Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A follow-up to the earlier post about the arrest warrants sworn out against Ahmed Chalabi (for counterfeiting) and Salem Chalabi (for murder).

This article from a few days ago in the LA Times has more details on the circumstances of the murder in question and why the prosecutor was looking at the younger Chalabi as a potential suspect.

Another thing occurs to me though. As much as I think the elder Chalabi is a bad actor in this entire sorry tale -- and perhaps the younger one too, it's impossible to ignore that this new Iraqi government -- presiding over a slow-motion civil war, wracked by assassinations, headed up by a would-be strong-man -- inspires little confidence that its judicial actions are separate in any way from the rest of the hardball politics being played out in that country.

Of course, this creates an odd bind for the Chalabites who, to fish Chalabi's reputation out of this soup, must, of necessity, tag the new Iraqi government as a dictatorship in the making with no respect for the rule of law.

Department of full circles.

According to the Associated Press the government of Iraq today issued arrest warrants for Ahmed Chalabi (on charges of counterfeiting) and his nephew Salem Chalabi (on charges of murder).

Salem, of course, remains head of the war crimes tribunal charged with trying Saddam Hussein and other leaders of the former regime. But the tribunal covers crimes committed under the former regime, not the present one. So perhaps there's no conflict.

Doug Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, had an OpEd in Saturday's Washington Post. It is, I think, one of the clearest pieces of evidence for the strategic myopia at the heart of the Bush administration's 'war on terror'.

I say this for the following reason. One can find various statements Feith or his ideological soulmates have made and point out what you might find to be their conflation of the al Qaida and other threats, terrorist or otherwise. But here Feith is specifically trying to respond to such criticisms, thus putting his best and most focused argumentative foot forward.

And the result really does seem to be a fallacy as crude as one could possibly imagine.

It's a short piece. So I strongly recommend reading it in its entirety. But a few quick points.

First of all, on the way to making his central argument, Feith indulges in some silly caricatures of his opponents' thinking -- never a good sign.

Here for example ...

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the intelligence on the attackers was far from fully developed, and some critics of the administration were demanding evidence of the type needed for a conviction in a law court.

First, I think we can say that the predicate here is close to being false, though the language is vague enough as to be inherently subjective.

Whatever failures there may have been before 9/11, it seems undeniable that US intelligence rapidly compiled a great deal of information on the 9/11 attacks. And within days, if not hours, it was quite clear that this was an al Qaida operation. So the uncertainty Feith wants to convey just isn't there.

As to the second point, who were these 'critics' exactly? The fall and winter of 2001 weren't that long ago. And I can't remember anybody who I would consider at all in the political mainstream either arguing that we lacked sufficient evidence to hold al Qaida responsible for 9/11 or that we needed courtroom evidence to strike out at them.

Either Feith is just being dishonest here or he is reacting to numerous subsequent cases where critics have demanded evidence for various groundless charges he has made and projecting this experience back on to 9/11.

But on to the crux of the matter.

The grafs that follow the above are these ...

The term "war" meant that the enemy could not be thought of as a set of individuals who had perpetrated a particular crime. Nor was the enemy necessarily a single distinct organization. Rather, the enemy was understood to comprise all those who contributed to the terrorist threat to the United States, of which Sept. 11 was just the most serious instance to date. The enemy was thought of as the network of individuals, groups and states that committed or supported such acts of terrorism.

Going to war against terrorism meant going to war against this network. Obviously, those most directly responsible for Sept. 11 -- we soon understood them to be the al Qaeda group based in Afghanistan -- were primary targets. But that did not necessarily mean that attacking al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan had to be the first order of business. The timing and nature of U.S. military and other actions had to be designed to serve U.S. strategic purposes and to take into account what we could or could not expect to achieve militarily.

Here we have the heart of the fallacy, or rather an unknowing dissection of the fallacy by one of its authors. Finding particular points of interaction or cooperation between various hostile forces isn't necessary because everyone constituting a certain sort of threat is bundled together into 'the enemy'. And then once Feith has bundled them, the bundle is dubbed a 'network', thus stating as fact what Feith only sentences earlier thought unnecessary and, by implication, impossible to demonstrate with evidence.

Let's look more closely.

Feith states that we are at war not with individuals (which is certainly true) nor even an organization (which is largely true). Then he makes the key leap. We're not at war with any particular entity or organization, but rather all who pose a particular kind of threat -- which he calls terrorist, but given the context he provides might also be called asymmetric or unconventional.

However that may be, he groups all these possible actors together based on the nature of their threat, regardless of whether they include the same individuals or even members of the same organization. It's simply, if you pose a terrorist threat to the US then we're at war with you.

Then in the next sentence he takes all of these threats -- which he's just classed together notwithstanding whether or not they are collaborating with one another -- and calls them a 'network'. And then in the very next: "Going to war against terrorism meant going to war against this network." [itals added]

In other words, all those who present a terrorist threat to the United States are by definition in league with each other. If not by definition, then somehow it is assumed to be true almost a priori, without a need for any actual evidence.

We often hear wags mocking the president or other members of the administration for clumsy uses of the phrase "the terrorists". As in, the terrorists want to do this, or the terrorists want to do that, as though "the terrorists" were a distinct group as opposed to various different actors using similar means. When we hear such things it's easy to think, "Well, that's unfair to criticize them for that. He's talking broad brush or using rhetorical license."

But when you see stuff like this you realize that's not the case at all. The mumbo-jumbo isn't a just matter of soundbites or campaign trail slogans. It goes right to the heart of the strategy.

It seems like anyone these days with a few bucks and a website can start a veterans for this or veterans for that organization. So with that in mind I'm putting myself forward as the executive director of Concerned Vietnam Combat Veterans Whose Service Records Have Been Attacked by Friends of President Bush Even Though President Bush Has Nothing To Do With It and Did His Best to Stop it But Failed.

Now, I'll admit that the acronym we're working with at the moment -- CVCVWSRHBABFOPBET PBHNTDWIADHBTSIBF -- is less than euphonious. But I'm figuring that the importance of our mission will make up for that shortcoming.

You'll remember that friends of the president pulled this stuff with John McCain back in South Carolina in 2000. And McCain just told the AP that this swift boat nonsense about Kerry was "dishonest and dishonorable" and called on the president to disavow it -- something his spokesman, Scott McClellan has now declined to do. So I figure I can get him and Kerry to sign up without much problem.

Now, perhaps to your surprise, I take a somewhat sympathetic view of the president on this question. I see it as one more in a long line of unlucky breaks he's had to endure. Years ago, remember, he tried to go to Vietnam, but couldn't manage to get there because the program he asked someone about got shut down a week before he asked about it. Then the CIA bamboozles him about the WMD business. More recently, records were lost which might have discredited charges that he'd been off carousing when he was supposed to be protecting the Gulf of Mexico from the Viet Cong. And now these so-called friends of his are butting their way into his reelection campaign and attacking his opponent's combat record.

All of this tells me that as long as I'm going to have to get a lawyer to help me set up CVCVWSRHBABFOPBETPBHNTDWIADHBTSIBF that I might as well have him help me set up another political outfit, Rich Kids Who Can't Catch a Break (RKWCCAB). I can think of at least one member.

God bless those Illinois Republicans.

I couldn't believe my good fortune when I came home last night after a long evening to see that the Illinois GOP had chosen Alan Keyes for its senate standard bearer against Barack Obama.

In an era of political drama often tilting toward tragedy, comedy isn't always an easy thing to summon from the news. But I'm confident that Keyes will be helping to rectify that problem.

When the state GOP popped the question, Keyes reflected on the magnitude of the decision he faced and told the press conference that he needed a few times to mull his options because "if I do step forward to accept this challenge, I will be laying it all on the line."

Now, this is classic Keyes as the master of grandiloquent nonsense. Hearing that he will lay all it on the line this time makes you wonder what he possibly could have left off the line when he ran for office in 1988 (Senate), 1992 (Senate), 1996 (president) and 2000 (president).

As you can see, Keyes appears to suffer from an affliction which presents as its primary symptom the inability to go more than four years without entering a campaign in which he will get trounced beyond all reckoning but will nevertheless get a chance to show up at a few debates and work himself into a lather.

Now, one slightly more serious point about the Keyes candidacy ...

I've had a number of people -- both Republicans and Democrats -- write in today and suggest that the real reason for running Keyes is not to win the race (which I think goes without saying) but to rough up Obama and break his political stride with an eye toward his apparently limitless political future.

What'll make this possible, the argument goes, is submitting Obama to Keyes' rhetorical firepower and word wizardry at the debates that will surely happen between now and November.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the 'wingers who seem to have taken over the Illinois GOP think this is going to happen. But this is the really the stupidest idea in the world.

Keyes is something else to watch on the hustings or in a debate. But calling him a master debater is rather like saying Dolly Parton has a dynamite bod or Lou Ferrigno is toned -- or, perhaps mostly aptly, that the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoons is quick on his feet. In other words, impressive in his own way, but also a bit cartoonish and rather less than subtle.

If and when these two guys debate what we're going to hear are rants from Keyes -- both spellbinding and inane -- about how tort reform is necessary to bring America back into compliance with natural law, how drug reimportation is incompatible with the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and how gun control has been outlawed by God.

I don't see how any of that is going to set Obama back much.

With such strong qualifications for office, who would have <$NoAd$> imagined such a thing could happen?

Officials in Indiana and Washington said they were dumbfounded by a statement U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, of Sarasota, made about a terrorist plot to blow up a power grid in Indiana.

During a speech to 600 people Monday in Venice, Harris either shared a closely held secret or passed along secondhand information as fact.

A staff member of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the nation's intelligence operations, said he had heard of no such plot, and Indiana officials in the county where the power grid is located were at a loss to explain where the information originated.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris would not reveal the name of the mayor who told her about the threat or provide further details.

She said in the speech that a man of Middle Eastern heritage had been arrested in the plot and that explosives were found in his home in Carmel, a suburb north of Indianapolis.

Carmel Mayor James Brainard and a spokesman for Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan said they had no knowledge of such a plot. Brainard said he had never spoken to Harris.

This piece in the local paper has more on her shenanigans.

Today the Times reports that the the SEC has fined Halliburton $7.5 million for, in effect, defrauding its shareholders.

The charges stem from a change in accounting methods Halliburton made in 1998. The SEC found that the old and the new accounting methods were both permissible under accepted practices. The key, however, is that Halliburton did not inform investors of the change. That allowed Halliburton to "report annual earnings in 1998 that were 46 percent higher than they would have been had the change not been made ... [and] a substantially higher profit in 1999."

This change came just as Halliburton was struggling with falling share prices that threatened to sink its proposed merger with Dresser Industries.

Again from the Times ...

It reported a 34 percent gain in profit for the quarter, far better than other oil services companies were reporting, and Mr. Cheney said then that "Halliburton continues to make good financial progress despite uncertainties over future oil demand."

The commission said yesterday that the gain would have been just 6.7 percent without the undisclosed change in accounting policies.

This is sorta like, "Hey, we just changed the temperature reading in our refrigeration trucks from Fahrenheit to Celsius without telling you. So what's the problem?"

The SEC and the even the Times goes to some length to avoid the colloquial term for this sort of behavior: i.e., fraud. The SEC did levy the fine. And it did point the finger of blame at two lower levels Halliburton officials. Yet the SEC, in the words of the Times, "did not detail the extent to which [Cheney] was aware of the change or of the requirement to disclose it to investors." And not surprisingly, in the article, Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell is trumpeting the results of the investigation as a clean bill of health for Cheney.

Now, with a whitewash, you might at least expect that Cheney would be denying knowledge that this took place, as implausible as it might sound. But he won't. After taking down O'Donnell's crowing about the results of the investigation, the Times asked whether Cheney "had been aware of the effect of the accounting change on the company's profits." But O'Donnell wouldn't answer.

So here you have the Vice President of the United States. His company gets caught in about as clear a case of cooking the books to inflate profits as you can imagine during the time he was CEO. (His salary and bonuses are tied to company profits.) And he won't even go to the trouble of denying that he was aware of the wrongdoing.

Can we have some more aggressive reporting on this one?

Double-decker preemption? This from Gen. Tommy Franks this morning on CNN ...

With respect to WMD, ... I've had a couple reporters ask me the same question, 'Do you think that since we didn't find this WMD, do you think it's a mistake?' And I look and hopefully give a wry smile and say "Do you think it would be better to have left this regime to build it?" I think we are far better served that the regime of Saddam Hussein no longer stands in Iraq.

Very wry.

Alan's moment draws near!

According to Reuters, Illinois Republicans have narrowed their choice of senate candidates to oppose Barack Obama to two. And one of those two is Alan Keyes. The other is a former deputy drug czar for demand reduction named Andrea Barthwell, who resigned early last month to consider a senate run.

Like Keyes', Barthwell's possible nomination would seem to indicate that the Illinois GOP is encountering some difficulty finding first-tier candidates to oppose Mr. Obama. During her brief stint at the drug czar's office one of her most noteworthy accomplishments seems to have been getting written up in a "hostile workplace memorandum" for "lewd and abusive behavior."

In the words of the Associated Press, "In front of her staff, Andrea Grubb Barthwell made repeated comments about the sexual orientation of a staff member and used a kaleidoscope to make sexually offensive gestures ..."

The staffer in question later told the investigator that he found her comments "lewd, derogatory and called into question his heterosexuality."

A kaleidoscope, you ask?

Thus the AP ...

The lewd and abusive behavior finding stemmed from a Dec. 19, 2002, staff gathering. Barthwell made comments about a staff member's sexual orientation after the staff member misspoke in an earlier conversation, the memorandum said.

"Dr. Barthwell made reference to this staff member sitting on men's laps. A kaleidoscope pointed upward was placed on a chair by Dr. Barthwell as the staff member was about to sit down," it said.

"Dr. Barthwell suggested that the staff member would want to cut the cake available for the gathering because the knife was 'long and hard' and he might 'enjoy handling it.' When the cake was cut, Dr. Barthwell referred to the pieces as 'most' or 'beefy' and she said to the staff member, 'I know you like it big and meaty.'"

Notwithstanding the strong social skills one might infer from that anecdote, the report also said that Barthwell's staff "almost uniformly stated their fear and discomfort with what they consider to be unusual behavior patterns and displays of temper."

In a short interview, Barthwell told the AP that the incident shouldn't be a factor in her candidacy. "I think it's something that was in the past, something we dealt with and it was resolved to everyone's satisfaction," she said.

So that's Barthwell.

Say what you will about Alan Keyes, I think we can be confident that when he starts saying unfortunate things about homosexuality he'll drive home his point with Aristotle and 'natural law' rather than kaleidoscopes.

Given all this, besides the fact that he's completely crazy, I think Keyes might likely be a less embarrassing figure to have in the senate than Barthwell. The man is not without his engaging qualities, after all, as one quickly realized reading Michael Lewis' masterful coverage of the 1996 presidential primary campaign in The New Republic.

You also didn't need to see Keyes diving into a portable mosh pit (set up by an as-yet-pre-iconic Michael Moore after a Republican presidential debate in 2000) and crowd surfing to the sounds of Rage Against the Machine to know that Keyes would probably be quite a guy to party with so long as the festivities were conducted in accordance with the laws of nature and nature's god.

In a classic Keyes' comment, both inane and inspired, he later defended the mosh pit episode, in the face of Gary Bauer's criticisms at the 2000 New Hampshire debate, as an ... well, it really deserves to be quoted in full ...

Admittedly, I was willing to fall into the mosh pit. But I'll tell you something. Do you know why I did that? Because I think that exemplifies the kind of trust in people that is the heart and soul of the Keyes campaign. It's about time we got back to the understanding that we trust the people of this country to do what is decent. And when you trust them, they will in fact hold you up - whether it is in terms of giving help to you when you are falling down, or caring for their own children.

So I thought that as an emblem of that trust, it was the right thing to do. And anyway, my daughter thought it was a good idea.

How can you not love the guy a little after reading that? Whackjob or not ...

In any case, with such politically viable options to choose from, you might think the Illinois Republican bosses would pick someone without so much baggage, like Jack Ryan, for instance. But according to Reuters, they'll crown either Keyes or Barthwell during their conclave tomorrow.

Do not miss this very important article that not only covers the exceptionally good reportage of Knight-Ridder reporters Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay on the WMD claims, but also the costs of aggressively bucking the administration line.