Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It's an overcast, gloomy, ominous day in Washington ... One of the worst things these people did to us, I thought as I woke up this morning, was to make our optimism, our naivete -- our best qualities -- seem somehow shameful.

Could this be a strategy? If so, it would have the subtlety and cleverness of Sun Tzu.

It's been no mystery and no surprise that the on-their-heels Afghan Northern Alliance, beaten back to a few obscure redoubts in their losing battle for control of their country, have pitched themselves as potential US allies in the fight against the Taliban.

But now they actually seem to be gaining victories on the ground. And in part it seems they've been able to accomplish this because the American build-up is tying down Taliban forces.

This is worth paying attention to.

Is this town big enough for Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz? I'm not sure it is.

There's been a back-and-forth over the last week between Powell -- as the point-man for slow and deliberate response -- and Wolfowitz as the rep for overwhelming military retaliation on the model of Michael Corleone's hit on all the family's enemies at the end of Godfather I.

To date, much of this has been going on at the level of tea leaves. But it's now escalating to the point where something or someone may have to give way.

I don't have the transcript yet, but on This Week this morning Sam Donaldson was interviewing Powell. And in the course of that interview Donaldson pressed the Secretary of State on these internal disagreements within the administration. Particularly, Powell made a point of saying that whatever their private views, everyone in the administration is united following the president.

But he said everyone at the "cabinet level." The clear target of that qualifier was Wolfowitz. So Powell wasn't denying the rift; he was affirming it. And hurling what amounts to a pretty weighty accusation against the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

LATE UPDATE: Here's the relevant portion of the interchange from the transcript posted at Washingtonpost.com.

DONALDSON: You're a general. But you don't sound very warlike, compared to other voices in this town, and some within the administration.

POWELL: The only voice that I try to compare myself to and to be consistent with is the president of the United States. All of his cabinet-level security advisers are in agreement with the policy direction he has given us, with the instructions he has given us, and the decisions he has made.

Mr. Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, myself, Dr. Rice, the secretary of the Treasury, the FBI, the attorney general, all working together, understand the instructions the president has given us.

Special thanks goes to TPM reader WM for sending along the link.

I guess it's not surprising, given the torn emotions of these recent days, that I've gotten more slashing emails to Talking Points in the last week than I think I've ever gotten (e.g.: "But beyond these more particular points, I'd like to take this opportunity to question your basic integrity and humanity.") The interesting thing though is that they're coming in about equally from the right and the left, both reacting to the same posts, and both insisting that I'm coming down, egregiously, on the wrong side.

The ones that require some response are the ones from the left because many come from regular or longtime readers who are stunned by the line I've taken on recent events, and think I've changed by colors, spots ... pick your metaphor.

Anyway, I think the issue here is that having the White House in Republican hands has obscured the coloration of my political opinions, making it seem like I'm a down-the-line liberal or lefty, when I'm not.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm criticizing The Nation's take on this. As some of you know, my last job was as Washington Editor of the American Prospect. And the problem there was that I was not liberal enough -- at least to certain particularly influential folks. But, okay, okay ... I'm over that.

Anyway, the criticism, even vicious, is fine and welcome. But I haven't changed. We're just talking about different subjects.

Here's a brief and perhaps not wholly successful attempt, on my part, to get at what we mean when we say that the terrorists who attacked New York and DC hate freedom and democracy.

Andrew Sullivan has now posted a riposte to my post about the slashing attacks he's been making on moronic lefties who seem intent on finding ways to blame America for the greivous wound she has just suffered.

So where to start?

Let's begin with the kicker at the end of the post: "Or does Marshall only object when I point out the defeatism and anti-Americanism of his buddies on the Left?"

My defeatist and anti-American buddies on the left? I wonder who those would be? Unless I'm not mistaken the post that Sullivan was responding to had me saying that I was "sickened" by Susan Sontag's piece in the New Yorker and that I scrapped a column on other blame-America-first boneheads because they filled me with too much contempt.

So it really doesn't seem like I'm objecting to bashing these folks; it seems like I am bashing them.

Another point. Sullivan apparently wants to run away from his earlier comments about a lefty "fifth column" in its "enclaves on the coasts."

"By fifth column," he writes, "I meant simply their ambivalence about the outcome of a war on which I believe the future of liberty hangs." That's well and good; but we're not allowed to redefine the meaning of words and phrases just because we trip over them (paging Dr. Orwell). A fifth columnist isn't a pitiful, Hamlet-esque lefty sitting in some non-chain coffee shop near Washington Square. The meaning is altogether different and more sinister.

But don't take my word for it. Webster's defines it as "a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders. [italics added]"

But let's get down to brass tacks.

The beef I have with Sullivan is less about the specific people he's attacked (a number of whom I've joined him in attacking) than the thick waves of hyperbole and bluster he's kicked up around them. The real story today, as nearly as I can see it, is the broad unity in the country about the outrage that has been committed against us and necessity of responding with audacity and resolution. But Andrew insists on painting a picture with the same old hackneyed images and rancid cliches about salt-of- the-earth heartlanders and morally vacant or cowardly coastal cosmopolitans.

Andrew wants to jump to the rooftops to tell everyone that he's unearthed these intellectually shabby lefty morons spouting off about root causes. But look, I can tell you from my previous employments that they're not too hard to find. I've seen plenty. And really, so what? It's a surprise that there's a lunatic left? C'mon. We judge our seriousness not only by the quality of our prose and lucidness of our arguments but by the caliber and seriousness of the enemies we choose to take on. And in this case I can't help thinking Andrew has fallen more than a bit short.

I have a very hard time knowing quite what to think about this back and forth between assorted lefty intellectuals on the one hand and Andrew Sullivan on the other.

I was myself sickened by Susan Sontag's short piece in this week's Talk of the Town. I actually wrote my own column about the contempt I feel for the press releases I get over the transom from outfits and organizations whose vision of the world and America is so myopic and hideous that they can't seem to think of anything to say but that this tragedy is the result of our own perfidious actions abroad and that, in some sense never quite stated explicitly, it serves us right. But I eventually scrapped the column -- at least for the moment -- because I couldn't come up with anything articulate beyond simple contempt.

It's hard for me to know whether to feel more or less sickened by Sullivan's vicious attacks on anyone who is even slightly off-message about this tragedy and more particularly the ugly and facile slurring of the "blue" states, the hackneyed attacks on "elites" (nothing so pitiful as a blue state elite raging against blue state elites), or the gratuitous and laughably forced swipes at the 42nd president.

("In this, he is the antithesis of Clinton -- a man who used emotion for effect and idled while our national security weakened. And unlike Clinton, Bush didn't organize his schedule for photo-op political purposes.")

This seems like a classic example of what I like to call a Godzilla vs. Mothra situation. Two comical and imbecilic monsters doing battle. And who to root for?

In my separate, previous life as an historian one of the things we learned was how to scrutinize the behavior of oppressed or powerless peoples for the subtle, even covert, ways they resisted oppression when outward rebellion or resistance was impossible or prohibitively dangerous.

This is a funny, clunky way of putting it. And if you're a professional historian reading this or, god forbid, a sociologist and you're thinking about writing in ... no, don't, 'cause I don't wanna hear it.

Anyway, I used to do this with the 17th century New England Indians from my dissertation and it occurred to me today that with Democrats now being a politically oppressed group in Washington we might be able to scan their rhetoric or physical gestures for subtle signs of resistance.

And it turns out you can!

I haven't been able to do any scientific study or tabulation of this but just watching TV tonight it seems to me that every Democrat I saw couldn't help but praise something said recently by Colin Powell.

Our president is doing great, doing everything right, and that, that COLIN POWELL, he's got it just right! What he said today... mmmmhh, outta the park.

I think the idea here is to send a very subtle signal that Don Rumsfeld is a scary Dr. Strangelove type freak. And this is the only way they have to say something, something to say about foreign policy.

Here's an article in Jane's (the defense and intelligence bible) which says that Israeli military intelligence thinks the state sponsor behind the WTC attacks is Iraq. Actually, Iraq in concert with al-Qaeda (bin Laden's network) and a terrorist mastermind from yesteryear named Imad Mughniyeh. (You can find a similar article from a considerably more questionable source here.)

US sources have been reporting that the apparent ringleader of the recent attacks, Mohamed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Germany. But the US seems to be playing down this angle, at least for now.

This raises a slew of questions.

The first (and I say this as a Jew and a staunch, though Oslo-philic, zionist) is that you don't have to think too long to come up with reasons why folks at Israeli military intelligence might want to get people looking in the direction of Iraq and particularly at one of their arch-enemies, Mughniyeh. It's one thing to tell this to the US government. The standard is much lower for leaking such info to the press. And these sorts of ops tend to be so complex and tie together so many different kinds of people that it may be largely a matter of intepretation saying who's really involved and who's not. Doesn't mean it's not true, just something to keep in mind.

On the other hand, if the question is, who has better penetration of Islamic radical groups, the Americans or the Israelis? That's not too hard a question to answer, is it? And I have my own very well placed sources who think this sort of non-Osama-centric scenario is very, very plausible.

Second, it's not completely clear to me why Iraq would want to involve itself in something like this. Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't put anything past Saddam Hussein. But at heart I think he is all about survival and power, not ideology and certainly not Islam. He plays the Islamist card occasionally, but in an entirely cynical way. Getting caught with a hand in something like this would lead to a devastating response from us militarily, and deeply undermine his efforts to get France and Russia to get sanctions lifted. And it's not completely clear what the Iraqis gain if no one knows they did it. Again, not saying it didn't happen; and there are many good answers to the questions I've raised. (They did after all try to assassinate then-ex-President Bush in the early 1990s.)

But again, just worth considering.

Third, if the web of interconnections sketched out in the Jane's article is accurate, then you've got something which really changes our understanding of the situation. That is, a confluence of Islamist terrorist organizations, secular terrorist organizations, and secular Arab states like Iraq working in concert.

This is a very post-9/11 Washington moment. It's 3:30 in the morning and I've just been woken from my sleep by a large helicopter buzzing over and over my apartment building. My tense nerves are probably also quickened by the news (overplayed, I hope, here but also mentioned elsewhere) of rumors that some new attack, could be in store somewhere on Saturday the 22nd.

Let me briefly explain what this is about. A number of associates of the hijackers had bought tickets for flights on Saturday. A couple of them are still at large. The London Times really beats the drums about it and it is mentioned in the Washington Post and other American outlets, though a lot less prominently and with denials of a sort by American officials.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker told the Washington Post that "There is no credible evidence of any threat for Sept. 22." And an "official" told the Associated Press that "We absolutely have no credible evidence to substantiate any major threat on that date although it did raise some suspicion" -- which in case you're asking, for my money, is a troublingly qualified response.

I spent part of the evening reassuring a friend that there likely wasn't anything to this issue of Saturday, when all she and I had heard were rumors. But reading this stuff later in the evening I can't deny that it made my body tighten and rippled at least echoes of tears under my eyes.

In any case, let me try to put the moment to some good use with this post. One of the occupational hazards of writing TPM is many readers' distressing lack of irony or discernment. When I got to my computer just now I got an e-mail telling me that my line from yesterday evening (that "Democrats now being a politically oppressed group in Washington") was "asinine." I think this message actually came from a reasonably well-known columnist, who I went on TV with once, but I can't be sure it's her. She just shares the same name.

In any case, I wrote back and tried to deal with the matter as failing of diction rather than stupidity, noting that the more appropriate word might be "ironic" rather than "asinine." But, to each her own, I guess.

I got another email from a conservative reader who agrees with me about Andrew Sullivan's regrettable over-the-topedness but still says one can't compare his scoring cheap political points with those who are, in essence, blaming the victims for this tragedy. I'm not sure I agree with the way this reader framed the distinction. But I think I probably do agree with him on the lack of a complete equivalence. So I take his point.

I had some questions about writing that post (which my friend Mickey Kaus has just linked to as a 'Mezine Melee') in large part because in person Andrew is mostly warm and kind-hearted; and he's been generous to me.

I once told a friend that another on-air commentator wasn't really an *$%hole, he just played one on TV. I'm not calling Andrew as $%#hole (far from it), but the broader concept, or rather distinction, applies. There are of course folks like David Horowitz who plays an *$#hole on TV and, as I learned from personal experience, really is an *$%hole. But I digress ...

Anyway, those were my thoughts about the Sullivan post below. Though I was again disheartened by this late-night post which hits the ground praising Christopher Hitchens with lines like "Not everyone on the left has been craven" ... and Hitchens "grasps what some other liberals haven't" ...

You get the idea.

So I still think my reader is right, that the equivalence is not quite there, that this kind of wild-eyed quality has just become Sullivan's trademark. But somehow I keep expecting better. From those to whom much is given, much is expected.

The helicopter's gone; so now I'm going back to sleep.