Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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A tad tentative?

On CNN's new Chalabi story, the caption under Chalabi's picture reads: "Ahmed Chalabi is thought to have been a source of intelligence about Iraq's alleged WMD."

Like alleged Ba'athist Saddam Hussein.

A follow-up on this morning's post: Juan Cole says Chalabi has been suspended from the IGC. Maybe now he'll head north and found the Salo Republic -- that's a little Italian history shout-out. Another thought: why doesn't someone ask the Jordanians about the telephone intercept they shared with the Americans last fall showing that Chalabi had foreknowledge of the bombing of their embassy in Baghdad on August 7th.

Of course, the heart is a fickle, fickle thing. Here's the pre-Sharia-Chalabi (in the back on the left in the picture) as the guest of the First Lady at the 2004 State of the Union, a mere four months ago.

Talk about a not-so-fun meeting.

President Bush was up on the Hill this morning meeting with Congressional Republicans to quell their growing anxiety that their job security may be only marginally greater than that of the Iraq Interim Governing Council.

The tenor of the event can probably be judged by the fact that the 'rallying cry' coming out of the meeting seems to have been that things are really bad and almost certain to get worse.

Rah! Rah!

According to several participants, President Bush told Republicans that the Iraqis are ready to "take the training wheels off" by assuming power.

That's a bit of a condescending thing to say about a country which encompasses what is generally considered to be the cradle of civilization. But the thought that an extra set of training wheels may now be available prompts the question of whether the Iraqis might be willing to hand their pair off to the White House.

As it happens, I was up on the Hill myself this morning for an early meeting and managed to get caught in the security sweep that preceded the president's visit -- something complicated by the fact that I wasn't carrying a press credential on me.

After parting company with my host, I went to one exit and was told I couldn't leave that way. And then, amid a thickening crowd of capitol police and secret service, I went to another exit.

"Where are you trying to go?"

"I'm just trying to leave."

"Lemme see some ID?"

"Why are you here?"

Etc. etc. etc. ...

Eventually one of the security team said I had just been seen walking down the hall with a member of congress. That seemed to stand me in semi-good-stead. And after being escorted to the Senate side of the Capitol I was cut loose in true catch-n-release fashion, none the worse for wear.

I've had a slew of readers writing in and asking -- or insisting -- that the raid on the Baghdad home of Ahmed Chalabi and INC headquarters was, if not staged, then conducted with the intent of boosting Chalabi's popularity by appearing to place him at odds with the American occupiers. (The idea, you might say, would be to Sadr-ize him.) Indeed, one of those notes came from someone who I'd describe as loosely affiliated with the United States military establishment and quite knowledgable about Iraq and the Middle East at large.

So could this be true?

I have no direct knowledge. I just got back from a few meetings. And I've had no time to make any calls yet. But I'm very skeptical of this interpretation.

I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity. But there are many US government players in Iraq right now. And many of them really are hostile to Chalabi.

Something quite that orchestrated would, I suspect, be far too difficult to pull-off. And are we dealing here with smooth operators? Answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point: You only have to look next door to see what happens to American puppets after they have their fallings-out with the Americans. Clue: They don't get embraced by the other side. In fact, that guy from nextdoor was lucky to get out of the country in one piece.

Another theory -- or at least a portion of one -- is contained in an article appearing this morning in Salon by Andrew Cockburn. The article points to US government suspicions that Chalabi may be plotting against the soon to be announced caretaker government, chosen by American officials and UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

Cockburn notes Chalabi's continued efforts to ally himself with Shia sectarian groups in Iraq, particularly the new umbrella group he's created, variously translated as the Shiite Political Council or the Supreme Shia Council (I'm assuming these titles I've seen referred to are in fact the same group).

Cockburn mentions that Chalabi's new Shia sectarian faction includes members of Iraqi Hezbollah. And though he doesn't mention him by name, I believe he is referring in particular to a man named Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, a key member of Iraqi Hezbollah.

Chalabi's dwindling number of Washington supporters have awkwardly claimed that his efforts to ally himself with Shia Islamist groups in Iraq is an evidence of their man's 'pragmatism', recognizing the political realities of the country and adjusting accordingly. This is an echo of their pre-invasion efforts to explain the copious funding Chalabi received from the government of Iran, which, in case you hadn't noticed, is not supposed to be a great friend of ours.

If you're looking for any entertainment, any silver lining to this mess, watch the faces of the hardest core Chalabistas and watch the less and less subtle ripples of chagrin on their faces as their man more and more publicly shows how much he played them for fools.

It's an obvious question really, but worth asking, worth considering: How long do we think the administration, the CPA, the UN and whoever else now has a finger in the pie will wait to announce what government, even what sort of government we'll be handing 'sovereignty' over to at the end of June?

What's the absolute latest you can imagine? A month? A week? Could it be like one of Bill Clinton's state of the union addresses where they're fiddling with the small print until a couple hours before showtime?

I'd be surprised if they came up with a plan by the end of this month and I cannot imagine they'd leave it until less than a week before June 30th.

But just step back and look at how crazy this is: we've run Iraq for more than a year, spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the whole effort, lost many of our own sons and daughters as well as many Iraqis. And here you have what is arguably the big issue: who you hand the place off to and how you hand it off to them. And it's left to the last minute, with the powers that be having to ditch almost everything that has come up until this point and start from scratch.

The market in examples for how badly the Bush team has bungled this situation is admittedly glutted. But even if they're now going for a dime a dozen this is really one to marvel at.

Now, another related point: the increasing velocity and ferocity of war-hawks trying to shift the blame for their own goofs by inventing a new stab-in-the-back theory (nicely patterned on the original one from Weimar Germany) to cushion their consciences from the brunt of recognizing the dire pass to which their own foolishness and reckless zeal have brought their country.

The chief example I've seen -- though there must be many others -- is John Podhoretz's column in The New York Post from last Friday, May 14th.

The column is a string of accusations. The first is against The New York Times for, according to Podhoretz, blaming the United States, rather than his murderers, for Nick Berg's death. "The Times," writes Podhoretz, in concluding this section of his piece, "is leading the mainstream media in turning the United States into the bad guys in Iraq."

Podhoretz's evidence is an article in the Times which reports the Berg family's claims that the Bush administration somehow bears some of the blame for their son's death.

Now, just as Berg's death shouldn't have been cynically exploited by Bush partisans, what his family says shouldn't be exploited in the other direction. But simply reporting what the family says in a news article hardly seems to merit anything Podhoretz says. What he wants is a black-out on anything the family says -- and that in the context of the saturation coverage of the murder itself -- because it is politically off-message.

Then there's the Time magazine cover with an Abu Ghraib image which reads "Iraq: How Did It Come to This?"

After blowing some smoke about the war's aim of "liberat[ing] 25 million people and rout[ing] Islamic extremists, terrorists and those who thirst for the mass murder of Americans" Podhoretz calls the Time cover "a vile and grotesque slander against every American in uniform in Iraq."

At length, the column concludes with these four grafs ...

So let's be clear what's going on here. As we speak, 138,000 Americans are serving under dangerous conditions in Iraq. And our forces in Karbala are fighting against the goons and thugs of Muqtada al-Sadr with some success. They're risking their lives for freedom and honor and duty and love of country.

And conventional liberal opinion wants them to lose.

Conventional liberal opinion believes that the Abu Ghraib photos are the true meaning of the war, and that Nick Berg is just another victim of callous U.S. policy.

Conventional liberal opinion is actively seeking the humiliation and defeat of the United States in Iraq.

Let's be a little more clear about what's going on here. Having led the country perilously close to humiliation and defeat, the architects of the war want to shift the blame for what's happened to their opponents who either said the whole thing was a mistake in the first place or criticized the incompetence of its execution as it unfolded. They take the blame, the moral accountability, by 'wishing' for a bad result. That at least is Podhoretz's reasoning.

If ever there was an example of moral up-is-downism, this is it. And claiming that their political opponents -- liberal, in Podhoretz's usage here, is just a catch-all -- want defeat and humiliation for their country is certainly the most gutterish sort of slander there is.

There's something almost uncomfortable about watching the mix of desperation, panicked zeal and projection evidenced in Podhoretz's column. It's like the pornography of watching someone beg for his life or shift the blame onto someone else when they've been caught in the act -- with the added twist of spasms of aggression mixed in. But on a broader level, it's in character. Not for Podhoretz -- this isn't at all directed at him as a person -- but for the movement, the crew, he's part of and is trying to defend.

How'd we get into this? After 50 years of pretty consistently prudential foreign policy, managed mostly on a consensus of bipartisan agreement (yes, there are exceptions, but by and large, true), they decided to bet the national ranch on an idea. Actually it was a series of ideas, wrapped together in an odd tangle that could look like an odd jumble when viewed from outside. The key, however, was betting the national ranch on steep odds.

Only, they weren't confident the country would get behind such a riverboat gamble. So they lied about what they were doing. They didn't trust the people -- which might be an epitaph we should return to.

Now, what do we expect of people who make reckless gambles with other people's money? Of people who can't discipline themselves enough to distinguish between their hopes and reality? What do you expect of that ne'er-do-well relative who's always hitting you up for a loan because he's come up with a sure thing?

Do you expect those sorts of folks to take responsibility when things go bad? Or do you expect them to blame others?

Character, alas, really does count.

Frequently, when I read a column by Bill Safire, I have to think to myself: who was the editor on this piece? And what must he or she have thought when they were editing this stuff? Read the man's column for Wednesday's paper and it has about as much coherence and rationality as one of your more loopy C-Span ranters just before Brian Lamb mercifully hits the button and sends him off into telephonic oblivion.

This piece is such a clotted mix of discredited ridiculousness, slurs, false claims of racism, disinformation and lies that it's hard to know where to start.

But allow me a few examples.

First, there's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Safire is still claiming that back before the invasion Zarqawi's group was working not just within Iraq's international borders but at the behest of Saddam Hussein. In other words, Safire is still relying on the say-so of the folks who peddled the most discredited of pre-war intel mumbojumbo. Apparently he hasn't gotten the word. The line is still open to Chalabi, who finally got cut off by the Pentagon this week and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, the guy who put the FU in FUBAR.

(Remember how Zarqawi was supposed to have had his leg amputated in Baghdad before the war? Notice how he now seems to have two legs?)

Then there's the about-to-be-found caches of biological weapons. For a few months after the war, Safire and similar folks claimed that we weren't finding the goods because scientists were still afraid Saddam might make a come back -- after all, he and other high-value targets were still on the loose. Never a very probable theory -- and one pretty well disproved by the deaths of Saddam's sons and Saddam's eventual capture.

Now Safire has a new theory. "In a sovereign and free Iraq, when germ-warfare scientists are fearful of being tried as prewar criminals, their impetus will be to sing — and point to caches of anthrax and other mass killers."

To use a much-overused line, you can't make this stuff up. It transcends self-parody.

Conservatives hunting for media-bias in the Times often pick on its more liberal columnists. In fact, if there's bias to be found, it's in Safire. Only lack of interest and respect for conservative opinion can fully explain Safire's continued presence on the page.

Thank you, thank you and ... well, thank you.

We posted our TPM reader survey overnight last night. And the response has been amazing. As of late this evening, we're just shy of 20,000 responses. To be specific, as of 11:30 PM here on the east coast, we're at 19,448.

We're going to keep the survey running for a full twenty-four hours. So if you haven't had a chance to fill it out yet, please take a moment to do so. It takes no more than 90 seconds to complete.

For info about our privacy guarantee and other info, see this earlier post.

We'll be posting some of the results hopefully some time later this week.

Here's one of the Democratic candidates that everyone is excited about. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the open Senate seat in Illinois. And now his campaign's got a blog.

In this new piece, Fred Kaplan hits on key point in the unfolding prison abuse scandal -- one that is, oddly, easy to overlook with all the daily revelations.

Set aside, for the moment, the underlying claims and misdeeds. Right out of the gate, multiple officials at the White House and the Pentagon pretty clearly lied about their own roles in putting in place the policies that led directly to what was taking place in those photos and went along with trying to pin the whole thing on these half dozen jokers whose pictures we've now seen again and again.

The whole progression of the story has an odd doubled-up quality. On the one hand we have repeated claims from top officials insisting that the abuses were the isolated work of a few miscreants. Then, simultaneously, we have numerous stories showing specific policy decisions (often confirmed on the record by slightly lower-level officials) which sanctioned pretty close to all the stuff we're seeing in those photos, even if not quite practiced with the same relish and glee.

This new article in Tuesday's Times says that the the head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib apparently put military police at the disposal of interrogators and gave them orders to do stuff like strip detainees, shackle them and generally give them a working over (though only, he said, when there was "some good reason"). But, along with this, there was no superivision of what they were doing and no guidelines or rules given to them saying what was acceptable and what wasn't. And remember, this isn't the testimony of a disinterested observer, but rather someone who is on the line for a lot of it and who presumably has an interest in putting the best face possible on the situation.

At a minimum, that sounds like giving benzine, some cordite, a gallon of gas, firecrackers, and a hundred rolls of toilet paper to some teenagers, telling them to see if they could put it all together to have some fun in the neighborhood on Friday night and then leaving them to their own devices.

And, remember, that's the generous interpretation.