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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"President Bush thinks we should stay in Iraq forever, as far as the eye can see. He's said it himself. He says, 'Getting out of Iraq is up to presidents who come after me.' I don't agree. That's too long. I don't know if we'll be able to get our troops out of Iraq in 6 months or even a year. But I want to start working on getting them home as soon as I get into office. And staying in Iraq for at least three more years, like President Bush wants, is too long.

My opponent is with President Bush on this. More of a blank check. I disagree.

We've got too many challenges around the world to keep burning through money and our men and women in uniform just because President Bush can't admit that his policies aren't working."

Who said that?

Actually, no one has, as far as I know. But why can't someone?

There may be other things to say about Iraq on the campaign trail this year. But it seems silly to me for Democrats to allow themselves to get bogged down in discussions of precise timelines or worry overly much if not everyone agrees on just the best way to extricate ourselves from the mess the president has gotten us into (though here they do seem to have come up with a consensus platform).

It's not easy to agree since the mess the president has created is so entrenched that there really are no easy answers. But the president has put out there a tangible and concrete statement that he plans to keep our current deployment of troops in Iraq for three more years. That's wildly out of line with where the country is. And the president's words -- which Republicans in Congress are tied to -- say clearly that it's autopilot from now until 2009. No one wants that.

On substance, the simple truth is that the president has no policy on Iraq. His goal is to keep everything in place until 2009 so he can leave it to someone else. Why should Democrats cower and run from this debate? The debate itself is silly. No one agrees with the president. The point of the 'debate' is to get Democrats to run from the issue itself, thus signalling their lack of 'toughness' on Iraq through their lack of toughness in domestic political debate. The president has given his opponents an albatross to hang about his neck. So why not use it? On this count, Democrats really do have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Why is this man smiling?

I missed it when it came out. But it seems the groundwork is now being laid for pardoning Scooter Libby for his alleged crimes relating to the Plame case. How this usually works is a tasked quote-meister like GOP lawyer and uber-insider Joe DiGenova is sent out to give quote floating and legitimizing the idea, to normalize it and make it part of respectable debate.

So here we have him telling Newsday over the weekend that "I think ultimately, of course, there are going to be pardons" in the Libby case and that Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby "is the epitome of the criminalization of the political process."

Newsday identifies DiGenova as "a former prosecutor and an old Washington hand who shares that view with many pundits (emphasis added)."

DiGenova says he thinks the president will pardon Libby in January 2009. But other unnamed sources in the article tell Newsday that the president may feel it necessary to pardon Libby before he goes to trial because of how much adverse information could come out about him and I suspect, even more likely, about the vice president.

Needless to say, the White House declined to say whether or not the president plans to pardon Libby.

Presidents do sometimes pardon people who they believe have taken legal hits on their behalf. But this case would be of a different order since the president's pardon would be mainly to prevent a trial which would certainly lead to the airing of highly embarrassing and morally incriminating evidence about senior members of his administration, perhaps including himself.

Make no mistake, this is a trial balloon, an effort to test the waters and prepare the public for Libby's eventual pardon. And you should expect that the president will pardon Libby, perhaps as soon as six months from now, because signals of Libby's impending pardon will raise little concern or controversy in Washington or among name pundits.

Late Update: It was just pointed out to me that that Joe DiGenova first trotted this out back in April. Justin Rood flagged it at the time over at TPMm. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, eh Joe?

The latest ugliness on the Jason Leopold/Rove indictment 'scoop'. "We're suffering from hysteria here. And I don't find that attractive and I don't find it in the best interests of our readers. We are expressly endeavoring to mitigate hysteria," Truthout editor Marc Ash tells TPMmuckraker.com's Justin Rood.

If you've already read the post below about Tony Snow's Battle of the Bulge bamboozlement, be sure to read what Reed Hundt says about it.

It's a minor point, all things considered. But like a number of readers I can't help but flag White House spokesman Tony Snow's witless comparison of 'staying the course' in Iraq to WWII's Battle of the Bulge.

The president understands people's impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?' But you cannot conduct a war based on polls.


For those of you who aren't familiar with the reference, the Battle of the Bulge took place as the Allies were moving across France and Belgium several months after D-Day. The Germans launched a counter-offensive the strategic objective of which was to force the allies to give up their goal of unconditional German surrender and force them to come to some sort of negotiated peace. The German effort was initially successful, opening up a large salient or 'bulge' within the allied lines. But the allies eventually recovered the lost ground. And I believe the general consensus is that the whole battle greatly accelerated the Nazis' eventual collapse because they lost a lot of armor and other resources in the effort.

In any case, you don't need to know those details to understand one key fact. The Battle of the Bulge began in the middle of December 1944. And it was over by the end of January 1945. So the whole thing lasted less than six weeks. It must have been an eternity for the American and British soldiers in this incredibly hard-fought battle in sub-zero temperatures. But in terms of time, or what Snow terms 'impatience', it's simply not comparable to the last three years in Iraq.

As for polls, I don't know about public polls. But the US government kept very detailed tabs on public opinion and war morale through the war. So I suspect something at least analogous to Snow's hypothetical poll was done. And I'm confident that it showed very few if anyone saying anything like that.

Snow's point isn't just historically silly, it's morally obtuse and cynical. It shows as much contempt for the public as the White House seems to have for our soldiers in the field. For the United States, the situation in Iraq is close to unprecedented in the last century in terms of the duration of time an American president has left a war policy on autopilot while more and more evidence comes in that it's simply not working. Even in Vietnam, for all the mistakes the US made there, Richard Nixon kept escalating the conflict. There's at least some strategic movement on the policy brain scan. I'm not saying that's preferable. And I don't want to get into an argument about bombing Cambodia. But it is at least different from letting a flawed policy grind through money and men for three years because you don't have the moral courage to rethink it or adjust course. It's denial elevated to the level of high principle.

Remember what the president said: getting out of Iraq is something that's going to be up to the next president. He or she can get started in 2009.

What a guy.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on the death of Zarqawi: "There probably are not 72 virgins in the hell he’s at. And if there are, they probably all look like [White House correspondent] Helen Thomas.”

TPM Reader MA responds on our Iraq policy and our earlier post ...

It is true that the Dems don't agree on what to do but the Dems, all Dems -- except maybe Joe Lieberman and he doesn't count anyway -- agree that the U.S. needs to change course starting with actually having a plan AND a healthy, open debate about what is best for our country.

I'm a rare breed of Dem who believes Iraq was a disaster from the start but since we are there we have an obligation to position it for future success and security before we leave. What is happening now is a continuation of the incompetence that has been running the show from the start. If we won the war, we are losing the peace.

Competence in foreign policy seems like a political winner for the Dems. Level with the American people about what is really going on there, put a plan in place to restore order and fix infrustructure, and then get out of there.


TPM Reader RC also shares his views ...

Something in your post this morning really clicked for me, and I'd like you to put a sharper point on it from here on out. I'd like to see the main Democratic talking point become, "Bush will be in Iraq forever. Period. The Democrats will extricate us. Period." And let the administration convince the public otherwise. I think if the Dems just keep saying, over and over, "Republicans want us there forever, that's why we have no timetables, that's why THEY ARE building permanent bases, etc.," this would be a useful evolution of the basic description of the situation.


That is the policy.

Finally, there's TPM Reader TM ...

To further what you said, I think the notion that there has to be a unified Democratic plan on Iraq shows a complete misreading of the political situation. Bush is the President until 2009. The Dems won't have any means of actually implementing any plan they come up with for 2.5 years, at the earliest. Additionally, any plan created now would be done without even knowing who the (hopefully) Democratic President in 2008 would be, or whether he or she would have any support for this hypothetical plan. All of this makes any plan created now worse than useless - not adding value and merely serving as a target for GOP attacks.

The 2006 Congressional election should not, and cannot be about the Democrats plan, or lack thereof, for Iraq. Instead, they should be about accountability for the actual actions of the current President and the current Congress. Any attempt to ask Democratic candidates what their plan is for Iraq should be met with a "I am not the President, and won't have the power to implement any such plan if elected, so that is a ridiculous request. What I *can* do, however, is hold this administration accountable for their mistakes. Do you want more Iraqs and disastrous responses to natural disasters? Or do you want a Congress that thinks 'checks and balances' means 'holding the President accountable', not being the President's rubber stamp. Never was the wisdom of our nation's founders more apparant in the need for a Congress as a check on the President, and never has there been a Congress as woefully inadequate in*being* a check on the President".

The question of the Democratic plan for Iraq is something that has to wait until 2008, when it is actually relevant.

Here's an article in the Times describing Rep. John Murtha's swipe back at Karl Rove's speech in which the president's chief political advisor tried to take the political offensive against Democrats on Iraq. The Times quotes Rove assailing "that party's old pattern of cutting and running." And Murtha comes back at Rove: "He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air-conditioned office on his big, fat backside saying, 'Stay the course.' That's not a plan."

Then there's this passage ...

Mr. Murtha spoke as the Bush administration pressed ahead with its campaign to seize the political offensive on Iraq — a push that included President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad early last week.

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, made the rounds on the Sunday morning political programs, saying that President Bush had every intention of sticking with the course he had set in Iraq, even as opinion polls suggested that most Americans were increasingly uneasy about the war.

"The president understands people's impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation," Mr. Snow said on the CNN program "Late Edition." "He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?' But you cannot conduct a war based on polls."


Here is a claim that needs to be blown apart. Get real: the administration isn't trying to seize the offensive on Iraq. The war is dismally unpopular and on that basic judgment opinions are largely congealed and fast congealing. They know that. What the White House is doing is trying to knock the opposition off its stride and scare them out of their own offensive, which is to hold the administration accountable and press for a change of direction on Iraq.

Of course, the White House is going to try to call any change of direction "Cut and Run". That's their angle. That's their card. If you can't stand in the debate in the face of that, far better to leave all foreign policy entirely off the table and contest the election on minimum wage or college loans.

With more apologies in advance for suspect language, this is more of the White House trying to make the opposition into their chumps and bitches. The aim is to scare the opposition out of taking the Iraq debacle to the voters.

Kevin Drum was right a couple days ago when he said that the key problem for Democrats in coming up with a unified message on Iraq is that they're not unified. That's life. And it's not terribly surprising that they're not unified. We've gotten into an incredible fix in Iraq. And extricating a country from a predicament like this isn't easy. We have Democrats who think the whole idea was a disaster from the start and that we should leave immdiately, others who think it was a plausible idea bungled through incompetence, others who speak of timelines for withdrawal.

But the White House is making and has made its stand quite clear -- American troops in Iraq at least through 2009, and probably for the indefinite future; and no reevaluation of the basic concept of why we went in. So, a good idea to start with and we'll stay there more or less forever. (Saying we'll be there until 2009 and then having no plan to leave after that = forever.) That position is so out of sync with where the country is and so disastrous for the country's security and future prosperity, that I don't think anyone should be afraid to go to the country opposing it. The truth is that the president doesn't have any policy beside denial about how we got into this jam.

Democrats need to keep learning from the president's debacle last year on Social Security. They need to learn from how they confronted his gambit. You seldom can win a political debate unless and until you decide you are willing to lose it the right way. On Social Security the Democrats eventually made a decision and took it to the voters. If you want to keep Social Security, choose us. If not, choose the other side. And if we lose, we can live with that. Because we're confident that that's a question we're willing to take to the people.

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