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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

TPM Reader AB writes in to say that there's no way President Bush will launch a war against Iran. At most what we're talking about is aerial bombing to eliminate or seriously degrade the Iranian nuclear program.

To this a couple responses.

I don't see the logic of reserving the noun 'war' for full-scale invasion and regime change. A bombing campaign to seriously degrade or eliminate the Iranian nuclear facilities would mean bunker-busting bombs to destroy buried and heavily reinforced facilities. It would hit a lot of places. Something of that caliber amounts to war. And not just by some rhetorical definition. It's something that wouldn't end after a few days or after the last US bombers and fighters return to their bases and ships.

Second, AB suggests that what's going on here is not actually preparations for war, but saber-rattling to keep the Iranians off balance and give them an added incentive to reach a diplomatic compromise.

With any other administration, I'd agree with that. Hinting at a potential military option would actually make sense as a backdrop to serious diplomatic discussions. It would make sense for an administration that wanted a diplomatic solution.

But this isn't any administration. This is an administration that demonstrated in a fairly analogous situation a preference for war over diplomatic solutions. So the 'threats as a way to spur diplomatic flexibility' argument makes perfect sense in the abstract. But there's no reason to assume it applies to this situation.

For myself, I still find it really, really hard to believe that the adminstration is seriously considering military action against Iran. At one level, I don't believe it. But I've thought the same thing with these guys too many times and been wrong. It's a situation where I set logical analysis aside and rely on experience and the administration's track record.

We know these guys. Why get fooled again?

This post is, hopefully, nothing more than stating the obvious. But let's just put down for the record that when President Bush calls recent reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" that means absolutely nothing.

It's not just that the president has now earned a well-deserved reputation for lying. It is because he and his chief aides lied to the country about a more or less parallel situation -- the build up to war on Iraq -- only four years ago. We now know that the fix was in on the Iraq War as early as September/October 2001. And the president and his crew kept up the charade that no decisions had been made long after those claims became laughable.

Yes, I know, President Bush gets called a liar on center-left and left-wing blogs all the time.

But I think those more genial sorts in the press and policy community in DC need to be honest enough with themselves to recognize that on this issue of all issues President Bush is unquestionably a liar.

It is also not too early to point out that the evidence is there for the confluence of two destructive and disastrous forces -- hawks in the administration's Cheney faction whose instinctive bellicosity is only matched by their actual incompetence (a fatal mixture if there ever was one), and the president's chief political aides who see the build up to an Iran confrontation as the most promising way to contest the mid-term elections. Both those groups are strongly motivated for war. And who is naive enough to imagine a contrary force within the administration strong enough to put on the brakes?

In this morning's White House 'gaggle' Helen Thomas got things started with a simple question: "Is the U.S. going to attack Iran?"

See the entire exchange, with Libby/leak questions too, here.

If you're really, really guilty, be sure to get a really, really good lawyer.

Richmond Times-Dispatch profiles DeLay lawyer Richard Cullen.

(ed.note: To TPM Lawyer-Readers, yes, I know. Everybody needs a good defense. It's a joke. Next.)

The DOJ slow-rolls the Guam-Abramoff-Rove investigation. And Sen. Burns may be the new Tom DeLay. That and other news of the day in today's Daily Muck.

Editorial pages are for opinion. But legitimate opinion journalism is constrained by facts, as nearly as we can know them as we put pen to paper. And by that measure, the Washington Post's editorial page has skidded outside the boundaries of journalistic legitimacy on any number of issues but most glaringly on our involvement in the Middle East. Today's editorial on the Bush-Cheney-Libby leak of classified portions of the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate is a case in point.

One might simply say that presidents play hardball; and they play politics. And President Bush or his untethered vice president played hardball against a prominent critic by releasing information the law allowed them to release. And get over it. Politics, like life, isn't fair. And if you swipe at the president, expect to get hit back.

You may not agree with that. But it's an opinion. And it contains an uncomfortably large element of fact.

But the authors of this editorial don't appear to read the news pages of their own paper or their best competitors. The clock has simply run out on any attempt to claim the president and his key advisors weren't acting in bad faith with their constant advocacy of an alleged traffic in uranium between Iraq and Niger. It's over.

As consistent reporting both from within the executive branch and the intelligence agencies has shown, the only reason this canard ever caught any life outside the vice president's office was not because of its credibility but rather its irrelevancy. By the time Libby came to leak more information about it months after the war, it had been still further discredited within the administration.

The Post also sticks to the up-is-down claim that Wilson's trip to Niger supported rather than undermined the Niger-uranium claim. That is a viewpoint that can only be maintained if you are willfully ignorant of the backstory to the Niger canard. Wilson's report didn't add a lot to what most in the intelligence community already thought about the pretended Niger story. But that was because it tended to confirm the reasons why most in the intelligence community didn't find the story credible in the first place.

For whatever reason, the Post has chosen to throw in its lot with the flurry of mendacious rhetoric and the white-washed investigations, all of which amount to a grand pen and paper and word game truss barely holding together the body of official lies that is still governing the capital.

They've made their deal with power. They should justify it on those grounds rather than choosing to mislead their readers.

There's a lengthy oped piece in Sunday's Post by Tom DeLay's former Communications Director John Feehery. The opening blurb doesn't inspire a lot of confidence: "Tom DeLay had great strengths, and one great weakness - a willingness to let his staff members run amok."

When I read that I thought it was going to be another version of that silly DeLay whitewash Michael Barone just wrote. But it's not.

It's actually well worth your time to read. And though it plays to the good man brought down by bad staffers story line, Feehery only takes that so far. The really bad ones -- like Buckham and Rudy and Scanlon -- rose to the top because DeLay naturally gravitated toward them and heeded their advice. And he gravitated toward them because ... well, because they were bad. And he liked that.

No, Feehery doesn't use those words. And, yes, I'm making a bit more black and white. But not much. DeLay, Feehery explains, was attracted to these three because of their willingness to cut corners, to ignore limits, to do anything to win.

The overwhelming majority of DeLay's staffers were professional, honest and working in Congress for the right reasons. But Tom prized the most aggressive staffers and most often heeded their counsel ... A former hockey player, Tony Rudy was DeLay's enforcer; he wasn't evil, but lacked maturity and would do whatever necessary to protect his patron. Ed Buckham, DeLay's chief of staff, gatekeeper and minister, constantly pushed DeLay to be more radical in his tactics and spun webs of intrigue we are only now beginning to unravel. And Michael Scanlon, who, in my experience, was a first-class rogue and a master of deception. People like Rudy and Scanlon pleased DeLay because they were always pushing the envelope ... I don't know if Tom always knew what his staff was doing -- I know that I didn't. But I had my suspicions, and now I have seen them borne out.


This one's worth a read.

This new article on the Niger forgeries is now up online in Sunday London Times.

The claim actually isn't a new one. It's been rattling around Italy for at least a year, and reported in a few Italian publications aligned with the current government. The basic argument is that the Niger forgeries were the work of two employees at the Nigerien embassy in Rome, the consul, Adam Maiga Zakariaou and Laura Montini, his assistant. And the motive was money.

How did these two come to forge the documents?

According to the story in the Times, Montini was put together with ex-Italian intelligence agent Rocco Martino by a serving SISMI Colonel named Antonio Nucera. After putting the two together, Nucera fades from the scene. But Montini goes to work for Martino providing purloined documents from her place of work.

Then Montini and her boss, the Nigerien consul, learn that Martino works for the French and there's a lot of money in it for everyone involved if they can 'find' documents shedding light on Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Niger. Thus the forging begins and the rest, as they say, is history.

That is, needless to say, a very condensed version of the story. So read the piece in the Times for the full details.

Now, remember, this version of events is the work of an Italian government 'investigation'. And all evidence suggests that the Italian government has very dirty hands in this whole affair, acting at least as the purveyor of the forgeries and possibly their creator as well.

There are a slew of holes in this story; and you don't need to be too deep into the arcana of the story to see them.

First, consider Nucera's role. He's a colonel in SISMI, Italian military intelligence. He puts the two key players together. They're also former SISMI employees. But that's just a coincidence. Neither Nucera nor SISMI have any role in what happened. He was just trying to help out a couple old friends.

Montini actually says different. She gave an as-yet-unpublished interview in which she alleges that Nucera provided her with the forgeries, with the instructions to turn them over to Martino.

Here's another point to consider. If the Italians really have this all figured out, and if the Italian government isn't implicated in any way, why have Montini, the Nigerien consul and Martino never been arrested or accused of any crime? Each is now in Italy. No charges have ever been brought against any of them.

There are various other holes and contradictions in this story. But there's one big one that you only need to read the papers to see. According to the story in the Times, the documents go from the Nigerien Embassy to Martino, to the French and then to the UK. Martino later sells them to an Italian journalist just a few months before the war.

Only, that's not how it happened. It's a simple chain of custody issue. Read up on the story and you'll find that the US didn't get the documents from the British or from the French. They got them from ... right, SISMI. The Italians sent details of the documents and then text transcriptions of them to Washington in late 2001 and early 2002. And everyone else got them, either directly or indirectly, from the Italians as well.

Once you add that fact to the mix you realize the story in the Times just doesn't add up.

This is the cover story concocted by the Italian government. It wasn't a very good one eighteen months ago and it's no better now.

A number of readers have written in with this link to a Raw Story teaser about a piece on the Niger forgeries set to run in tomorrow's Sunday Times of London.

It reads ...

The LONDON SUNDAY TIMES' Michael Smith -- who first broke the infamous Downing Street Memo -- will identify who is believed to have forged the documents that formed the basis for President George W. Bush's infamous 16 words this evening, RAW STORY has learned. Smith will explain the chain of events in painstaking detail.

According to Nato sources who spoke under condition of anonymity with the SUNDAY TIMES, an Italian investigation has fingered two employees of an embassy in Italy with forging the documents.

Speculation has been ripe over who forged the documents -- and the SUNDAY TIMES piece is unlikely to stem furor and speculation in the United States over the documents that helped bring the United States to war with Iraq.


Look closely. If this is an accurate representation of what the story will contain, it is about an Italian government investigation. That's all you need to know.

The Italian intelligence services were centrally involved in the clandestine distribution of the forgeries and in all likelihood the creation of the forgeries themselves. Everything the Italian government has done since then has been to impede any outside investigation into their role.

There's simply no reason to credit anything an Italian government investigation of this matter reveals. If anything, its findings are probably a good bet to be the exact opposite of what is in fact the case. And the timing of such a release is no doubt in response to indications that at least two US news organizations will release new, damaging revelations about their role in the not-too-distant future.

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