Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I just read the Rumsfeld Memo. And my reactions, I have to say, are rather muted. There is something oddly refreshing about hearing the Sec Def think out loud rather than seeing him give press conferences in which he remains relentlessly on message --- especially since he’s often pressing messages at odds with what’s actually happening.

In a similar way, there’s something appealing about listening in on his brainstorming.

What jumped out at me was this line down at the bottom of the memo in which he tosses out the idea of founding a sort of Muslim MacArthur Foundation (Ansar al-MacArthur?) which will subsidize madrassas that are crazy but, you know, not that crazy.

Here’s the line: “Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?”

Couldn't we just build a super-strong ladder up into space instead of using those rockets?

You’d think the madrassas backed by the America-funded Madrassa Foundation (administered, no doubt, by General Boykin) might take a bit of a hit to their legitimacy. But, you know, I’m a details man. And why quibble with a bold idea …

All this aside, what’s missing here, what’s troubling about this memo is that it really does seem to be a candid appraisal meant only for his top advisors. And even in that context there’s apparently no sense that any of the key strategic decisions in the war on terror might have been flawed or misguided.

Yes, there's pessimism. But it's pessimism of a certain sort. The theme of the memo isn’t that there might have been too much of X or too much of Y, but that they need to consider 2X or 2Y. And perhaps if things get really freaky, Y squared or even cubed.

In today's edition of The Nelson Report, Chris <$NoAd$> Nelson says that, according to his sources, the Pakistani-Saudi nuclear pact story reported today in the Washington Times is simply bogus.

As Nelson says in his lede ...

This is one of those "famous last words" risks….but…reliable sources in Washington (including Capitol Hill, professional Middle East watchers, and fellow journalists) all say that the "Pakistan/Saudi nuclear weapons" story being passed around by UPI, The Washington Times, and by the head of Israeli intelligence in testimony to the Knesset, is false. Sexy as hell, but false.

-- several sources note the "coincidence" that the stories come barely one day after the EU, Iran and Russia reached separate but interlocking agreements which offer real hope of defusing the Iran nuclear weapons crisis before it gets out of hand.

Nelson, himself, clearly leaves room for uncertainty. But until I hear more, given who's publishing the story and who's knocking it down, my assumption is that this is mainly or even entirely disinformation.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that Pakistan is the most serious nuclear proliferation threat in the world today.

Following up on the earlier post, I've had a slew of readers write in to ask me what the other best political book is.

To recap I said that David Frum was the "author of one of the two best political books I’ve ever read."

So what's the other one? Michael Lind's Up From Conservatism.

Idiosyncratic, penetrating, erudite, highly original, with shards of auto-didacticism cutting through it, and all strung tightly over a rock-solid narrative.

It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand American politics.

This requires a response because I believe David Frum has twice mischaracterized me.

Yesterday Frum, who writes a blog at the National Review Online, wrote a brief post about how some journalists who themselves write things which inspire anti-Semitic fantasies have pounced on Gregg Easterbrook for one off-hand comment.

He includes me as one of those writers.

First, I think it’s pretty clear that my two posts on the Easterbrook matter were written in his defense, rather than as an attack on him. So this criticism is just mistaken.

Frum then writes that I -- along with two other writers -- have “inveighed against 'American Likudniks' and 'neoconservatives' in a way that seems almost calculated to fuel anti-Jewish fantasies.”

He also implies --- though the structure of the prose is a tad less clear on this --- that I am one of the “journalists who show virtually zero interest in the fate of … five million Israeli Jews – and many more Jews worldwide in countries from Iran to Argentina – [who] are threatened with mass murder.”

(It’s a short post, so if you have any question about how I’ve characterized Frum’s comment, please look at the actual text.)

As it happens, I have a lot of respect for Frum. And not just in the sense that you say you have respect for someone before you criticize them.

Just a couple days ago I told a friend that Frum was the author of one of the two best political books I’ve ever read. And he’s been kind enough to help me understand certain aspects of the Iraq-hawks' thinking on democratization and change in the Middle East.

But I must tell you that I am growing more than a little weary of the Jewlier than thou comments emanating from some of my co-religionists on the other side of the aisle. (Similar aspersions from non-Jews are no great shakes either. But those guys are just practicing unwitting self-parody.) I would ask Frum to note any specific quotes or any general arguments from my writing which provide any basis for these claims. Needless to say, I think there are none.

I think I could say, with far more merit, that those who make these charges are exploiting and trivializing the issue of anti-Semitism by using it as a tool to blunt criticism of their foreign policy views and the foreign policy pursued by this administration. One does not have to agree with the policies of Ariel Sharon’s government to be a Jew in good standing or even an Israeli for that matter. I have some acquaintance with more than a few of the latter. And, believe me, they don’t all see eye to eye on this issue. (There is a reason, after all, why they call it ‘revisionist Zionism.’)

So, David, with all due respect, I have to say: put up or shut up.

So much for the Bush Bounce. The last time we discussed the president's job approval numbers, we noted that the CNN-USA Today poll, which showed the president popping back up to 56%, seemed to be an outlier.

Most of the other polls taken around the same time showed him hovering just over 50%

Since then three new polls are out. And they tend to confirm that judgment. If anything they show an extremely slight deterioration.

Pew has the president at 50%; Zogby has him at 49%; and Fox/Opinion Dynamics has him at 52%.

The Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll is constantly more favorable to Republicans than the other major public polls -- at least by my experience as a pretty close observer.

If he can't get over 52% in that one, he's got a bit of work to do.

Okay, still more on this Boykin ridiculousness.

After writing the post below I read Fareed Zakaria’s excellent piece in Newsweek on what a no-brainer it should be to fire Boykin.

Then I noticed that there’s actually a debate going on as to whether there would be any constitutional restrictions on firing him --- as in restrictions on 1st Amendment grounds (free speech or exercise of religion).

This strikes me as inane.

There may certainly be some constitutional issues in play for whether a general can be cashiered for expressing such views as Boykin has, though I strongly suspect they can. At a minimum I suspect he could be reassigned to a position in which he would not come into regular contact with people he believes are allied with Satan. (Eugene Volokh’s got a good run-down on this)

But in this case, Boykin isn’t a general. Or, rather, he’s wearing two hats. And the general’s hat isn’t the one that’s really at issue. He’s deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence. In other words, he’s an appointee like anyone else. And the president can fire him for any reason under the sun.

As Zakaria notes, criticizing the Iraq war would have gotten anyone at the Pentagon canned in a second. No one denies that. But, according to some, saying the Iraq war was a righteous battle against Beelzebub should leave you in the clear.

Well, here’s some first-rate Washington Kabuki.

Lieut. Gen. William Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence who’s now in trouble for saying that the war on terror is actually a war pitting our Christian nation against Satan and his Muslim infidel minions, has now ‘asked’ Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to have the Pentagon’s Inspector General investigate whether his remarks “violated any Pentagon rules or procedures.”

This, of course, rather begs the question of which “rules and procedures” his comments would have violated. Conduct unbecoming an officer from this millennium? Use of hellfire in violation of the Geneva Convention? You could really go on and on, couldn’t you?

Clearly, the administration feels a bit trapped on this one since firing this guy wouldn’t go down well with a prized constituency. So we’re going to be treated to an ersatz investigation to see if there's some Pentagon reg which bars you from having views that are difficult to distinguish from those of Savonarola or perhaps Urban II.

My favorite Boykin moment so far is the general’s attempt to repackage his claims that Islam is a form of idolatry into comfortable-sounding modern-day Oprah-talk. When Somali warlord Osman Ato boasted that Allah would protect him from American power, Boykin said “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”

Trying to save his job, Boykin now says his reference to idolatry referred to Ato’s “worship of money and power.” In other words, Ato’s shortcoming wasn’t Islam but some sort of hyper-aggressive warlord consumerism. Yeah ...

Jury duty, at last, is over. And I’m now free to talk about it.

I sat on a jury in DC Superior Court.

The defendant was charged with one count of distributing PCP and one count of possession with intent to distribute. The alleged crime took place in an area in Southeast Washington which the prosecution and the defense called an open air drug market.

We heard three full days of testimony. And we deliberated for a bit more than half a day.

We convicted the defendant on count one and acquitted him on count two.

My recent weekdays have been given over to jury duty. So I’ve been a bit out of the news loop. But I’d heard murmurings about Sy Hersh’s new piece in The New Yorker. So I set aside some time tonight to read it.

My main reaction is: pitiful.

Not the article, mind you. That's great. But the story it tells is truly pitiful. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious and so sad.

As I’ve written many times before in TPM, I’ve always believed that this whole manipulated intelligence matter was at least as much a matter of self-deception as it was deception of others. There was plenty of mendacity, don’t get me wrong. But in most cases it was willful dishonesty meant to sell the public on falsehoods which the purveyors of those falsehoods had actually gotten themselves to believe.

At heart this was an issue of people who had something they were just dying to find, just dying to believe in. By cutting themselves off from anybody who was a dissenting voice --- which usually also meant anybody who knew what they were doing --- they managed to isolate themselves with their own credulity and walk their country into a profound embarrassment and a potential disaster.

More later this evening on this must-read article.

A graf to ponder from Sy Hersh's new piece in The New Yorker ...

By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.

Great call ...