Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Okay, this simply <$NoAd$>won't fly.

I haven't yet been able to get a handle on just what happened with the public release of the identity of this al Qaida operative who was apparently cooperating with Pakistani intelligence in some sort of sting operation. Nor do I yet have a clear sense of what I think about the larger issues.

But on Wolf Blitzer's show yesterday, Wolf had the following exchange with Condi Rice ...

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the people who have been picked up, mostly in Pakistan, over the last few weeks. In mid-July, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. There is some suggestion that by releasing his identity here in the United States, you compromised a Pakistani intelligence sting operation, because he was effectively being used by the Pakistanis to try to find other al Qaeda operatives. Is that true?

RICE: Well, I don't know what might have been going on in Pakistan. I will say this, that we did not, of course, publicly disclose his name. One of them...

BLITZER: He was disclosed in Washington on background.

RICE: On background. And the problem is that when you're trying to strike a balance between giving enough information to the public so that they know that you're dealing with a specific, credible, different kind of threat than you've dealt with in the past, you're always weighing that against kind of operational considerations. We've tried to strike a balance. We think for the most part, we've struck a balance, but it's indeed a very difficult balance to strike.

Here Rice seems to be implying that things discussed 'on background' aren't for public release and thus that the White House did not in fact release his name.

But that's simply false. White House officials give 'backgrounders' all the time, Rice at least as often as others. The information discussed in those briefings is very much for public use. The restrictions are simply a matter of identifying who is talking.

Best endorsement of <$NoAd$> Alan Keyes so far.

This entry by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, as related by The New York Times ...

"I spent five weeks trying to find good people," said Mr. Hastert, who said he approached state legislators and the former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and Gary Fencik, an Ivy Leaguer who was a hard-hitting safety.

"I got down into last week interviewing a 70-year-old guy who was a great farm broadcaster in Illinois," Mr. Hastert said. "He decided because of his health problems he couldn't do it. You know, we were down — we needed to find somebody to run, somebody who wanted to run. And, you know, Alan Keyes wants to run, and I hope he's a good candidate."

I will be much obliged if readers can send me examples of other similarly ringing endorsements or examples of Keyes' verbal nonsense from the campaign trail, though I concede the volume of the latter will likely be formidable.

Quite simply, I knew that Alan Keyes -- whom I recently called the master of grandiloquent nonsense -- would not let me down.

Keyes kicked off his campaign in what I guess we should be calling his new hometown of Chicago today. But first he had to get over the fact that a few years ago he not only knocked Hillary Clinton for relocating to New York to run for Senate -- after all most every Republican did that -- but had to dress it up in typically Keyesian mumbo-jumbo.

Harkening back to the wisdom of no one in particular, Keyes intoned, "I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there. So I certainly wouldn't imitate it."

The best walk back I heard for this one was the response from a Republican party official in Illinois a few days ago -- as related to me by a TPM reader -- who, when confronted with this seeming change of mind, shot back that ... you guessed it, 9/11 changed everything!

Clearly, something like that is far too banal for Keyes. So he described his flash of light on the road to Chicago experience like this ...

As Keyes told his new Illinois supporters today, he was at first dead-set against running for senate in another state. But then he was shown copies of Barack Obama's state legislative voting record and he decided he had no choice -- flip flop or no flip flop -- but to jump into the ring.

"I'll tell you by the time I got through the records, I was convinced that somebody had to run against Barack Obama," he said.

And then after this long dark night of the soul Keyes spent with Obama's voting records he decided that "I must leave the land of my forefathers [i.e., Maryland] in order to defend the land of my spirit, of my conscience and my heart -- and I believe that that land is Illinois."

Only Keyes could manage to bring a flourish to the rather prosaic work of backing out of backing out of a flat promise or turning a flip-flop into something vaguely reminiscent of St. Paul's decision to abandon the teachings of the Pharisees and launch off on foot around the shores of the Mediterranean preaching Christ crucified.

What I can't help but wonder is what issues get pulled into the mix when Keyes and his wife get in an argument about ... say, whose toothbrush is whose? Or when one of the kids won't take out the trash?

"You have said that you will not take out the trash, that you will take out the trash after you play Nintendo. But I tell you today that taking out the trash is no mere chore. Just as a righteous society is preserved by preserving what is good and just and tossing aside what is bad, just so with the ..."


Well, you get the idea.

In any case, I think Mike Murphy has the right take on this at The Weekly Standard when he argues that hiring Keyes for an election Kamikaze run is a foolish and self-destructive move for Illinois Republicans that shows just how bad a state they're really in.

As Murphy puts it, "Keyes will be the perfect foil for Obama to campaign against, and the selection of Keyes will seem exactly the shoddy and cynical move that it is. The Republicans should know better."

For years now I've been interested in one of Washington's lesser known and subtler forms of corruption -- one that is in no way illegal and one which can be found in both political parties. In the broadest possible sense it's the corruption of expertise; specifically, it's the corruption of think-tanks. Is it okay for think-tanks to get funding for their foreign policy or trade policy programs from foreign governments? Middle East policy paid for by the Saudis or the Israelis? Asia policy paid for by the Chinese? Should all of a think-tanks telecom policy scholars be funded by one cell provider?

There is one think-tank in DC, for instance, that has a region studies program which is paid for out of the foreign ministry of one of the countries in the region in question -- somewhat less than entirely independent, you might say.

I would say that it probably is okay so long as there's disclosure. These aren't black and white issues, after all. Think-tank presidents have to find funding for their scholars. And fundraisers quickly find that there isn't that much wholly disinterested money out there. Is it really so bad if such-and-such think-tank gets a grant for its program on peace-keeping from Germany or Japan?

Unfotunately, there are no disclosure rules for where think-tanks get their money. They don't have to tell the public anything. And in many cases corporate and foreign interests (and union interests too, though they have far less money) have used this loophole, if that's the best word for it, as a way to use money to affect the political process without having to disclose anything.

In any case, the person who interested me in this topic is Steve Clemons, whose new blog I introduced you to a few days ago.

Today Steve has follow-up post on a topic related to this issue: it is on Jim Woolsey and how Steve says Woolsey has personally profited from the Iraq War that he played a key role in leading the country into.

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.