Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Sen. Craig (R-ID) applauds the Bush administration for rounding up those dingbats in the warehouse outside Miami as key win in the War on Terror ...

In times of crisis, the Bush administration is relentless in the hunt for those who would harm our nation. Every day thousands of dedicated public servants stand on guard to protect us -- whether it's our privacy or our security, whether it's in Iraq or in the back alleys of our nation's inner cities -- and we owe each of them our thanks.

Nice to see Sen. Craig's got his head screwed on straight.

Colorado House candidate, Rick O'Donnell, was forced to reveal today he wrote an essay eleven years ago calling for Social Security to be abolished and replaced with a "mandatory, private savings scheme." Today, he says, he's better informed. Now he says he wants to phase it out and replace it with prviate accounts.

The Rocky Mountain News is playing this like he's changing his position. But what's the change?

Someone ask this bozo what's the difference between his position then and his position now.

O'Donnell also says President Bush "bungled" Social Security phase-out last year by advocating the phase-out plan O'Donnell says he himself supports.

Who is this guy? I'm not sure I've ever seen a would-be pol who isn't even capable of successfully executing a flip-flop.

Responding to my post below about Lawrence Kaplan's revalation, Atrios says I've missed the real thrust of Kaplan's post. Kaplan isn't so much admitting failure or error, he says, as he is providing a rationale for a new policy moving forward which Atrios describes, more or less, as, They're unredeemable barbarians so let's just kill them all.

That may well be the case. I'm not sure what Kaplan's forward policy is. My point is to tease out what he's now forced or willing to concede about how we got into this mess.

But this does raise a related issue I'd like to pursue -- one that connects the neocons' folly on Iraq with their failure, discussed earlier, on the Korean peninsula.

Put simply, do we not detect a pattern in which the foreign policy neoconservatives strike out boldly on some foreign policy adventure, flop right down on their faces and then present the cause of their undoing as a novel insight wrestled from the maw of history when in fact, to everyone else except for them, this 'insight' was completely obvious and predictable from the start?

Kaplan says that America can't contain the Iraqi's "sectarian rage" nor "reprogram [the Iraqi's] coarsened and brittle cultures." As Louis Menand put it in The New Yorker, quite relatedly, when reviewing Francis Fukuyama's richly articulated discovery that regime change and preemption might not have been such a royal road to peace and democracy, "No duh!"

I mean, this was the whole premise of pretty much everyone who said that Iraq might be a hard place to 'democratize' by invading. Non-diversified economy based on natural resource extraction, lethal sectarian divisions in a country bundled together by the British. It was pretty much the conventional wisdom going in that it was only brutal dictatorship that held the place together.

Now, this is admittedly a dark, pessimistic view. One might simply say that Iraq has a history of sectarian conflict which makes it a challenging candidate for instant democratization. Or you might say that others have tried to run the place (namely the British) and had a rather tough time of it.

In other words, you can organize these facts along realist lines or anti-Imperialist lines or nationalist lines. And at the end of the day it all comes down to the same basic rub -- that Kaplan presents as something new under the sun what everybody else knew was obvious and was trying again and again, but alas in vain, to tell him and his buds four years ago.

Like Menand says, No Duh ...

Coming later, How is this all different from the Balkans? They don't get along there either, do they?

Question of the Day: Can you name any part of the world, or our relationship with any other country in the world, in which our strategic posture is stronger or, by any measure, better today than it was in January 2001?

The best I can come up with is a couple of countries in the Caucusus and stretching into Central Asia. It's a stretch, I know. Other possibilities?

Late Update: My terminology in this posts seems to have created some unclarity or confusion. I'm not asking about the quality of ties in this or that bilateral relationship. I'm asking whether we are weaker or stronger. More or less able to secure our strategic interests, either through 'soft' or 'hard' power. So, in the case of China for instance, I would say we are clearly weaker than we were five and half years ago. This doesn't mean that I think China is a 'threat' in the sense that the China hawks do. But, among other reasons, our increased dependence on the Chinese because of the North Korea crisis, coupled with our growing national indebtedness to China and arguably the situation in the Middle East all make us weaker and the Chinese stronger, albeit of course in relative terms. We can hypothesize (i.e., fantasize) about what will be the case 10 or 20 years from now. But right now I don't think anyone can deny that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have sharply limited our options and leverage with Iran. This is what I'm getting at -- not whether mutual good feeling is better or diplomatic ties are strengthened (though these can be key components of national strength and security) but, in starker terms of power and leverage, where are we stronger? Where are we weaker? More able to secure our key interests or less so? Internationalists might say we get there through military muscle coupled with robust alliances. The Bush administration says we there through talking tough and the salutary effects of kicking the asses of small countries. But forget about means, after almost six years, what are the results?

Let me have your attention for a moment.

There's a brutal, astonishing and final dispatch today from Lawrence Kaplan at the New Republic blog, The Plank. Let me reprint it in full ...

Even by the degraded standards of everyday life in Baghdad, this report from CNN's Nic Robertson comes as a shock:

One international official told me of reports among his staff that a 15-year-old girl had been beheaded and a dog's head sewn on her body in its place; and of a young child who had had his hands drilled and bolted together before being killed.

From its gruesome particulars, the report goes on to describe the fear that has gripped even the most hardened Iraqis during this latest round of sectarian bloodletting. Robertson's dispatch points to a revolting truth about the war in Iraq--one that American officers discovered long ago, but which has yet to penetrate fully the imaginations of theoreticians writing from a distant remove. The fact is, there is very little that we can do to dampen the sectarian rage and pathologies tearing Iraq apart at the seams. Did the Army make a mistake when it banished "counterinsurgency" from the lexicon of military affairs? Absolutely. Does it matter in Iraq? Probably not. How can you win over the heart and mind of someone who sews a dog's head on a girl? Would more U.S. troops alter Iraq's homicidal dynamic? Not really, given that, on the question of sectarian rage, America is now largely beside the point. True, U.S. troops can be--and have been--a vital buffer between Iraq's warring sects. But they cannot reprogram their coarsened and brittle cultures. Even if America had arrived in Iraq with a detailed post-war plan, twice the number of troops, and all the counterinsurgency expertise in the world, my guess is that we would have found ourselves in exactly the same spot. The Iraqis, after all, still would have had the final say.

The brutality described here is difficult to move past. But I want to try. As we walk around the carnage, it's worth noting too that there's a good measure of excuse-making Kaplan has bundled into this post. In those rhetorical questions toward the end, he is reviewing a series of debates which his side of the debate (the regime-change, Chalabi, transformation of the Middle East side) was now clearly on the wrong side of.

He raises them to dismiss them. Did we have a crappy post-war plan, Kaplan asks. Yes, he answers, but in the end it didn't matter one way or another.

My point here isn't to pile on. To a degree at least, on these points, he's clearly right.

What I want to focus on is the final, totalizing message -- one that's worth taking note of. You could summarize what Kaplan is saying as, Our guns and our money and ideas are no match for their history and their hate.

And that -- phrased different ways or from different perspectives -- was the conservative realist line of opposition to the whole enterprise -- the arguments Kaplan and his compatriots villified and slurred for literally years. Kaplan's one of the smartest and most candid of the neocons (not much of a compliment in itself, I grant you, but deserved in a fuller sense in his case). But here you have the final come-down. Not an admission of error here or there or in execution, but total -- that the whole idea and concept and program was upside-down-wrong in its essence.

Mark the moment -- that's the ghost given up.


As you know, we have a contest going to see who can get a straight answer out of New Jersey senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr. about whether he still supports President Bush's plan to phase out Social Security and replace it with private accounts (as he did in 2000) or whether he's changed his position. So I figured, what the hell? I'd like my own TPM t-shirt and mug. So I called Kean's campaign office today and explained that Kean told two reporters in 2000 that he supported the Bush Social Security plan. And I asked whether he continued to support the Bush phase-out plan or whether he'd changed his position.

The Kean campaign folks were responsive and friendly. But I'm afraid I too failed (yes, I'm man enough to admit it) to get a straight answer.

Kean press secretary Jill Hazelbaker sent me this statement ...

Politicians in Washington have done nothing to fix social security. Unlike Bob Menendez, Kean will not sit on the sidelines as the problem gets worse, and he has looked at alternatives to help preserve the solvency of the program -- including private accounts. The Kean family has a long history with this issue -- Kean’s Grandfather helped craft the first expansion of social security during his tenure in Congress.

Menendez has no plan to save social security, and votes to give social security benefits to illegal aliens. He has also voted twice to increase taxes on American’s social security benefits and voted against repealing the 1993 tax increase on social security benefits.

Now, as you can see, Kean's still not willing to answer a pretty simple question.

It's cool that his grandfather was a strong Social Security man. But what about the grandson? Does he support the Bush private accounts plan or doesn't he? Pretty reasonable question since the president and the Social Security chair in the House say they're going to try to pass it next year when Kean will be serving in the Senate if he wins the election. But Kean's answer appears to be that it's going to have to remain a mystery until after he's elected.

Also, Kean's statement says "he has looked at alternatives to help preserve the solvency of the program -- including private accounts."

But this doesn't seem to cut it either. Kean didn't just have some youthful experimentation with private accounts. He fully inhaled: back in 2000 Kean said he supported private accounts.

Anyone else have any ideas about how to figure out what Kean's position is? We're considering raising the prize from a TPM T-shirt and a TPM mug to a TPM T-shirt and two TPM mugs. But we don't want to be rash.

I'd been waiting for the day when Tony Snow would slip into full wing-nut claptrap overdrive. And today I think we've got it.

Here's what Snow said today when he got backed into a corner about the dismal failure of the administration's Korea policy ...

I understand what the Clinton administration wanted to do. They wanted to talk reason to the government of Pyongyang, and they engaged in bilateral conversations. And Bill Richardson went with flowers and chocolates, and he went with light water nuclear reactors, and he went with promises of heavy oil and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and many other inducements for the dear leader to try to agree not to develop nuclear weapons, and it failed.

You know Snow felt deeply under the gun here, because this claptrap comes from deep in the 'winger brain stem.

Let's review a few salient, uncontested facts.

Back in 1994, the US came close to war over its nuclear activities and particularly the reactor complex at Yongbyon. War was averted with the so-called 'Agreed Framework' in which North Korea suspended its production of plutonium (and put the facility under international inspections) in exchange for assistance building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don't help you make bombs) and fuel oil for energy generation.

There are all sorts of details to what was going to be in exchange for what, who exactly would be doing the giving, and lots of other details you can see here. But that is the essence of it. And it shut down the North Koreans' plutonium reprocessing activities for close to a decade.

The agreement began to come apart in 1998 when the North Koreans did an unnannounced test firing of one of their missiles, which went over Japan and crashed into the Pacific. There was also, by the end of the Clinton administration, evidence that the North Koreans were attempting to enrich uranium, something not explicitly covered in the Agreed Framework, but certainly a violation of the spirit of the agreement.

There's a fairly detailed explanation of the US reaction and the efforts to arrive at a new agreement during the late Clinton administration. It's a Times , oped written by two of the policy makers at the time, Bill Perry and Ashton Carter.

The Bush administration came to office convinced that this entire process was one of appeasement and set in motion a series of events that led to a complete breakdown of the initial agreement. In response, the North Koreans started reprocessing plutonium again.

Now, most agree, the North Koreans probably have enough for several nuclear warheads.

Now, the premise of the Bush administration's North Korea policy was that North Korea was a bad acting state that had to be dealt with through force, not negotiation. That didn't necessarily mean going to war. The goal was to intimidate the North Koreans into better behavior if possible and resort to force if necessary.

Yet, when the North Koreans called the White House's bluff and starting reprocessing plutonium, the White House's response was ... well, nothing.

That was three years ago.

Rather than talk softly and carry a big stick it was a policy of talk tough and do nothing.

The bomb making plutonium keeps coming off the conveyor belt. And the White House policy is to say they won't negotiate and also ask the Chinese to get the North Koreans to behave.

The remaining conceit of the Bush administration is that the Clintonites met with the North Koreans in bilateral talks while they insist on multilateral talks.

That's the policy, which is to say, they have no policy. The salient fact is that under Clinton plutonium reprocessing stopped and under Bush it restarted. The Bushies angle was that you don't coddle bad actors like the North Koreans. You deal with them in the language they understand: force. But the NKs called their bluff, they weren't prepared to use force. So they decided to forget about the whole thing.

That's the record. That's the policy. A total failure.

Tony Snow knows it. That's why he went into overdrive. The truth hurts.