Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This still seems strange.

As the Allawi story has progressed over the course of the afternoon, it now seems clear not only that Brahimi and the US approve the choice but that Brahimi may have dictated the choice to the IGC.

Here is the key graf in a new article out in the Times ...

The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, and the governing council was then summoned to be informed of the choice. The council more or less showed its approval, some officials said, with one member saying the decision was unanimous. But other people said a vote did not really take place, because the decision had already been made.

Now, here's what strikes me as odd about this.

First, Brahimi had made clear he didn't <$Ad$>want a 'politician' for the slot and that he wanted to sideline people from the IGC.

Of course, things change. If nothing else, the last year in Iraq has demonstrated that fairly clearly. And the US government seemed to be making some headway in arguing that an apolitical technocrat simply wouldn't provide the sort of ballast for a caretaker government that will be needed in such a moment of crisis and instability.

So, in itself, that he would shift gears in this way is not so difficult to believe.

But there's something else that seems still stranger. One thing that is almost universally acknowledged is that the IGC is unpopular. It's seen as a proxy for the Americans and in that sense a tool of the occupation. Indeed, that seemed to be at the forefront of Brahimi's thinking.

If that's so, why would he introduce his pick for Prime Minister, not by announcing it himself, but by having it rubber-stamped (as the Times suggests) by the IGC, and then letting the news dribble out that he -- i.e., Brahimi -- was behind the decision? That seems like something you would do if the group doing the rubber-stamping had a great deal of legitimacy or popular support. In that case, the endorsement would add to the legitimacy of the pick.

But we've been led to believe that Brahimi believes just the opposite. Thus, introducing his pick of Allawi in this way seems like a good way to hobble or delegitimize him.

I'm not doubting the Times' reporting. Nor am I questioning that this is what happened. Something, though, just doesn't seem to fit.

The story changes. An updated article from the Post says that: "Officials of the United States, the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council appear to have settled on Ayad Allawi, a leader of one of the major Iraqi exile organizations, as Iraq's interim prime minister."

The key line comes four grafs in: "The vote followed a private endorsement of Allawi by Lakhdar Brahimi ... according to a U.N. official who requested anonymity because no formal announcement has been made yet."

Clearly something is amiss with this announcement that the IGC has nominated Iyad Allawi to be the new Iraqi Prime Minister after June 30th.

The country could do far worse than Allawi. But the Brahimi plan was supposed to push aside members of the IGC for key posts in the new government. And, more pointedly, not one article I've seen has the same set of facts about just what happened.

This late article from Reuters says that the IGC has spoken, and that the US and Brahimi have endorsed the choice.

MSNBC runs an AP story which says that the US is not endorsing the choice, while a spokesman for Brahimi says he "welcomes and respects the choice of Mr. Allawi" but would not say that he endorses it.

The Washington Post, in a story posted about 90 minutes ago, said that Bremer and Brahimi were there during the vote and congratulated Allawi. But in most respects the Post follows the MSNBC/AP line.

A spokesman for the IGC said Brahimi and the US were on board. Brahimi seems to deny that. And a UN spokesman in New York said he couldn't confirm whether or not Brahimi had endorsed Allawi. In other words, he didn't seem to know quite what had happened.

Needless to say, with such conflicting accounts, it is hard to say quite what transpired. But the contradictory accounts suggest confusion and uncertainty among the key players over just what happened and precisely how to respond.

In other words, they were caught off-guard by an IGC coup de main, a sort of media-political putsch on the part of the IGC. With the US-Brahimi process stumbling over the UN representative's inability to find candidates acceptable to all parties, the IGC jumps into the breach, pushing one of their number, hoping to make that nomination stick, knowing that the Brahimi-US plan seems to be foundering and that time is running out.

Is that really how it is?

There are a handful of articles out yesterday or today in which various partisans of Ahmed Chalabi claim that top level government officials say that the spying charges against Ahmed Chalabi are not to be taken seriously --- they're merely the product of bureaucratic infighting within the US government, payback from his enemies at State and CIA.

I have sources too. And I hear quite the opposite. From what I'm told, what really cooked Chalabi's goose was that the evidence against him was sufficiently damning that his one-time advocates and protectors inside the government -- folks very high up the ladder -- simply washed their hands of him, wouldn't try to defend him.

Another point: look at these sorta-kinda defenses of Chalabi and you'll often see the argument that Chalabi's main enemies at the State Department and the CIA -- particularly at State -- are hopeless hypocrites because, while attacking Chalabi for his contacts with the Iranians, they are the very ones who endorse fuller engagement with the Iranians. (A finger is often stuck in the eye of Armitage at State.) So why can't Chalabi talk with the Iranians when these jokers have been saying we should do that for some time?

Why do inane arguments like this even catch flight out of the mouths of their proponents?

This is a logic that can't distinguish between Alger Hiss (notorious spy) and Henry Kissinger (signature detentist). Does this one even require explanation?

Let's remember that nothing is proven against Chalabi specifically at this point. Even the charges and claims are coming to us through the press. And engagement or non-engagement with Iran is a legitimate question of policy. But can't we all agree that there is a rather clear-cut distinction between a policy of 'engagement' with the Iranians on the one hand and acting as double agents for them on the other?

A new Democracy Corps strategy memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville.

The intro ... "Six months out from the election, the race for president has entered a new and distinct phase with Bush not only endangered, as we suggested earlier, but now with the odds against him. He is more likely to lose than win. Public confidence has collapsed on Iraq, but there is a lot of collateral damage, producing a strong desire for change. Whether it is the vote or job approval or personal favorability, Bush has become a 47 percent president at best. In almost every area, he is being dragged down by even stronger negative trends. Put simply by the voters themselves: just 42 percent want the country to continue in Bush’s direction."

Run it by M?

From today's <$NoAd$> Times ...

In one of several cases in which an Iraqi prisoner died at Abu Ghraib in connection with interrogations, a hooded man identified only by his last name, Jamadi, slumped over dead on Nov. 20 as he was being questioned by a C.I.A. officer and translator, intelligence officials said. The incident is being investigated by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, and military officials have said that the man, whose body was later packed in ice and photographed at Abu Ghraib, had never been assigned a prisoner number, an indication that he had never been included on any official roster at the prison.

The memorandum criticizing the practice of keeping prisoners off the roster was signed by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, and a James Bond, who is identified as "SOS, Agent in Charge." Military and intelligence officials said that they did not know of a Mr. Bond who had been assigned to Abu Ghraib, and that it was possible that the name was an alias.

An intelligence official said Monday that he could not confirm the authenticity of the document, and that neither "SOS" or "Agent in Charge" was terminology that the C.I.A. or any other American intelligence agency would use. A military official said he believed that the document was authentic and was issued on or about Jan. 12, two days before abuses at Abu Ghraib involving military police were brought to the attention of Army investigators.

Isn't that Feith's nom de guerre when he's in the field? I need to make some calls on that.

I saw Sen. Mitch McConnell tonight marvelling that so much will be accomplished in "a thousand days" in Iraq. He went on to compare this with the twelve years it took the Americans to get their affairs in order after the American Revolution, noting how much turmoil and chaos there was in the thirteen states in those days and thus, by comparison, how little historical sensibility Americans have today in their overly critical judgment of the progress in Iraq.

This is truly becoming almost a slur against our own history. After the conclusion of peace with the British there was almost a complete lack of political violence in the colonies. Disequilibrium, yes. A threat of rebellion in one state? Yes. But one that never really came off. Compared to what we are seeing today in Iraq, the creation of the federal constitution came about in a period of extreme quiescence.

No analogies are perfect, certainly. But if there is anything from the late eighteenth century comparable to the current situation in Iraq it is not the American Revolution but the French Revolution, with legitimacy and the sinews of society in a losing battle with a widening gyre of violence.

The 41% approval for President Bush in the CBS poll is pretty bad. But I hear the internals -- the details of the poll -- are even worse.