElBaradei's letter, satellite imagery shows ``extensive removal of equipment and in some instances, removal of entire buildings,'' in Iraq.

In addition, ``large quanitities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transfered out of Iraq from sites'' previously monitored by the IAEA.

I was wondering why this spoon I bought at the flea market in Ankara always has that funny orange glow.

Even with everything that's going on today -- the release of the <$Ad$>Japanese hostages, the bin Laden truce psuedo-story, continuing 9/11 Commission fireworks -- the biggest story of the day, the one that will have the greatest impact, happened in South Korea.

That is the stunning victory by the liberal Uri party in today's elections in South Korea. The Post rightly calls it the "sharpest shift to the political left [in South Korea] in four decades."

What constitutes 'left' across national and cultural borders can often be difficult to define. But in this case one thing it definitely means is a disengagement from the continuing Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.

There are at least a couple points of interest here. One is an uncanny parallel to recent events in the United States. An out-of-touch conservative opposition party impeaches a liberal president on the basis of essentially trumped up charges against the overwhelming wishes of the public. Conservative party then faces a fierce backlash at the polls as the electorate punishes them for an attempted constitutional coup and ignoring the popular will.

In the case of South Korea, the corruption charges seemed not to be false, per se. It was more of a rather extreme pot calling the kettle black situation. The Post sums it up nicely in these three grafs ...

The Grand National Party had impeached Roh for committing an electoral infraction and allegedly being unfit to rule following a series of corruption scandals that brought down his top aides. But prosecutors have actually implicated the GNP in far broader cases of corruption, which have severely undermined the party's reputation.

While the Uri Party has been targeted in corruption probes, Roh has also been seen by many analysts to be stepping out of the way of prosecutors, granting them a new measure of autonomy to pursue political transparency and break the traditional ties between politicians and large South Korean business conglomerates.

Many South Koreans saw Roh's impeachment as political hypocrisy, and it generated a sharp backlash, which favored the Uri party . Almost 3 in every 4 South Koreans opposed Roh's removal from office.

Setting aside these uncanny parallels, there's a more immediate significance to this result. It is the continuance of a global trend in which elections in countries allied to the United States are being won by parties advocating loosening ties with America. Running against America -- or really against George W. Bush makes for great politics almost everywhere in the world.

We saw it in South Korea two years ago. Then later that year in Germany. Recently in Spain. And now again in Korea -- with many other examples along the way.

Each election had its own internal dynamics. But in each case opposition to the policies of the Bush administration became a salient, even defining issue.

Bin Laden offers Europe separate truce in war against America and Freedom!

Europe rejects separate peace! No negotiations will be held!

Watching CNN's website headlines, this seems to be the breaking news of the day.

Why are we giving this al Qaida PR stunt so much credence?

Why does CNN report the news like the public is made up of a bunch of circus idiots?

And will Emmanuel Goldstein also be in on the negotiations?

A quick question. In the last six weeks, how many documents has the Bush administration declassified for the exclusive and explicit purpose of attacking a political enemy?