Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

Following up on the previous post, here's even more ridiculousness from Tony Snow today. Now we're back to the line that President Clinton didn't drive a hard enough bargain with the North Koreans, getting them to put their plutonium processing activities on ice.

That's been succeeded by the Bush administration policy of letting the North Koreans reprocess as much plutonium as they want as long as we don't have to talk with them in bilateral talks as opposed to multilateral talks.

I'd heard the briefing today was a beaut. But I didn't know it'd be this good.

And also beg the Chinese to make the North Koreans stop. I forgot that part of the policy.

Preemption 2.0. From this morning's gaggle ...

Question: Is the President's commitment to diplomacy in North Korea at odds with his policy of preemption?

MR. SNOW: No. You've got to understand that you preempt when you have concerns about an imminent strike and you also have -- this is an administration that's been engaged in diplomacy on this. I know there's been a lot of reporting in recent days as if George W. Bush just woke up one day and decided to try diplomacy, and it doesn't work that way at all. As a matter of fact, the administration has been working on the North Korea problem in a multilateral manner for a number of years; the same thing with Iran. You also go back to the military engagements -- the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and those were also multilateral. So it is nothing new for this President to try to enlist the aid and support of other nations.

He's also made it clear that you do what is appropriate for various circumstances. And what is appropriate in the case of North Korea, and in the case of Iran is to use diplomacy as vigorously as possible in hopes of trying to get both nations to engage in behavior that not only is going to be good for their citizens, but also good for the international community.


Question: You haven't been around here long, but are you saying there's no more policy of preemption?

MR. SNOW: No, I'm not saying that at all. But I'm also saying that there's --

Question: Well, you weren't here in the beginning when it was really was the policy.

MR. SNOW: Helen, there was also diplomatic activity going on. Preemption was used in Iraq. and furthermore, in Afghanistan. It was not used as preemption --

Question: It was laid down as our policy and strategy.

MR. SNOW: It was laid down as a strategy, but you also -- preemption also can be a diplomatic strategy. What you try to do, for instance, in the case of North Korea, is to preempt activity.

Question: Not much.

MR. SNOW: Well, Secretary of State Thomas has weighed in. (Laughter.) Now, the fact is that you can use diplomacy as a way of preempting bad behavior, and which you can also use as carrots and sticks.

I hear it got even better at the briefing.

The evidence mounts.

As you know by now, New Jersey senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr. refuses to say whether he's for the Bush plan to phase out Social Security and replace it with private accounts. We're now on Day 8 trying to get a straight answer out of him.

And now we've found a second reporter whom Kean told back in 2000 that he supported the Bush plan. That was when Kean was running for a House seat in 2000. (The first was a reporter for the Westfield Leader, noted here.)

According to a May 15th 2000 Associated Press article by Laurence Arnold, Kean said that he, like the other four candidates for the GOP nomination supported "the idea of letting people invest part of their Social Security payroll taxes into a private investment account they would manage."

In other words, in 2000 Kean supported President Bush's partial phase-out plan.

One of our spies on the ground in New Jersey tells us that Kean's got his own Garden state version of the Bush bubble and isn't making appearances before non-stacked audiences (if folks in state have more details on this, let us know.) So it may be hard for TPM Readers to get a chance to ask Kean whether he still supports the Bush plan. But he's got to come out of hiding at some point.

Ahhh, a sight to behold. Video of Joe Biden explaining his recent remarks. He was praising Indian-Americans for overcoming their historic exclusion from small retail shop ownership.

Okay, I think the folks at Bluejersey.com may be in the hunt in the Straight Answer from Tom Kean, Jr. on phasing out Social Security contest. As we noted back on Tuesday, Tom Kean, Jr. (R) is running for the Senate in New Jersey. And even though President Bush and the Social Security chair in the House both say they'll go for Social Security phase-out again next year if they hold the Congress, Kean refuses to say whether he favors preserving Social Security in its present form or phasing it out and replacing it with private accounts.

Go to his events, call his campaign, whatever, he's keeping mum.

But this guy at bluejersey.com has dug up some info.

Turns out that back in 2000, Kean tried to run for a seat in Congress. And back then he was in favor partially phasing out Social Security and replacing the phased out part with private accounts.

Reported the Westfield Leader on May 25th, 2000 ...

Mr. Kean supports investing 2 percent of the Social Security Trust Fund in the Stock Market, in the form of personal retirement accounts that would be controlled by individuals rather than the government.

This is a little garbled. But what the reporter is referring to is taking about 18% of the money that goes to Social Security and putting it into private accounts. (2 percent refers to 2 percentage points out of the total of 12.4% of payroll that goes to Social Security.) That's the Bush plan from 2000.

In other words, back in 2000 Kean was in favor of what President Bush tried to do last year and says he'll try to do again next year. In 2000, Kean was for it. Now he refuses to say whether he's for it or not.

The contest prizes await whoever can get him to say whether he's still for it or whether he's changed his mind.

It can't be that hard. He can't stay silent forever, can he?

Ken Mehlman ...

From MSNBC, June 30th, 2006 ...

The [Justice Department IG] report also contained evidence of Abramoff's strong ties to the Bush White House. One White House political official, Leonard Rodriguez, told Fine's investigators he kept Abramoff aware of information relevant to Guam "at the behest of Ken Mehlman, the White House Political Director," the report said. There was no explanation of why Mehlman would have wanted the information shared with Abramoff.

Ken Mehlman, quoted in Vanity Fair, May 2006: "Abramoff is someone who we don't know a lot about. We know what we read in the paper"

I'm curious to hear more about this alleged plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel in New York. Unlike the ridiculousness down in Florida, this seems like it may have been a serious effort, albeit in the very early stages, and some solid inter-agency work rolling it up. Like I said, curious to hear more.