Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There was an article today in the Wall Street Journal's 'Best of the Web' column about center-left war-hawks who've pulled their support for military action against Iraq in light of the president's shockingly incompetent management of the country's foreign policy. James Taranto, the author of 'Best of the Web', is a tad condescending about the whole thing ...

The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means. The liberation of Iraq is less important to them than the maintenance of what Marshall calls the "world security system"--meaning the U.N. and NATO. But the "world security system" is only a means to the end of world security ...
I'll be more charitable and call this simply a difference of opinion. Taranto, and those who believe as he does, see the decapitation of the Iraqi government as the linchpin of international peace and security. We see it as extremely important, but as a means to creating a more stable, safer world order. Fundamentally, we see the preservation of our key alliances and standing in the world, indeed the 'world security system' itself as even more important than Iraq. And when we see the president destroying those to get into Iraq, we have little choice but to say he's on the wrong track.

Taranto and Co. are following a fairly thin logic which states that since the UN didn't do what we wanted it to, it's defunct and irrelevant. Indeed, they seem to be saying the entire framework of American-sponsored global institutions and alliances is defunct because of this. And thus we have to start over completely from scratch. All I can suggest is that they pick up a copy of Karl Polanyi's masterful The Great Transformation to get some flavor of what really unstable international state systems look like and how fragile they can be.

(One point that deserves notice -- and which we'll try to return to -- is that the Bush crowd is now pursuing a logic on the international stage which is inherently self-validating. Every bust-up of an alliance, every disaster is proof that this or that alliance or relationship or global norm was worthless in the first place and thus we're even more right than we thought we were in bulldozing through.)

Taranto goes in for the same old canard of hanging our international diplomatic isolation on the perfidy of the French, even though it's clear that that is not what this is about.

Taranto later goes in for a more cutting interpretation of the center-left's change of heart, particularly focusing on TPM. The reason it seems is that our inner partisanship is finally coming out and we just can't resist an opportunity to stick it to the president. Taranto references this TPM post on the possible pullout of the British and writes, "Marshall is positively giddy about the possibility of Britain balking. Would he feel the same way if Bill Clinton or Al Gore were president?"

Let me quickly take these points in order. The charge of partisanship is laughably hollow since -- right or wrong -- those of us on the center-left who have supported military action against Iraq have amply demonstrated that our position on this issue runs contrary to partisan inclination. It's a good deal harder to carry the administration's water when you're not one of its cheerleaders. So the partisanship charge falls flat.

As to the question of giddiness, one simply can't compete with the young war-hawks of the right in this department. I mean, it's just not possible, is it? Speaking for myself, and perhaps for some other internationalists who feel as I do, part of our frustrated anger over the current impasse is watching the present administration traduce and plow under the work of half a century and seeing the administration's acolytes greet every new disaster and *&$#-up as a grand confirmation of their beliefs and principles. It's like we've been transported into some alternative reality where the debate about international relations is some awful mix of The McLaughlin Group and Lord of the Flies. As these folks should be starting to realize about now, months of this arrogant mumbo-jumbo eventually draws a response -- at home and abroad.

Well, they say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel flees. But now, it seems, Richard Perle is trying a different approach. He's suing Seymour Hersh for his article about him in The New Yorker.

He's suing him ... in Great Britain.

(As long as Perle is getting knocked around -- unfairly, I think -- for alleged dual loyalties, this doesn't exactly seem like a step in the right direction. Does it? I suppose it may be some sort of clever loyalty triangulation strategy, but still ... )

The UK of course has no 1st amendment. And British law makes it notoriously easy for plaintiffs to win libel suits.

As long as we're on the subject, The New York Sun's article announcing the suit leaves a bit to be desired. I like The Sun. I just bought a copy on the newsstand a couple days ago in New York to read on the train. And the article appropriately states at the bottom of the copy that Perle is a director of a company, Hollinger International Inc., which is an investor in The Sun.

But normally when there's such a connection or conflict you bend over backwards to write a straight-up story and not weight it in your guy's favor. But The Sun article quotes Perle, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and two of Perle's foreign policy/neocon intellectual buddies, Stephen Bryen and Laurent Murawiec.

They of course both trash Hersh. (Bryen: "It’s pretty outrageous for a leftwing columnist to make accusations like this with no factual basis. Most of the many hours he works each day are pro bono to help the administration with its policy on Iraq. He should get is a medal of honor." Presumably, if Byron York were the writer, it wouldn't be as bad?) Not exactly 'fair and balanced,' you might say. Murawiec, you'll remember, is the former LaRouchie who Perle last year invited to give a powerpoint presentation at the Pentagon last year, which recommended seizing the Saudi oilfields and pursuing regime change in Egypt.

A few quick points. First, I know many TPM readers have been turned off by Mickey Kaus's harping on the New York Times and alleged liberal media bias in general. But he's got a very good run of posts going on the continuing defections of liberal war-hawks and their efforts to come up with some way both to satisfy the United States' fundamental needs in Iraq and unwind the mess the Bush administration has created. Also, take a look at this editorial on Tony Blair's passion -- in the christological sense of the word -- in The Guardian. A lot of us have long had the sense that the Bush administration would use Blair for all he was worth and then toss his political carcass aside like an old banana peel once they were done with him. Yesterday's embarrassing Rumsfeld episode provided some confirmation.

Is the UK about to become part of 'Old Europe' too? Get new copy ready at NRO and the Weekly Standard! Quick! Don't get caught flat-footed if the storyline changes!!! Surrender Monkeys with bad teeth? Tony the Ferret? What will Jonah's new money quote be???

"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

The words -- those of Joseph Welch -- have grown trite and hackneyed by repetition over the last half century. And they're heavily barnacled with a sort of comforting, but facile sanctimony. But they represent a critical moment in American history, the moment when Senator Joe McCarthy finally undid himself, the moment when his boorishness, opportunism and indifference to the truth finally became fully manifest to the great majority of the American people.

There's been a lot of talk over the last couple days of a remark Richard Perle made on Wolf Blitzer's show over the weekend when asked to comment on a critical article about him by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.

He said Hersh was "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist."

It was an ugly comment and a stupid comment. But altogether I think it amounted to more than that. It -- along with Blitzer's response -- was a Joseph Welch moment.

Let's go through the whole exchange ...

BLITZER: There's an article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh that's just coming out today in which he makes a serious accusation against you that you have a conflict of interest in this because you're involved in some business that deals with homeland security, you potentially could make some money if, in fact, there is this kind of climate that he accuses you of proposing.

Let me read a quote from the New Yorker article, the March 17th issue, just out now. "There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that may gain from a war."

PERLE: I don't believe that a company would gain from a war. On the contrary, I believe that the successful removal of Saddam Hussein, and I've said this over and over again, will diminish the threat of terrorism. And what he's talking about is investments in homeland defense, which I think are vital and are necessary.

Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.

BLITZER: Well, on the basis of -- why do you say that? A terrorist?

PERLE: Because he's widely irresponsible. If you read the article, it's first of all, impossible to find any consistent theme in it. But the suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.

BLITZER: But I don't understand. Why do you accuse him of being a terrorist?

PERLE: Because he sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can -- look, he hasn't written a serious piece since Maylie (ph).

BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it right there.

The closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist. On the one hand, it's obviously just a silly statement, incomparable to the stakes involved in the McCarthy setting. But it was a despicable statement nonetheless. Blitzer clearly saw it as such and immediately called him on it. And Perle couldn't even begin to justify his statement. His attempts were laughable. Trust me, if lacking a theme in your articles made you close to a terrorist most of my friends and I would be down in Guantanamo with burlap sacks over our heads. It was a particularly despicable statement considering that Perle's whole calling card these days is whipping people over the horrible dangers of terrorism and terrorists (not that they aren't horrible, of course.) For him to shoot back with that word in that context spoke volumes about who he is and what his personal rules of engagement are. To me it was a Joseph Welch moment. I hope others will see it that way too.

Lest there be any doubt, Congressman Jim Moran's comments really were way beyond the pale. And frankly I think the response has been too muted. Joe Lieberman said: "The comments made by Jim Moran recently were deeply offensive and morally wrong. Such sentiments are inconsistent with the ideals of tolerance and diversity upon which our nation was founded. Comments like these have no place in our public discourse."

That sounds a touch mild to me. I'm not in the business of saying people should resign. That's for their constituents to decide. But this is a fairly big deal. I guess that given the nature of the statement it's really up to a non-Jewish pol to lower the boom on Moran.

(Moran told a town meeting in his Northern Virginia district that "if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this" and later suggested that Jewish leaders could get the war called off.)

There's been a debate recently over whether it's somehow anti-Semitic to discuss the fact that the president's foreign policy team is heavily weighted with a number of advisors -- a number of them Jewish -- who are big supporters of the Sharon government in Israel and that these advisors have been decisive in pushing the case for war within the administration. (Let's not forget that two of these advisors are Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, who are -- in case you didn't know it -- not members of the tribe.) As Mike Kinsley said recently, "It is the proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it." Lawrence Kaplan notwithstanding, it's a real issue. (I'll say more about this whole issue later.)

I hope our public debate is flexible and astute enough to see that the one thing is entirely unacceptable and the other is completely appropriate.

I was walking up toward Dupont Circle from the Starbucks at Connecticut and N Street this afternoon when I walked past three neatly-dressed older men -- one Korean, another perhaps a Brit -- standing outside a building on Connecticut Avenue. They had that slightly awkward but still dignified look of important folks waiting for the driver to pull up or just hawking about trying to decide where to get dinner. Who knows? Anyway, I noticed they were all wearing name tags. And whenever I see that I always try to get a look to see who the people are, what the organization is, and so forth. What did I see?


You've never seen longer faces.

Now to some really interesting information from today's uber-insider-connected Nelson Report. We may be near a breakthrough on the Korea stand-off. No, not between North Korea and the United States, a breakthrough in the tense stand-off between the State Department, the Pentagon and the OVP.

Now here's the scoop. And bear in mind there's a good measure of scuttlebutt and informed speculation mixed into this report. But I made some phone calls myself on this matter, and there does seem to be something to this. The word is that Dick Cheney may be gravitating toward tactical alliance with Colin Powell over Korea. Cheney seems to be thinking that as fun as regime change in Pyongyang might be, the US is focused on Iraq and then later on Iran. And he doesn't want Korea blowing up while the US has important business to get done in the Persian Gulf. (Even global hegemons have to set priorities!) A Cheney trip to the region in April could be the catalyst for a shift in policy.

Could Al Gore really have done a better job getter France on board? Germany? This is how the question is being framed today. At least by some people I read and talk to. My friend Mickey Kaus says he doubts any more diplomatic finessing could have gotten the French on board.

I don't necessarily disagree with this point. But, frankly, I think it's beside the point. Or perhaps just misses the point.

The issue here isn't that France opposes us. That doesn't bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone.

And don't give me any chatter about moral clarity and Churchill holding off the Huns alone at Dover. This isn't that kind of situation. We're in international affairs not just for today but for the long haul. And our political leadership in the world community matters profoundly.

If we like, we can kid ourselves and believe that "old Europe" in the guise of France and Germany oppose us but "new Europe" supports us. But if we look at the question honestly we have to confess that this isn't true. The populations all across Europe oppose what we're doing. A collection of governments in Eastern Europe and on Europe's periphery support us, for a variety of reasons. Some do it because of an intra-European powerplay. Others for sincere belief that we're doing the right thing. Others for more mercenary reasons. In the short term, the reasons for their support don't matter so much. But if we think we can trade our old allies in for these new ones, then it matters a great deal that these governments are doing this in spite of the wishes of their populations, not because of them. One or two elections, and no more 'new Europe.' Fundamentally, alliances of democracies are founded -- like democracies -- on popular opinion.

Again, people say the French are lame or opportunistic for aggrandizing themselves by trying to rally a world-wide coalition in opposition to us. But look more closely at this point. The real heart of the matter isn't their opportunism, if that's what it is. Opportunists will always arise to exploit an exploitable situation. The real issue is that the world stage is now ripe for such exploitation. We are supremely isolated right now. That's the issue we need to contend with. When we can't get penny-ante states to give us their votes on the Security Council that should tell us something: not something about the rightness of policies, one way or another, but about the depth of our international isolation. The fact that France may be taking advantage of the situation on the international stage is a subsidiary problem.

Next, to the United Nations. One hears that the United Nations was basically a wrecked or never-functioning institution. So the costs of putting it out of its misery are not so great. I'm not so sour on the UN. But what worries me here is not principally the UN. NATO sidestepped the UN in 1999 during the Kosovo war because of Russian intransigence. And I was happy to see NATO do it. Anti-UN types now see this as a bit of internationalist hypocrisy. But again, it's not the UN I'm worried about. It's the destruction of NATO that's the issue here.

By seeking to rend NATO, the administration has demonstrated that poorly-functioning international institutions aren't what it is opposed to, but rather ALL international institutions.

Over the last day I've received a number of emails saying 'thanks' or 'finally' or 'you finally wised up' for changing my position on the war. The passage those folks were referring to was the last in the previous post in which I said ...

The pros and cons of handling Iraq have never been separable from how you do it, the costs you rack up in the doing of it, calculated against the gains you'll get in having accomplished it. At this point, we truly have the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think that those costs now outweigh the gains.
The last line is the one that generated the emails. Now, I'm afraid I may disappoint those who think I've suddenly changed my stripes on this issue. I looked back at what I wrote in my long Washington Monthly article on the subject and I agree with pretty much all of it. I don't think I've really changed my position. But then people who write and make arguments for a living always say that. So I'll explain to you what I think and why I think it and you can make up your own mind.

A number of people have written in and said that I never should have uttered pro-war sentiments knowing that it would be this president and this group of advisors who were going to implement the plan. Frankly, I don't agree. The role of someone who does what I do -- writes and constructs arguments and opinions for a living -- is to look at as many of the facts as possible and then give readers an honest opinion. The role isn't to try to game the system. That's just a more high-minded form of dishonesty.

When I first wrote about this issue I came to the opinion that Saddam really was a threat to our interests and that in our long-running dispute with him, time was on his side, not on ours. Many people are now championing the merits of robust containment. But if you think back to a couple years ago the whole point was how our sanctions against Saddam were killing all those Iraqi children. Another point was that containing Saddam required us to garrison troops in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates and that made for a fertile breeding ground for bin Ladenism. Even now, I think it's right to say that Saddam is contained. But how long can we contain him? We have 250,000 troops on his borders. It's taken that much to squeeze this grudging level of compliance out of the regime. How long can we maintain that? At how much expense? At how much diplomatic and cultural collateral damage, as we managed to build up during the first decade of containment?

I don't say these are in themselves justifications for war. But it is not enough simply to say you oppose war. That statement brings with it a responsibility to say what the proper policy is or would be. If you think Saddam is contained now then it's incumbent on you to say how you imagine perpetuating that state of affairs into the future. And what the costs will be to your policy.

When I first wrote on this issue at length what I said was that this was an issue we really did need to deal with (probably militarily), that it was a running wound, but that the hawks who run foreign policy in this administration were most likely to do it in a way that would lead to disaster.

Now, where are we now?

When you have given careful thought to a question of war and peace, you need to be very careful not to lose heart or change your mind just when things are coming to a head. Things always get dicey just before the trigger is finally pulled. That's just in the nature of things. And I've tried to resist that pressure or temptation myself. But at a certain point it simply becomes clear that the damage the administration has done outweighs the gains we might possibly amass by invading Iraq and toppling this regime.

We are at that point. I'm less worried about the immediate repercussions in the Middle East than in the wider world, where we are as quickly as we can trashing a world security system that decades of statesmanship have built up. That's worth more than can possibly be gained in Iraq.

That still doesn't answer the question of what we should do now. And you've probably noted in these pages over the past three weeks that that's a question I've been wrestling with. As I said here, I think it's very clear that we would do this differently if we had a chance. (To disagree with that proposition, I think you have to be in the camp of those who think trashing our alliances wasn't a necessary cost but a positive good. In other words, you would have to be a political appointee at the Pentagon or the OVP.) But what do we do now, given that all this damage has already been done? I find that a much more difficult question.

People reflexively make light of arguments about 'credibility'. And it is a slippery slope. But if we just gracelessly and abruptly climbed-down from our position right now, that really would have very serious consequences both for us and for the entire world order. How many other rogue states or Muslim terrorists would be prompted to test our apparently empty will in other parts of the world?

The administration has played this in a way that the costs of changing course really are high. Very high. Given the disaster the administration is barrelling towards, however, I think we need some other solution, some way to reconfigure our policy so as to be able to declare 'victory' and have it be credible and not have it lead us back to an even worse situation than the one we started in.

Almost a year ago now I wrote the following in my article in the Washington Monthly ...

The same goes for the State Department's efforts to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The hawks tend to view weapons inspections as a contemptible joke, a half-measure that will bog us down with kibitzing at the U.N. and rob us of our justification for invasion. Properly done, however, inspections are not a way to avoid war but to build the ground work for it. Before a single soldier hits the ground in Iraq, the U.S. should demand a virtually air-tight inspection regime--not the half-measures the U.N. is currently negotiating with Saddam. Our European allies would oppose this strenuously, as will Russia and China. But it is well worth drawing them into that conversation, because the force and logic of our argument is quite strong. Once the concept of inspections is granted, the need to make them effective is difficult to refute. If Saddam were to accept a truly robust inspections regime--one which would allow the inspectors to roam the country more or less at will--we will have achieved our aim of neutralizing the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But, of course, when he doesn't agree--and he won't--then we will have forced our allies to confront the reality of Iraqi intransigence head-on. Some may still oppose our imminent military action. But others might join us, and that will make us stronger.
I still agree with those points. And I think the answer is that we have to wait. I feel confident that an able foreign policy mind could come up with a tack that would allow us to secure our vital objectives and yet work our way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. I'm not sure what that grand gesture is. And absent such a grand gesture I think we have to resort to a policy of coercive inspections, start giving the inspectors quality intelligence data (not garbage) and begin whittling down the Iraqis WMD capability one step at a time.

Will we get everything? No. That's very unlikely. But what really matters is nuclear weapons. And though I'm certain Saddam wants nukes, he pretty clearly doesn't have them now, and he won't be making any progress toward getting them as long as inspectors are there in force.

I think we need to pursue this goal for the next several months and keep ratcheting up the pressure, knowing that we may have to go to war at a later point, even when weather conditions and so forth aren't ideal. (One tack we might try -- and I mean this only half in jest -- is to tell particularly the French but also the Germans and the Chinese and the Russians that if they're so enamored with the current situation which has been brought about by an overwhelming display of American military might, they need to start footing their share of the bill.)

Is this a good solution? No. And I'm not certain how long we can sustain it. But I think, as I said yesterday, the gains we're going to make by doing this (and I still think they would be substantial) will be outweighed by the costs, even the costs entailed by shifting our policy. It's a very close call. But I owe you a straight-up answer. And that's it.

Having said all this, do I think there's much chance this will happen? No, I think we'll be at war in the next ten days. This is just my sense of what we should do.

While working away on the soon-to-be-submitted final draft of the dissertation, I've been working on a new article about the hawks' 'grand plan' for the Middle East, of which Iraq is only the opening act. As part of the reporting for that piece, I spoke yesterday to a retired, high-level member of the US Intelligence community who specializes in the Middle East.

This is someone who has always been very sour on the idea of invading Iraq. And when we spoke yesterday, I asked him what struck me as the big question: What's your best guess for the near and medium-term repercussions of what we're about to do.

His answer, or at least part of it, surprised me. He didn't think the repercussions within the neighborhood -- i.e. in the neighboring Arab states -- would be nearly as good as the hawks believe but also not nearly as bad as many nay-sayers expect. No governments falling. And probably -- after a rough few months -- even that much change from the status quo ante.

His greatest worry was not in the neighborhood, but the world: the costs -- unreckonable to some degree -- of wrecking the international state system to get this done. The pros and cons of handling Iraq have never been separable from how you do it, the costs you rack up in the doing of it, calculated against the gains you'll get in having accomplished it. At this point, we truly have the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think that those costs now outweigh the gains.