Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Well, I'm always up for a good story about unreconstructed Republicans making themselves look stupid with racial wackiness. And I thought maybe I had one. The Hotline picked up a story from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer today which said that two members of the Georgia state legislature had some problems with a certain musical. ("The Broadway musical "South Pacific" is 'offensive to Southern tradition,'" said two GA legislators 2/27".) Here's the item from the Ledger-Enquirer website.

Georgia Senators Attack "South Pacific" Themes

"South Pacific," smash Broadway musical hit, is "offensive to Southern tradition," two Georgia legislators charged yesterday.

Rep. David C. Jones of Sylvester and Sen. John Sheppard of Ashburn said in a written statement they would ask the next legislature for a bill to prevent the showing of "theatricals which have an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow."

Jones said the play "justifies intermarriage of different races" which "produces half breeds which are not conducive to the higher type of society... We in the South are a proud people and have pure blood lines. We want to keep it that way."

Now, as regular readers know, TPM likes nothing better that ridiculing these sorts of yahoos.

But, I'll be honest: this one just seemed a bit too good to be true. So I picked up the phone and called the Georgia House Information Office and the same office on the Senate side. According to them, neither of these men exists. At least, neither is a member of the Georgia House or Senate.

The other items on the page at the Ledger-Enquirer website are from the early 1950s so it seems like this is maybe something that actually happened back then. From the site, it's just not clear. Whatever the case, on this one the Hotline looks like the Coldline.

TPM, preserving the good name of the South one step at a time.

I had intended to write more about Iraq yesterday but I ended up spending the entire evening working through several years worth of notes to come to a final determination about how many English settlers and Indians there were in New England in 1675 and, equally important, how many -- particularly how many Indians -- were left by the end of 1676. As regular readers will understand, this is part of revising the draft of my dissertation which I've mentioned several times over the last few months.

The headline, if you can call it that, is that 1675 and 1676 went really badly for the Indians. But finding out just how badly, and precisely how it went badly, and for how many people, is a complicated matter. At least a thousand New England Indians, and probably many more, were shipped overseas as slaves that year. Most went to the Caribbean. But I've spent a great deal of time trying to piece together as many details as I can about what happened to about 200 of these deportees, from what is now southeastern Massachusetts, who ended up, of all places, in Morocco.

Specifically, in Tangier.

In any case, that took the place of Iraq last night. But back to Iraq.

First a few observations.

I'm struck by how few people have made this point. For about a year the administration's line was that we did not need nor even particularly care if we got support from our European or Arab allies. Then, when we finally went to them for support, they either said 'no' (French, Germans, et al.) or gave it grudgingly (Turks). And this we're supposed to see as a betrayal. That doesn't make any sense. A betrayal implies some earlier agreement, formal, tacit or implied. Not only did we not have this, we spurned it.

Now, I know this is a sort of simplified version of events. But I think it captures the essential truth of what's happened. And I think it gets to the problem some us -- or, I'll speak for myself, I -- think we're facing.

I don't have much truck with those who don't believe Saddam is a threat. He is. Not an imminent threat, but one we needed to face sooner rather than later. A number of readers have sent me this link to a response to Ken Pollack published on the Carnegie Endowment website. Some of its points are good. Others turn on detailed knowledge of intelligence estimates which just aren't available to the public. But the key error I see in the argument is about our ability to sustain containment over time.

I think the authors are right when they say that as long as we've got Saddam under the gun, and with a bunch of inspectors running around the place, he's not going anywhere. He is contained. I'm not worried about him developing nukes as long as those inspectors are there and they're able to work in concert with the leads our intelligence agencies are able to produce. What I doubt is that the current situation is sustainable. I'll say more later about why I doubt it's sustainable. But, for the moment, that's my criticism.

But some necessary actions can be done so disastrously and foolishly that it becomes a serious question whether or not to do them at all.

We're in one of those situations.

If we could turn back the clock a year and we had the choice of a) doing exactly what we've done or b) waiting a year or two for a more favorable moment or until a new team was in place who knew what they were doing, I think option 'b' would unquestionably be the better choice.

Unfortunately, we don't have that choice. The administration has already done massive damage to our standing in the world. And they've managed to create facts on the ground -- intentionally and unintentionally -- which make pulling back arguably more dangerous than pushing ahead. The question is no longer what the ideal thing to do is. It's more aptly described as which of the really bad alternatives is best to choose given the jam the administration has backed us into.

More soon on what the damage is to our standing in the world and what those facts on the ground are.

More coming later this morning on Iraq and other topics.

I'm currently writing a long article about the administration's grand designs to democratize the Middle East. And the subject is getting a lot of play today after the president's speech last night at the American Enterprise Institute. But the deal we've just cut with the Turks belies much of the democratization argument. Now, for reasons I'll try to get into later, I'm something of a turkophile. But the administration's apparent decision to allow the Turkish army to range at will through Iraqi Kurdistan -- the one place in Iraq where something like democracy is taking root -- doesn't bode well for any grand democratic experiment. As this piece in the Philly Inquirer put it yesterday, "Although the White House cites the democratic institutions of Iraqi Kurds as proof that Iraq can become a democracy after Saddam, Bush officials seem ready to sell out the Kurds in pursuit of [Turkish] bases."

Keep in mind, of course, that the stuff that happens before the bullets start flying is the easy part.

Okay, so here's the story.

The Democratic candidate we're talking about is Congressman Dennis Kucinich. And the article in question is this one which appeared in Cleveland Magazine in 1972. I strongly recommend reading it yourself to make your own judgement about what it says.

As those who are familiar with Kucinich's career know, he's been in and out of elective office almost literally since he was a kid. Now, some folks have written in to tell me that Cleveland Magazine has a long-standing beef with Kucinich. But I've read a good bit of press coverage on Kucinich from the 1970s. And the point about racial politics is not limited to that article or publication.

Basically, in the early days -- before he was running citywide, let alone nationwide -- Kucinich's political schtick was posing as the champion of the 'forgotten' white ethnic voters over against the rising force of black political power. Sort of a great white hope type, or great Slavic hope, if you will.

There was plenty of acrimony between blacks and white ethnic voters in Northern cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So it was fertile political ground. And playing on that divide for political gain was not at all uncommon. That fissure, after all, was one of the things that broke apart the Democrats' coalition in the North. Kucinich didn't create it. But at the time some pols chose to play to it while others didn't.

Now, what does it mean? This was a long time ago. And at the time Kucinich was, almost literally, a kid. When he was elected Mayor later in the decade I think he was still only 31. Plenty of folks from the South who are still active in politics today -- many of whom now get lots of black votes -- were still segregationists in the early 1960s. So people do change their stripes. And bygones often get considered bygones.

But people have been scrutinizing the backgrounds of a lot of politicians from the South, particularly Republicans -- I have as much as anyone. So I don't think it's unfair to raise this point. This is particularly so since Kucinich is now putting himself forward as a candidate for national office as the champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

People do 'evolve' politically -- and not just in the euphemistic, wink-wink kind of sense. People really do change. And they change their style of politics too. But usually, for this to work, or be legitimate and believable, the pol in question has to make some sort of public accounting for why circumstances changed or why he or she did.

Given that Kucinich is now making a play for the votes of dyed-in-the-wool liberals, a bit more of such an accounting seems in order.

P.S. For some reason, as of late this afternoon, the Cleveland Magazine website seems to be down. Here's a cached copy maintained by Google.

Who is the mystery Democratic presidential candidate? The one tagged in the previous post as having his own history of rough-n-tumble race politics?

Well, not to paraphrase a certain former senator from Wisconsin, but I have in my hand a copy of an old magazine article covering an earlier point in the candidate's political career. And here's one choice tidbit. It's a quote from a John Metcalf, one of the candidate's campaign workers at the time ...

"[Candidate X] has gotten a lot smarter in the last couple of years," says Metcalf. "He learned to play dirty pool. Hell, there are a lot of ethnics out there who want to keep the n----rs on their side of the river. It's a racial issue. There are a lot of bigots in that district and someone has to represent them, let's face it."
Let's be clear: that's not a quote from the candidate, but from one of his campaign workers. But the rest of the article paints a similar, if less inflammatory, picture of the style of politics in question.

More soon.

Does one of the Democratic presidential candidates have his own history of rough-n-tumble race politics? No, I'm not talking about Al Sharpton. And, No, I don't mean what Republicans call race-politics or race-baiting (i.e., accusing racists of actually being racists.) No, I mean the real thing. The genuine article!

Here's my new column in The Hill. This week: the price we're paying for the White House's decision to piss off everyone in the world at the same time.

Hmmm. That's not a great sign.

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim tells MSNBC that a prolonged US military occupation of Iraq could be met with a "religious war." And he's one of our guys, the head of one of the Iraqi exile groups we're relying on to help rebuild the place.

One could jump from this to a few good whacks against the Bush administration. But I think that would miss the point. al-Hakim's statement just underscores the sheer immensity of the task we're setting ourselves up for.

First, a little background. al-Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iranian-backed Shia exile group which the Bush administration has cautiously courted in its efforts to bring some unity to the Iraqi opposition.

The MSNBC article, I think, overstates al-Hakim's and SCIRI's importance. "Among the half-dozen Iraqi opposition groups," says the author, "Hakim’s council is the most significant." This may be true in one respect. Some of the opposition groups we support are so pitiful that they have little if any actual presence in Iraq. But though Shias make up the majority in Iraq, it's not at all clear that al-Hakim's brand of Iranian-backed fundamentalism has a big audience.

However that may be, his statements point to a big problem. Even our would-be supporters in regime change don't want to be associated with an occupation by a foreign (and non-muslim) power. And yet there's almost no way we're going to achieve our objectives without a long occupation which is deeply-entrenched and so overwhelming numerically that it can throw a blanket of enforced peace over all the tensions, divisions and rage that Saddam's tyranny has both created and held in check for three decades.

The real problem is that we're embarking on an enterprise which does not admit of half-measures. As Fouad Ajami notes in this article, an American invasion of Iraq will at first almost certainly be viewed as a neo-Imperialist attempt to take over an Arab country, secure its oil wealth, and do various other bad things.

Certainly, this will be the case outside Iraq and probably inside as well. There's a good chance it will always be seen that way. But the only chance of changing the equation is to undertake the sort of thorough-going internal transformation of the country that we managed in Germany and Japan. But as I say, the situation doesn't admit of half measures. You can go in, topple Saddam, turn it over to some oppositionists and wish'em the best. Or you can go for a massive military occupation and thorough reconstruction of the society. (The Army Chief of Staff told a Senate committee yesterday that the numbers needed would total several hundred thousand soldiers.) Anything in between seems doomed to disaster since you'll get all the down-sides of being a non-muslim occupying power and none of the (possible) upsides of installing a quasi-democratic regime. You'll get the fruits of all the region's deep-seated pathologies and no chance to uproot them.

For my own part, I think proponents of the root-and-branch approach miss an important part of why Germany and Japan worked. It's called World War II. One of the reasons the Germans and the Japanese stood still for what we accomplished in their countries is that we had just spent a couple years thoroughly bludgeoning their countries. Day and night bombing against major population centers, the disruption of the economies, the very real threat that if it wasn't us it'd be the Russians taking over, etc.

By 1945, we had pretty much destroyed the Germans' and Japanese' will to fight. And they were pleasantly surprised when they discovered how relatively benign our rule was. The same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq. And that should be a cause of real concern.

Believe it or not, this isn't meant to say we shouldn't try to accomplish this. Once the decision for war is made it is really the only policy we can pursue. But the scope of enterprise is awe-inspiring.