Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Read this column by David Ignatius from July 18th. I don't think it got enough attention. Saddam Hussein's science adviser, Amir Saadi, was one of the less loathsome of the ex-regime's public faces. He was the liaison with the inspectors. He wasn't a Baath party member, had lived a good bit of time abroad, and he was the first guy to turn himself in.

That was on April 12th and he's apparently been in solitary ever since.

Here are two of the key grafs ...

Saadi's friends say there has been quiet discussion about his case with the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by L. Paul Bremer. Believing that Saadi is "clean," some officials of the authority have recommended three times to higher officials at the Pentagon that he be released, according to Saadi's friends. Each of these requests has been rejected, they say.


What's bothersome about these cases is that they reinforce the impression that the Bush administration has something to hide. Why not disclose the testimony of people the coalition worked so hard to catch? The only convincing explanation, argues a former CIA official, is that their accounts would "directly refute the Bush administration's insistence that WMD still exist somewhere -- an assertion that we all know is growing more questionable every day."

Take a peek at the whole column.

This is the statement that jumped out at me from the president's press conference this morning. (And, for what it's worth, I was surprised and impressed that he held one just now.)

We gathered a lot of intelligence. That intelligence was good, sound intelligence on which I made a decision.

And in order to, you know, placate the critics and the cynics about intention of the United States we need to produce evidence. And I fully understand it, and I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe: that Saddam had a weapons program.

I want to remind you, he actually used his weapons program on his own people at one point in time, which was pretty tangible evidence.

You can see where this is going, can't you? This is really great-moments-in-goal-post-moving.

Saddam had a weapons program.

And how can you believe he didn't have a weapons program, when he actually used the weapons from his weapons programs, albeit fifteen years ago.

This isn't just a slip of the tongue or a Bushism. This is where we're going. As the White House now wants to define it, the question is whether Iraq ever had a weapons program. Or, to put it more precisely, whereas some people are foolish enough to believe that the standard is whether Saddam actually still had the weapons programs we know he once had, the real standard is whether Saddam actually once had the weapons programs we know he once had.

This is too silly to even talk about. Everybody knows that's not what we're talking about.

As if we didn't have enough signs that the administration's priorities on the war on terrorism are seriously out of whack, now this.

The same day we hear of a renewed threat of 9/11-style hijackings, we also find out that our new air marshal program is being scaled back because of tight budgets at the Department of Homeland Security.

The number of screeners is being cut too.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Brian Turmail wouldn't get into the specifics of what changes were being made. But he did tell an MSNBC reporter that all programs at TSA are “subject to ongoing review.” He went on to say, “TSA’s current task is to balance the need to meet changing threats with the need to live within the agency’s budget. The federal air marshal budget is under review to determine how best to meet these two objectives.”

Can someone talk to this guy? Or maybe his boss?

I don't think these guys quite understand the 'task.'

Forget balance. As nearly as I can figure it, the 'task' is to do everything possible to prevent anyone from flying another one of our jets into a building.

Another TSA spokesman told the Washington Post that the marshal's program "is not exempt from budget realities facing the TSA."

Really? Can we make it exempt?

Here's some helpful information from that article in Wednesday's Post ...

Just one day before the [terrorism warning] memo was distributed, an official with the undercover Federal Air Marshal Service canceled what are considered some of the most vulnerable flight missions because they required marshals to spend nights in hotels, as well as cut training for Washington-area agents next month. The official cited "monetary considerations," according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
I'm sitting here at my keyboard just before two in the morning and I'm literally at a loss. I seldom like it when people make what are often facile comparisons between what we're spending in Iraq and this or that priority at home. But, in this case, how can you not? We're spending $4 billion a month in Iraq in what we're now being told is the "central battle in the war on terror." Can't we pop for these hotel rooms? I know budgets are always complicated matters in every government agency, no matter how sensitive or vital their mission. But you back up and look at the big picture here and it really defies comprehension.

I recently had a talk with an editor of mine when I had to make a tough call about whether or not to include a particular piece of information in an article. Journalism has all sorts of established rules for when you really have a story nailed and when you don't -- this or that number of sources, statements on the record or off the record, and so forth. But a lot of the toughest calls just come down to judgment, your gut feeling. During that conversation I told him how I usually make these decisions.

When I find myself in these situations the reasoning I use with myself goes something like this: 'Let's say I run with this story. And let's say it goes bad. And then I have to explain my reasoning to my editor. How is that conversation going to go? Am I going to have a good story to tell? Or am I going to have a why-was-I-such-a-friggin-idiot story to tell?'

It's a very clarifying mental exercise.

If something terrible happens with a plane, aren't a lot of people going to have a lot of why-was-I-such-a-friggin-idiot stories to tell?

Now, that's classic. A month or so after the Texas House Democrats hightailed it to Oklahoma to prevent the Tom DeLay re-redistricting, a state court ruled that the attempt to use the Department of Public Safety to track them down had in fact been illegal.

Since Gov. Rick Perry (R) and crew insist on knocking down every precedent in the state to get it done, the state senators have now gone to New Mexico in replay of the earlier saga. (New Mexico was apparently the choice because one of the abscondees recently had a heart attack and there were better or more convenient medical facilities nearby.) The most recent precedent down the drain is the one which requires a 2/3 vote in the state senate to bring a bill up for debate -- thus the senators' departure.

In any case, without the ability to use the state police, Republican state officials are now considering sending bounty-hunters across state lines to bring them back -- an idea you can certainly understand since bounty-hunters are such an upstanding and constitutionally-minded group of characters. Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) has helpfully obliged by issuing an opinion okaying the bounty hunter idea.

Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, has provided the Dems with a state police detail to protect them and, reportedly, has vowed to press kidnapping charges against any bounty hunters who try to take them into custody.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the ultimate author of all this ridiculousness, is off on a tour of the Middle East where, one would imagine, he'll fit right in.

Joe Conason nicely tracks the Republicans' new "So Sue Me" defense on intel manipulation. Also, don't miss this nice piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate, detailing how the president's actions on how well things are going in Iraq are speaking louder than his words. Note to my neocon friends: I think your "flypaper" line may be about to be withdrawn by HQ. Just a heads-up. Don't be the last one to find out.

"The Pentagon," according to the Associated Press, "is setting up a commodity-market style trading system in which investors would be able to bet on political and economic events in the Middle East — including the likelihood of assassinations and terrorist attacks ... A graphic on the market's Web page showed hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated or Jordanian King Abdullah II would be overthrown."

Maybe this is a hot idea. But somehow I'd imagine we'd probably want to set this up as a front company, no?

On the other hand, progress is progress.

In the old days, all you could accomplish with mass-casualty terrorism was physical destruction, human suffering and death on a massive scale. Now, through effective market manipulation, you can achieve those ends and reap immense profits. Maybe even enough to fund the next terrorist attack.

Will there be derivatives?

As you know, Texas is a whole 'nother country. And they ain't kiddin'.

A little while back Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) called a special session of the Texas State legislature to reconsider re-redistricting. The effort couldn't be stopped in the Texas House. So now it came down to the state Senate.

There is a long-standing tradition in Texas that bills have to clear a super-majority (2/3) vote to get to the floor for a vote. And Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who runs the Senate, had promised he'd abide by that rule. Democrats had only barely enough Senators to block that two-thirds vote. So they'd have to hold very tight if they were going to have any shot at stopping this power-grab for a second time.

Now, it turns out they did hold tight. Improbably, they even got one Republican to come over to their side.

Then Dewhurst thought up a way to wiggle out of his pledge. It turns out he'd been misunderstood. He didn't say he'd never break the 2/3 rule. He just said he'd never break it in this special session. If the governor wanted to call yet another special session ... well, then all bets would be off.

This afternoon Perry called another special session (see the proclamation, with the time hastily marked in with felt-tip pen, here.).

Eleven of twelve Texas Democratic senators just grabbed a flight for Albuquerque.

The trio of quotations listed below called attention to the growing popularity of what conservatives are now calling the "flypaper" theory of our presence in Iraq.

The thinking goes something like this. These guerilla engagements we're seeing in Iraq may not be such a bad thing. What we're doing is attracting all the terrorists to Iraq (i.e., like "flypaper") so that a) they won't be attacking us in America and b) we can fight them there on our own terms. As Andrew Sullivan put it early this month, "Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open."

Now I can imagine a number of problems with this approach -- moral, tactical and strategic.

But isn't the main fallacy that there isn't some finite number of "terrorists" out there whom we can draw to one place, kill or arrest, and then be done with it? I mean, let's be honest: Is there really any shortage of these dudes? Are they gonna run out?

Do you remember Afghanistan? Not this 'Afghanistan', but the last 'Afghanistan.' The US-Pakistan-backed jihad against the Soviets made Afghanistan into a sort of jihad Club-Med where young Saudis could go for a few weeks or months of firing guns and fighting for God. (Of course, some stayed on rather longer.)

The idea is supposed to be to drain the swamp, not create a new swamp and spend all your time swatting all the mosquitoes that come to hang out and breed.

As a reader (Tom R.) wrote last night in an email to TPM, the "flypaper" theory makes about as much sense as a public health director saying "By creating a dirty hospital, we're going to create a place where we can fight the germs on our terms."

An interesting progression ...

But doing it as the Bush administration now intends is something like going outside and giving a few good whacks to a hornets' nest because you want to get them out in the open and have it out with them once and for all.

"Practice to Deceive"
Joshua Micah Marshall
Washington Monthly
April 2003

Being based in Iraq helps us not only because of actual bases; but because the American presence there diverts terrorist attention away from elsewhere. By confronting them directly in Iraq, we get to engage them in a military setting that plays to our strengths rather than to theirs'. Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open.

"Bring Them On"
Andrew Sullivan
July 3rd, 2003

Separately, Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of coalition ground forces, told CNN that "we still have a long way to go" before eliminating resistance.

Iraq had become "a terrorist magnet," drawing some anti-American extremists from abroad to "a target of opportunity."

"But this," General Sanchez added, "is exactly where we want to fight them."

"U.S. Must Act on 'Murky' Data to Prevent Terror, Wolfowitz Says"
International Herald Tribune
July 27th, 2003

Are we all straight now on what the plan is?