Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Everyone is in Kuwait. And I mean everyone. I was talking to a couple ex-CIA sources today, trying to get a handle on what's going on with the Iraqi-occupation-government-to-be. I wanted to figure out who was in and who was out, who was worth trying to get on the phone, and so forth. How about this ex-CIA Iraq-hand? Should I give him a call? Oh, he's in Kuwait working for General X. That anti-Chalabi Iraqi emigre? Oh, him? In Kuwait. He's in the mix too.

Some day, and perhaps some day in the not-too-distant future, someone will write this book. How much of the Washington foreign policy politics of the last decade got compressed into this scrum at the head of the Persian Gulf, how everyone who has a theory about what the next government of Iraq should look like, everyone who wants to make money off it -- in short, the level-headed, the hopelessly idealistic and the utterly craven -- all descended on Kuwait City to jockey for position.

There's the Pentagon and the State department, the three or four different "Iraqi oppositions" the CIA has courted over the last dozen years, the NGOs, the would-be Lawrence of Arabias, the gun-runners, the gentle-minded rule-of-law mavens, the ex-Generals, the constitutional lawyers, the hotheads and the maniacs.

Everyone's there or soon will be. And they're all waiting at the starting line.

Oh yeah, and then there's the Iraqis ...

Good for John Kerry. A few days ago in New Hampshire, Kerry told an audience "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."

Following this, Republicans launched a highly coordinated attack, with blistering fire from all the name Republican leaders and equally heavy fire from their email, fax, and talk radio apparatus.

Here's the text of an email Deputy RNC Chairman, Jack Oliver, sent out to the loyal GOP faithful ...

Yesterday, John Kerry shocked many Americans when he called for "regime change" right here in the U.S. By comparing our commander-in-chief to Saddam Hussein's brutal regime at a time of war, Kerry showed just what he is willing to say to appeal to liberal Democrat primary voters.

RNC, Chairman Marc Racicot quickly responded saying, "Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander-in- chief at a time when America is at war. Critical analysis offered in the best interests of the country is part of a healthy democracy. But this use of self- serving rhetoric designed to further Senator Kerry's political ambitions at a time when the lives of America's sons and daughters are at stake reflects a complete lack of judgment."

Senator Kerry's shocking comments come just three weeks after he said he would end any criticism if America goes to war, saying, "It's what you owe the troops ... if America is at war, I won't speak a word without measuring how it'll sound to the guys doing the fighting." It appears Senator Kerry is more interested in appealing to a small, radical faction of voters than leading all Americans.

These comments are just the latest example of Democrat leaders blaming America first. Last week, Tom Daschle echoed the French line, blaming our nation for the war, even after the United Nations gave Iraq 12 years to disarm. Joe Lieberman called President Bush a "greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein." Dick Gephardt claimed that President Bush is "bullying" the world.

Do you think these Democrat comments go too far?

Shocking! Did I remember to say shocking? Did I remember to say AMBITIOUS? Shocked many Americans ... Compared Bush to Saddam Hussein! Please ...

I'm just finishing up a study about how one group of people used overwhelming displays of violence to overawe and terrorize another group into docility and obedience. So, even though this is verbal rather than physical violence, I think I have an idea how this works.

The RNC is using the cover of war -- 'using' isn't too strong a term, though 'exploiting' may be better -- to set a standard in which any critical comment about the president uttered by a political rival is greeted by an overwhelming fusillade. The idea is to set the standard for criticism extraordinarily high and scare any Democrat from criticizing the president at all as long as the war or probably even the reconstruction of Iraq goes on. It's reminiscent of the cheap bullying Dick Cheney tried to pull in the months after 9/11.

John Kerry responded thus ...

The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country ... If they want to pick a fight, they've picked a fight with the wrong guy ... I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year. Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now.
As it happens, I think Kerry's original remarks are precisely on the mark. The 2004 election would always have been an important election. But the events of recent months have made it perhaps one of the most important elections in the last century. And the future of the country depends greatly on President Bush not being reelected.

But more on that point later.

For the purposes of our present discussion, the particulars of Kerry's remark are almost beside the point. This is no better than cheap bullying practiced by the president's hacks. And, in political life as in personal life, there is only one way to deal with bullies: you must fight back against them with at least the ferocity and intensity that they use against you. They understand nothing else and deserve nothing better. There's no reasoning with them, no apologizing to them, no hashing out the particulars of remarks you've made.

Bullying, bluff and aggression have been the signature modus operandi of the president's political operatives in domestic politics for the last two years. How many veterans will get their patriotism questioned by the president's operatives and placemen before we see the mainline pundits say enough is enough? Recently, we've seen Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and now John Kerry get the treatment. The president's operatives are using the presence of an American army in the field -- Americans fighting and dying in Iraq-- not only to land a few easy shots on the president's opponents but to hit them so hard that they're afraid to hit back. Don't miss the point of this: it's to scare anyone out of uttering any criticism. And it's a cheap use of American blood.

It's nice to see Kerry at least putting out word that he won't stand for it. No one should.

I've gotten a lot of response to my article ("Practice to Deceive") in the new issue of The Washington Monthly. But the most interesting response has been the lack of response or criticism from the main advocates of regime change in Iraq. I can't say that I've received a lot of plaudits or thank yous. But it confirms a point I made on a radio show yesterday: there's really no denying any of this because it's really an open secret, if it's even a secret at all. It's been discussed and canvassed and argued over in The Weekly Standard, The National Review and various other publications.

In Los Angeles on Wednesday Jim Woolsey, one of the top regime change advocates, called this effort "this fourth world war [which], I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War." It's a war, he said, against the mullahs of Iran, the "fascists" in Iraq and Syria and al Qaida. Addressing the Saudis and Hosni Mubarak, he said "We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you -- the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family -- most fear: We're on the side of your own people."

Jim Woolsey is currently in line for a top post in the American occupation government.

This afternoon I'm reading Stanley Kurtz's "Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint" in the new issue of Policy Review. As I noted in the article, there are a number of different flavors of our would-be imperial project in the Arab world. And Kurtz's isn't exactly the same as the one I outlined in the Monthly. But it's part of the same conversation.

I first got a sense of this larger program when I wrote my first article on the Iraq issue ("Bomb Saddam?") but I got the idea to write the new article when I was at a panel discussion a couple months ago and one of the presenters used the phrase "Middle East reform." The phrase rolled off his lips as though it required little explanation. And what he meant was pretty much what the phrase sounded like: the process of reforming the Middle East much as one might reform welfare or some institution that had fallen on hard times. He didn't underestimate the difficulty of doing so, but was convinced that America's security depended on it.

One point that remains implicit in the Monthly article is that there's not that much deception among many of the people who've formulated this idea for launching an imperial project in the Middle East. The deception lies with the public propagandists and those in the administration who've worked to implement the plan without giving the public much of a sense of what they're up to.

More on this soon.

A brief note on the late Michael Kelly. It should come as no surprise to any reader of this site that I seldom, if ever, agreed with anything Kelly wrote in his Washington Post column. Indeed, my reactions were often far more visceral. When someone dies, especially so young and under such violent circumstances, it's natural to praise what there is to praise and say kind words for the departed notwithstanding any shortcomings. But let me just go a bit beyond that in this case, because it's deserved. To the best of my recollection I never met Kelly in person. But I know a number of people who knew him very well and worked with him closely while he was the editor of The New Republic and then of The Atlantic. I'd say most of these people had more or less the same basic reaction to his column that I did. But to a person, every one of them always told me how good and fair-minded he was, both as a person and professionally. The people who worked under him as an editor loved him, even if they were bewildered by many of his views. Long before this tragic news this morning, more than one of them told me they scarcely recognized the person they knew in his often impassioned and cutting columns. Good, fair-minded, honest, never one to push his personal political views on writers whose work he edited -- a temptation which many are never able to master -- all the stuff you'd want in a true journalist. I remember one friend from the New Republic telling me how he had a sort of moralism and straight-laced sense of journalistic propriety you'd expect from a newspaperman of a couple generations ago. Disagree with him, but grieve him no less for it.

Some very tragic news to come from the "embed" program. The death of a prominent American newspaper journalist shortly to be announced. Stay tuned ... LATE UPDATE: His news organization, The Washington Post, has now reported the death of Michael Kelly.

Is William Safire just another Tricky Dick?

Ten days ago Safire fired off a barrage of accusations against America's erstwhile ally, Turkey ("Turkey's Wrong Turn," March 24, 2003). He blamed Turkey's refusal to give the US a northern front on an amalgam of incipient Islamism and greed for northern Iraqi oil. He said Prime Minister Erdogan had turned Turkey into "Saddam's best friend."

Thus Safire wrote ...

Adding diplomatic insult to this military injury, Turkey massed 40,000 troops on its border with Iraq, hoping to grab the oil fields of Kirkuk if Iraqi Kurds rectified Saddam's ethnic cleansing by daring to return to their homes.

The Turks' excuse for seizing today's moment of liberation to bite off a rich chunk of their neighbor is this: they insist that Iraqi Kurds plan to set up an independent state, which would then supposedly cause Turkish Kurds to secede and break up Turkey.

That's strictly Erdogan's cover story for an oil grab, undermining the coalition's plans for an Iraq whole and free.

Now, as I noted in The Hill last week, Safire's argument was really little more than a bundle of slurs built on a series of fairly straightforward logical contradictions. The long and the short of it was that Safire was just letting the Turks have it because they refused the United States. That required taking them down two or three notches.

But if Turkey really was refusing us because it craved the oil fields of Kirkuk, would Safire really be in much of a position to criticize them? Not really, since he's spent the last eighteen months dangling the lure of Iraqi oil in front of the Turks as their reward for helping the US topple Saddam.

For instance, just after 9/11, Safire wrote a column in which he was supposedly "channeling" his one-time boss Richard Nixon about the wars on terrorism and Saddam ("The Turkey Card," November 5th, 2001).

Here's a snippet from the 'interview' ...

Q: The Turks have already volunteered about a hundred commandos -- you mean we should ask for more?

Nixon: Get out of that celebrity-terrorist Afghan mindset. With the world dazed and everything in flux, seize the moment. I'd make a deal with Ankara right now to move across Turkey's border and annex the northern third of Iraq. Most of it is in Kurdish hands already, in our no-flight zone -- but the land to make part of Turkey is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of Saddam Hussein's oil [italics added].

Q: Doesn't that mean war?

Nixon: Quick war, justified by Saddam's threat of germs and nukes and terrorist connections. We'd provide air cover and U.N. Security Council support in return for the Turks' setting up a friendly government in Baghdad. The freed Iraqis would start pumping their southern oil like mad and help us bust up OPEC for good.

Q: What's in it for the Turks?

Nixon: First, big money -- northern Iraq could be good for nearly two million barrels a day, and the European Union would fall all over itself welcoming in the Turks. Next, Turkey would solve its internal Kurd problem by making its slice of Iraq an autonomous region called Kurdistan.

Now, that was "Nixon" talking. And even though it was pretty clear these were slightly more coarse and candid expressions of Safire's own thinking, maybe you figure it's unfair to identify him directly with these ideas. But how about another column ("Of Turks and Kurds," August 26th, 2002) from just last summer, in which Safire speculated on what the Turks might gain from getting involved in the regime change game ...
But many Turks, having just defeated their own Kurdish terrorists headquartered in Damascus, are still transfixed by the chimera of Kurdish separatism. They worry that when Saddam is overthrown, Iraqi Kurds will split off into an independent Kurdistan, its traditional capital in oil-rich Kirkuk, which might encourage Turkish Kurds also to break away. But that defies all logic: would the Kurdish people, free inside a federated Iraq and with their culture respected in Turkey, start a war against the regional superpower?

Turks also worry about the million Turkomen in northern Iraq. It should not be beyond the wit of nation-builders to ensure that minority's rights and economic improvement. Turkey has a claim on oil royalties from nearby fields dating back to when Iraq was set up [italics added]. As a key military ally in the liberation and reformation of that nation, and with judicious U.S.-guaranteed oil investments, Turkey should begin to get its debt paid.

See the game Safire has been playing? First, he tries to get the Turks on the regime-change bandwagon with the lure of Iraqi oil. When they refuse the temptation, he accuses them of cravenly lusting after the very thing he unsuccessfully tried to tempt them with. Yesterday in the Times he was actually at it again. What sort of weird combination of disingenuousness and projection is this? Tricky Dick? How 'bout just plain ... well, this is a family website. But you get the idea.

We'll be saying more about this later. But watch Colin Powell's trip through Europe. On the surface, this is an effort at fence-mending with NATO allies after the lead-up to war and an attempt to make plans for post-war Iraq. In fact, this looks more like a three way battle between Europe, the State Department and the Pentagon, with Colin Powell trying to leverage the Europeans -- and particularly Tony Blair -- against the AEI faction at the Pentagon. Let's hope he's able to pull it off. On the other hand, in his battles with the hawks, look at his track record.

More from General McPeak (former Chief of Staff, US Air Force) from last night on Aaron Brown's show ...

Yes, I think that's more a political gamut. And quite frankly, I'm a lot less optimistic on the political side. I think we ought to make a sharp distinction here between two types of criticism that are being made. Some, even retired senior officers, are criticizing the plan, saying we don't have enough force there, one way or another.

I disagree with all that. And I don't think it's helpful. Our guys on the ground are doing great. The plan is being executed well. We just have to be a little patient.

But there's a second kind of criticism that says the political run-up to this thing was pretty ugly. The administration has managed to back us into a position where we've lost a lot of friends. Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are not on our side. Some of our oldest allies, France.

And so we've done a pretty good job on splitting NATO, the most successful military coalition in history. And so we've reduced our friends and multiplied our enemies in the political run-up to this, and that I think has enormous strategic consequences.

Remember, we never lost a battle in Vietnam, we just lost the war because the politics of it was so clumsily done.

More soon.

"The striking scenes of Iraqis cheering and welcoming U.S. troops as liberators in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Wednesday came as no surprise to a handful of British and American undercover officials who have for months sought with sweet talk and hard cash to win over the country's traditional tribal sheikhs and chieftains. 'The most important duty of a tribal chief is knowing when to switch sides,' one British official with knowledge of the undercover operation told United Press International. 'In Najaf, the al-Jaburi tribe understood that Saddam Hussein's time was over.'"

That's from a story just filed by Martin Walker for UPI.

This doesn't nullify the implication of those cheering throngs of Iraqis welcoming US troops. It just adds a deeper note of complexity to what's going on. It also anticipates the growing debate over the character of the post-Saddam government. Says one British official interviewed by Walker: "This is not just about toppling Saddam with briefcases full of cash or telling their people it is time to welcome the coalition troops. The tribes play a long game. For them, the real currency is not just money but privileges and the promise of roles and influence in the post-Saddam government, whatever the United Nations or the Iraqi exile groups may say."

A few thoughts. The chemical weapons issue is really becoming acute. CNN's Walt Rodgers is doing amazing reporting this morning with the 3-7th Cavalry, speeding toward the outskirts of Baghdad. Earlier this morning he reported seeing many dead Iraqis that his armored column was leaving in its wake as it pushed ahead. According to Rodgers, they were all wearing gas masks -- if not actually donned than at least at their side. Presumably that means the Iraqis are prepared and ready to use chemicals at any moment.

The question that arises is basically a political one for the Iraqis. Once they use chemicals, if they do, they will not only lose a lot of ground in the propaganda war in the Arab world and even more in Europe, they will also confirm a lot of the rationale for American action. So, for them, it must be a difficult calculation. If they have hopes of dragging this out in a guerrilla war or some urban fighting then you'd expect they wouldn't do it -- it would be counterproductive, since they believe they have some hope of eventually wearing America down and turning world opinion further against us. On the other hand, if they think they're on the verge of complete collapse -- which looks like a distinct possibility -- then they may be in 'go down in blaze of glory' mode.

Now, for what's coming next, be sure to read two key pieces today. The lead editorial in today's Washington Post and this article by Jane Perlez in the Times. The Post's editorial page has long been pretty friendly to the neo-con-Iraqi National Congress axis, so their note of caution on post-war plans merits considerable attention. Perlez's piece gives fascinating background on Iraq's government-in-waiting, currently kickin' it in Kuwait. Three candidates are now in the running to administer the occupation government: the UN/international community, the United States government, and the American Enterprise Institute. At the moment, candidate #1 is at least a lap behind the other two, and candidate #2 is already starting to wheeze. AEI ... well, they look like their just gettin' their stride.