Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

There's an interesting follow-on to the story of Tami Silicio, the contract worker in Kuwait who was fired for taking the picture of homeward-bound military dead, which appeared in the Seattle Times.

The picture got into the Times' hands because Silicio sent a copy to her friend Amy Katz. Katz sent it to the Times; and then the Times published it after getting Silicio's permission.

It turns out that Silicio and Katz also worked as contract workers for a Halliburton subsidiary in Kosovo in 1999. And they are the two who sued Halliburton -- and Dick Cheney in his capacity as CEO -- for sexual harassment and also for the firm's policy of having separate toilets for Americans and for locals -- something that garnered a bit of attention during the 2000 election.

Right-wing talk radio seems to be making something of this, arguing that it discredits the two in the whole matter of the photograph. But it seems equally plausibly to credit them -- at least in my mind. Though I suspect that no more defense contracting work is in line for either.

I'm still curious to find out more about the planning to seize Iraq's southern oil fields which began roughly a week after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Whatever President Bush's ambitions to launch a war against Iraq and whatever early discussions there were at Camp David, according to Bob Woodward, the president was quite sensitive to the potentially explosive public consequences of having it become known too quickly that he was preparing to launch a war against Iraq. According to Woodward, he waited until late November -- after the initial military phase of the Afghanistan war was essentially over -- to tell Don Rumsfeld to start drawing up plans for war against Iraq.

Yet that's not when the planning started. As I noted, it started two months earlier.

At the same time Centcom was tasked with drawing up plans to attack the Taliban -- in fact, in the very same document -- they were also tasked with putting together plans to seize the oil fields of southern Iraq -- same document, same order.

Whose idea was that? And why were we dividing the war planners' time with gaming out this oil fields gambit when they had the more pressing issue of planning the Afghanistan war? And why the idea of seizing Iraq's oil fields in the first place?

Yesterday I was going to post a link to this story in the Seattle Times which describes one stop on the way home for the American soldiers and marines killed in Iraq -- a loading bay at the US military section of Kuwait International Airport.

The article begins: "The aluminum boxes, in ordered rows, are bound by clean white straps on freshly scrubbed pallets. American flags are draped evenly over the boxes."

The painfully antiseptic quality of those words pervades the piece. And it is one which, quite apart from your political views, it's worth your time to read -- each of these young Americans, motionless in a box, the focus of a tragedy beginning to unfold thousands of miles away, silent.

The focus of the story is a 50 year old mother of three, a civilian contract worker, Tami Silicio, who works at the loading bay in question. The article tells the broader story of the processing of these remains through the prism of Silicio's work in that process.

The article ends with these three grafs ...

Since the 1991 Gulf War, photographs of coffins as they return to the United States have been tightly restricted. And few such photographs have been published during the conflict in Iraq.

On the April day depicted in the photograph that accompanies this story, more than 20 coffins went into a cargo plane bound for Germany. Silicio says those who lost loved ones in Iraq should understand the care and devotion that civilians and military crews dedicate to the task of returning the soldiers home.

Silicio says she shares her motto, "Purpose and Cause," with colleagues who appear worn down from the job: "We serve a purpose and we have a cause — that's what living life is all about."

As the second graf notes, the article is paired with a photograph of coffins on those pallets in the hull of a cargo plane. Apparently, Silicio, who took the photograph, had sent a copy to a friend. The paper got it from the friend. They contacted Silicio. And things went from there.

Now, I don't know the precise timeline and cause and effect. But this photo came up just before a batch of similar photos from Dover Air Force Base, which were apparently the product of FOIA requests from the Pentagon, hit the Internet. And Silicio's photo seems in some sense to have opened the floodgates.

Today, the Seattle Times reported that Silicio and David Landry, a co-worker she recently married, were fired over the photo by the civilian contractor that employed them, Maytag Aircraft.

"I feel like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out. I have to admit I liked my job, and I liked what I did," Silicio told the Times. "It wasn't my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything."

Now, I have a degree of ambivalence about this question of media coverage of the fallen soldiers coming back to Dover. For many opponents of the war there is an unmistakable interest in getting these photographs before the public in order to weaken support for the war. There's no getting around that. I don't mean to imply that most who want these pictures out believe that, or even that that's an illegitimate goal. And there's a long record of governments managing bad news during wartime to keep up civilian morale.

But one needn't oppose the war to find something morally unseemly about the strict enforcement of the regulations barring any images of the reality behind these numbers we keep hearing on TV. There is some problem of accountability here, of putting on airs of national sacrifice and not having the courage to risk the real thing, some dark echo of the Rumsfeldian penchant for 4th generation, high-tech warfare where data transfers and throw weights replace bodies at every level.

Of course, the rationale for this policy of barring these images is that to publicize them would be an invasion of the privacy of the families. And certainly if the issue were one of barring photographers from private funerals, perhaps that notion would have merit. But the idea that the privacy of the families is advanced by barring any sort of public grieving and witnessing of these sacrifices just seems ridiculous on its face -- especially when we are often talking about rows of anonymous flag-draped coffins.

All the arguments aside, there's something wrong about the fact that we're seeing none of this.

Then there's Silicio.

Every job has rules. Civilians working in war zones probably have more than most. And taking pictures of things you're not supposed to take pictures of and allowing them to be published is probably high on the list.

But here we have a situation where this woman was the first one to give Americans a view of something they should have seen a year ago. And for that she loses her job.

For all the rules, this is a case where the sum (her getting fired over this) isn't more or less but just entirely different from the sum of its parts.

Whatever the rules say, that fact that she lost her job over this is wrong.