Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Two years ago today I rolled out of bed in the morning, still semi-conscious and half asleep. As I walked into my living room --- the TV was still on from the night before --- I saw the second plane slam into the World Trade Center and explode in an orange and black fireball.

I'll never know whether that was a live shot or a replay of the images from a few minutes before. It was just after nine. Still groggy, I had a hard time processing what I had seen. I knew it was a big deal. But I didn't at first grasp just how big a deal.

When I sat down at my desk my girlfriend was already typing out messages on IM from her office at work. Had I seen? Where was I? They (she worked on Capitol Hill) were next, she said.

Beside watching the plane crash into the building, what stands out in my mind about those few minutes was that I asked her why she was so sure it was terrorism.

Partly --- mainly, I think --- this was because I was still only half awake and still trying to process what I had seen. I'm not sure in those first moments I was quite clear on how large the planes were. But certainly part of what was happening was that I was still for a moment living in a pre 9/11 world, where something like this was still hard to comprehend, hard to imagine.

Then she said something like: Two planes one after another in to both buildings? What do you think it is?

With that, suddenly everything snapped into place. The sleep fell from my eyes. My mind cleared. Everything was obvious.

A few moments later she typed out a quick message: they were evacuating.

This weekend I watched a CNN documentary about September 11th. 'Documentary' is probably too grandiose a term. But the images and recollections still cut into me. Perhaps more than I'd expected, perhaps because it had been some time since I had seen some of these pictures.

There was one set of images that got to me most, ones I didn't remember seeing before. As we all have, I'd seen many times the crushing images of bodies falling the hundreds of feet from the upper floors of the towers. But I hadn't seen or didn't remember the close-ups, the zoom-ins of people on the upper floors leaning out the windows and waiving shirts or clothes into the air, trying to grab the attention of helicopters circling nearby, hoping for help.

To me these sorts of images are worse than all the rest, the bodies falling, all of them. There is something unbearable about seeing people clinging to hope when, you know, there is no hope. Their fate is sealed; they just didn't know it yet. Those were the pictures that even today made me grit my teeth and twist up my face.

Watching brought me back to the newness and rawness of those first hours and days. I recalled the images of the president getting the first word from Andy Card about the attacks, the later ones of his touring ground-zero and talking to the assembled search and rescue crews. I found him an inspiring leader in those moments. And not simply because it was such a traumatic event. I never thought much of the criticism that President Bush didn't get back to Washington till late that evening. I thought he served admirably in those first days.

As the documentary moved toward the aftermath, I wondered whether those thoughts of mine would seep into the present to color what's happening today.

They didn't.

What I felt wasn't continuity but the jarring contrast, the cheap, obvious lies, the hubris, the tough-talk for low ends, not so much the mistakes as the tawdriness of so much of what's happened, especially over the last eighteen months. Fred Kaplan has an excellent piece in Slate this week about the missed opportunity of September 12th. "By the summer of 2003," writes Kaplan, "it could fairly be said that most of the world hated the United States, or at least feared the current U.S. government." That sounds like such an extreme, over-the-top statement. "Hate" is a pretty subjective word. But it's hard to read the papers regularly and not realize that what Kaplan says is true. It's sickening.

Up-is-downism from Michael Ledeen on CNN ...

Lou Dobbs: Have we really seen a significant change in the way in which our allies deal with us over the course of the past two years?


Michael Ledeen: No. I think, basically, that France and Germany have alienated the rest of Europe. They're the ones who have been more unilateral than anybody else. And the French invaded the Ivory Coast, never once went to the Security Council, never once even went to the European Council. And nobody said boo. So what we're seeing here is just the usual ebb and flow of political concerns, varying from one government to another. The anti-Americanism of today is nothing compared to anti- Americanism back in the 1970s during Vietnam or even in the 1980s, towards the end of the Cold War.


Lou Dobbs: This administration has apparently chosen to acknowledge some humbleness, some humility by going back to the United Nations. Are you both in any way assured by this new direct, by this administration on the issue of at least Iraq -- Clyde.

Clyde Prestowitz: Yes, I think it's a positive step. I think he did the right thing. But again, in a kind of churlish manner, it was kind of OK, I know you didn't agree with us, but we're in trouble and send soldiers and send money, But we're not going to give up any control. I think it's important that we go to the u.n. I think we have to be prepared to share some of the power, some of the decision making.

Lou Dobbs: Clyde, we have to turn quickly. We're running out of time. I have to turn to Michael Ledeen. Last word, Michael.

Michael Ledeen: We're not in trouble. We're doing fine. And we will do better yet. What we're doing is providing a fig leaf to countries who want to join with us and want to participate in Iraq, but for one reason or another, feel they need some kind of blessing from the United Nations before they do it.

A fig leaf.

Department of Homeland Security.

36 billion dollars ...

Current Projected Cost of War-fighting and Reconstruction in Iraq.

241 billion dollars ...

Having a president who's got a friggin' clue.

Priceless ...

Here are the results of a comprehensive poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (Pipa) at the University of Maryland. They're bad news for the White House.

A summary of the findings in the Financial Times includes ...

SIXTY-FOUR PERCENT of respondents said that the U.S. military presence in the Middle East increased the likelihood of terrorism, 77 percent thought there were widespread negative feelings towards the U.S. in the Islamic world that enhanced terrorist recruiting, and 54 per cent thought the US had been too assertive in its foreign policies.

In addition, 81 percent thought a key lesson of September 11 was that the U.S. needed to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism, up from 61 percent in a similar poll more than a year ago.

The poll was conducted between August 26th and September 3rd. And it's only fair to say that that was one of the worst foreign policy weeks this White House has ever had.

But these numbers do show that the White House has serious vulnerabilities on foreign policy and national security issues. The 2004 election could well turn on whether the Democrats will nominate a candidate who has sufficient credibility on national security issues to exploit those vulnerabilities.

Today when taking questions about Iraq, President Bush said, "I will once again make that plea" for money and troops from other countries.

I guarantee you that the president's handlers in the room gritted their teeth or drew blood from their lower lips when they heard the P-word come out of the president's mouth.

Just for starters, what would the Standard and the National Review have said if Bill Clinton had used that word in the context of seeking help from other countries?

(Actually, scratch that: What will the Standard say? They're getting as much distance from this administration on this as they can.)

This is what we call a Kinsley Gaffe, the unintentional and deeply embarrassing statement of the truth.

The truth is that we do need other countries' help. But it's only the president's folly which has put us in the position of needing to beg.

A victory in the senate. Senate Democrats succeeded in getting an amendment passed to block the White House's proposal to restrict overtime pay. The vote wasn't even as close as might have been expected -- 54-45. As noted earlier, this is a very important issue in its own right. But it's also a cutting political issue and one that will now keep bubbling through the system.

The president has issued a veto threat against any legislative attempts to overturn his new overtime rule. And at first I had assumed the whole issue was academic since the Senate amendment would be stripped out by the House in the conference. But apparently the Dems might get another bite at this apple in the House, and perhaps even a vote to instruct the conferees. And I'm curious to find out whether that nine point spread in the Senate points to a shifting political climate, a growing perception of the Republicans' vulnerability on the economy, or a growing salience of economic issues as the foreign policy trump card weakens.

In any case, I'll try to find out more.

Back before things got bumpy in Iraq there was a surge of talk about an Alaska fund for Iraq -- that is, a fund to distribute some of the proceeds of Iraq's oil wealth to individual citizens, an idea first proposed by Steve Clemons in the Times on April 9th.. Today there's an update on the idea in the Times with actual reporting from on the ground in the country. Take a look.

It looks like the third special session for Texas redistricting may be the charm for Gov. Rick Perry and Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Read the latest before The Hammer strikes the final blow.

This article in tomorrow's Boston Globe says that "the US-appointed Iraqi interim government said late last month in a little-noticed statement that it would buy electricity from Syria and Iran, a deal that would probably enrich with US funds two countries that top the White House list of states that support terrorism."

Certainly that's an ironic development, though I'm not certain it's more than that. One of the ideas here was that our presence in Iraq would overawe the Iranians and the Syrians into better behavior. Making our occupation dependent on their selling the Iraqis electricity would seem to make the flow of leverage and dependence run in a slightly different direction.

Having said all that, this seems more like welcome pragmatism than an error, although it does demonstrate again the chasm which too often separates the administration's chatter from reality.

More troubling is this piece in tomorrow's LA Times. According to the Times article, the $87 billion the White House is now requesting from congress leaves roughly $55 billion in reconstruction costs still unfunded. (Actually, this fact sheet at the White House website says it's between $55 and $75 billion.)

Now, the White House says it's going to pressure other countries to pay that part of the tab.

But according to everyone I've spoken to and everything I've read (see the Times article for a good discussion of this) that is vastly more than anyone thinks other countries are going to contribute.

One of the outside experts Don Rumsfeld sent out on that fact-finding mission to Iraq a couple months ago, Bathsheba Crocker, tells the Times that, "from what we have been hearing about the donors conference [next month], they'll be lucky if they get $1 billion."

Now, some of that extra sum should be offset by Iraqi oil revenues. But yesterday the administration again revised downward those expected oil revenues. It now predicts only $12 billion worth in 2004.

For the moment, let's assume that Crocker is right or close to right. Congress appropriated $79 billion just after the war in April. It seems certain to appropriate this new allocation of $87, albeit with greater oversight. If you add on another $55-$75 billion you start getting perilously close to a quarter of a trillion dollars as the price tag for the first two years of this endeavor.

Another postcard from the 'responsibility era' ...

It's reassuring in a way when an apparent scoundrel reveals his scoundrelhood straight-out. Straight, no chaser, shall we say. Today, in case you hadn't heard, Don Rumsfeld told reporters that (in the words of the Post's Dana Priest) "critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy are encouraging terrorists and complicating the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism."

Rumsfeld went on to say that ...

To the extent that terrorists are given reason to believe he might, or, if he is not going to, that the opponents might prevail in some way, and they take heart in that, and that leads to more money going into these activities, or that leads to more recruits, or that leads to more encouragement, or that leads to more staying power, obviously that does make our task more difficult.

In other words, the problem is not any shortcoming in the president's policies, but the president's domestic critics who are emboldening 'the terrorists' by pointing out the shortcomings of the president's policies. A week ago I said I saw the first signs of "a 21st century version of the 'stab-in-the-back' charge German militarists used against the fledgling republic which replaced Kaiserdom in the aftermath of World War I."

But I have to confess to some surprise at seeing it so quickly.

In fact, a friend alerted me today to a slightly more literary-minded version of the Rumsfeld storyline in a piece by Stanley Kurtz in the National Review Online.

Kurtz says that internationalizing the mission in the Middle East isn't an ideal solution, but rather a poor one that has nonetheless been forced upon us by unamerican liberalism and the culture war. "The best foreign policy requires not the United Nations," says Kurtz, "but a united nation. Unfortunately, our nation is not united. The occupation of Iraq is not the occupation of Japan or Germany. This is even more because of the fact that we are different than we were back then than the fact that Iraq is not Japan or Germany."

Continues Kurtz ...

A nation where the political opposition stands against our foreign policy, and even secretly (and not so secretly) hopes for its failure, cannot reform a region as recalcitrant as the Middle East. A nation where–even after an event like 9/11–a draft can be offered as a political tactic against the hawks, is a nation unready to manage social transformation on the other side of the world. Our culture war is real. Now it has taken its toll. In many ways we are strong. Yet disunited we are weak. Our turning to the U.N. is not necessarily a disaster. But it is a sign that our internal divisions have finally exacted a cost.

Rumsfeld says that the struggle is harder than it should be because domestic critics are making the country's enemies stronger. Kurtz says our hopes for true success are diminished because the electorate has been degenerated by liberalism.

So here the whole sordid business comes full circle. The administration games the public into an endeavor by exaggerating the gains and minimizing the price. Then the gains are revealed as not quite so great. And the price is revealed as very much greater. And if all that weren't bad enough, the operation is bungled on several fronts. So the gamers and the scammers say it's the fault of the critics who tried to carve through the mumbo-jumbo in the first place. And when the public has a touch of buyers' remorse over a product that was peddled on false advertising, the answer lies in the public's own degeneracy and division.

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.