Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

There were, of course, two instances this year of mid-decade redistricting that came, shall we say, straight outta Washington.

Because more seats were at stake and the process prompted more theatrics, the double-dipping in Texas got much more attention. But the same thing happened in Colorado. And today the State Supreme Court said the whole sorry episode was unconstitutional.

"If [congressional] districts," said the ruling, "were to change at the whim of the state Legislature, members of Congress could frequently find their current constituents voting in a different district in subsequent elections."

Now for the court case in Texas, where we're still waiting to hear whether House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will be able to avoid being deposed about his role in the redistricting battle.

My posts have been sparse for the last few days in part because of the holidays but also because I am poring over a stack of books about empire for an upcoming essay. And with these various thoughts about empire swirling through head, reading this article about our ever-evolving Iraq exit strategy plan in tomorrow's Post is an exercise in sinking feelings and dark humor.

The essence of the story is that the plan for a political handover that we announced just weeks ago is already on the fast-track to dead letterhood.

And it's happening because the plan is being gamed by Iraqi political leaders who've clearly got more power on the ground than we do.

Our lack of effective power, as opposed to main force, of which we've got plenty, is what's pushing us to get out of the country in the first place. But our efforts to get out have further weakened our position, thus diminishing our ability to get out on our own terms. It's a vicious cycle, and as difficult to remedy as it is vicious.

Back on Wednesday the Post had a piece about how Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was largely responsible for scuttling our original plan to appoint the drafters of the constitution, rather than have them elected.

Now he's come out against the new plan for electing these folks through a complex series of town caucuses and called instead for direct nationwide elections.

It's pretty hard to fault Sistani's positions on democratic procedural grounds. But the bigger point, again, is our impotence in the face of his expressed views.

He's calling the shots; we're not.

And then there's the Interim Governing Council, the IGC.

The greatest deceit perpetrated by the architects of the war turns out to have had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or ties between Saddam and al Qaida. The profoundest deception was the claim that the IGC was designed to be a transitional governing authority when in fact, as is now becoming clear, its true purpose was to provide a sort of dark, Falstaffian comic relief to balance out the ominous backdrop of postwar Iraq.

Much of the jockeying we're now seeing involves efforts by the IGC to perpetuate its power into post-occupation Iraq even though -- with the exception of the Kurdish faction leaders -- few of its members have any serious base of political support in the country or, to put it bluntly, any armies on hand for when things really get fun next fall.

So, while the real players jockey for position and await our departure, these boneheads are trying to use the paper power we've given them against us in order to hold on to authority even after we leave.

That's just great.

Here's a prime example ...

Even if the United States can broker a compromise formula, council members are still trying to retain their leverage by arguing that the council should remain as a second legislative body, the equivalent of a senate, an idea likely to ignite further controversy, Iraq experts warn. Alternatively, the council could try to slow the process, hoping to preempt the latest U.S. plan.

Their leverage ... Like I said, dark comic relief. We can't even get our puppets in line.

Undemocratic or imperfectly democratic upper houses of parliaments usually justify themselves by their partial remove from the bustle of democratic politics or their identification with national unity or ancestral wisdom or some such thing. Think the British House of Lords or at the turn of the last century the United States senate. Such arguments are always strained. But why the council we installed in the first months of the occupation should play this role is a little hard to figure.

And then another nice passage ...

One way or another, key council members are vying either to shape the transition or ensure the council remains intact and a powerful body, as the U.S. plan envisions. Because many of the 24 council members probably would not fare well in open elections, they pressured Bremer to establish an indirect three-step system to select a new national assembly, which in turn would pick a prime minister and cabinet, a process so complex that many Iraqis and U.S. experts doubt it will work.

A former U.S. adviser to Bremer described the plan as "an insane selection system of caucuses, like the Iowa caucus selecting those who will vote in New Hampshire."

The U.S. plan effectively gives the Governing Council a kind of remote control because it will have the deciding vote in local caucuses that will pick a national assembly.

All of this adds up to the essential ridiculousness of the moment: On the homefront, the president is shaping his political campaign around the notion that we shouldn't show weakness and we can't cut and run. Meanwhile, it's clear to pretty much everyone in Iraq that we're doing both.

And they're acting accordingly.

Here's the headline and tease on <$NoAd$>the front of the CNN website as of 2:50 AM on Saturday morning ...

Retailers Seeing Holiday Sales Increase: Millions of people Friday got an early start to one of the busiest shopping days of the year, lining up outside stores long before the sun came up. Analysts expect stronger sales this holiday season but that discounts won't be as deep as last year's. There are reports that luxury retailers are even raising prices.

Here are the first few grafs of the lead story on the CNN Business news website ...

Rain and leaner discounts greeted shoppers across much of the nation on Black Friday, a day that marks the official start of the holiday sales season.

"Early indications show that store traffic and the promotional activity is at lower levels than last year at this time," said Kurt Barnard, an independent retail consultant. "I wouldn't be surprised if many retailers try to get away with selling merchandise at full price."

Barnard anticipates that same-store sales -- or sales at stores open at least a year -- will rise between 1 percent and 3 percent for the three days including Black Friday and the coming weekend.

"That's not fantastic by any means," Barnard said.

A bit of a disconnect?

If you're involved in all sorts of iffy financial transactions, don't get into a messy divorce.

Someone didn't mention this sage advice to Neil Bush.

Now it turns out that Bush is not-too-distantly connected to New Bridge Strategies, the outfit President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh set up to play Iraqi contracts game.

Here's the run-down.

It turns out Neil is Co-Chairman of something called Crest Investment Corporation. Whatever it is Crest does, it pays 60 grand a year to get a few hours a week of advice from the President's ne'er-do-well brother on how to do it.

The other "co-chairman and principal of Crest," reports the Financial Times, "is Jamal Daniel, a Syrian-American who is an advisory board member of New Bridge Strategies ..."

The New Bridge website says that before Daniel started up Crest he was in the international real estate biz and also "has extensive experience in structuring investing in energy and oil and gas projects throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East."

Will the surprises never cease ...

For a few days I've been saving string, as the phrase goes, on what may turn out to be the most interesting, even the most important, phase of the Texas redistricting battle.

As all the parties have always known it would be, the whole issue is now the subject of a court case -- largely over claims that the new districting dilutes minority voting power.

Now, the plaintiffs in the case have subpoenaed Tom DeLay and fellow Texas Congressman Joe Barton to give sworn testimony in the case.

Lawyers for DeLay and Barton are trying to have the subpoenas quashed, arguing that no court has ever required the testimony of sitting congressmen in a redistricting case.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs has responded that DeLay's testimony "is clearly legally significant to this case because, unlike any member of Congress in any prior redistricting process, he unquestionably played the central role in Texas redistricting in 2003."

The centrality of Delay's role is demonstrably true.

A three judge panel has set a hearing for Monday to decide whether DeLay gets to avoid discussing his role in what happened this summer.

You call Iraq an intelligence failure? Have I got an intelligence failure for you!

That's the explanation for the fall of France in Ernest May's fascinating revisionist study Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France.

Here's the TPM review from May 2002 ...

I really, really, really want to recommend a book to you. It's called Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France and it's by Ernest R. May, a highly respected diplomatic historian. There are two reasons why this book is so good. The first is that it is just a marvelously engrossing narrative of one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th Century: the lead-up to the Second World War and particularly Hitler's lightning victory over France in May and June of 1940. It's just a very polished, compelling World War Two book and a very good read. But it's much more than that.

May begins with a question that most of us would probably not imagine really was a question. That is, why did France lose?

From the newsreels, many histories, and the mythology of appeasement you'd get the impression that this was just a given, that Germany was strong and armed-to-the-teeth and France was unprepared and weak. But this just wasn't the case. May makes very clear that France (and especially France and Britain together) were both quantitatively and qualitatively stronger and better prepared for war. Simply put, on balance, they had more stuff and better stuff.

So then the question: why did they lose and lose so quickly?

May provides a complex series of answers to this question. But the key ones are easily stated.

One, the French intelligence services were inefficiently organized and intelligence gathering was not well wedded to policy-making. In other words, though France had better intelligence assets in Germany the French weren't particularly good at analyzing and making use of that information. Nor were they particularly good at crafting policy based on intelligence.

Two, the French military, though professional and well-equipped, was organized around a series of what one might call risk-averse doctrines which made it cumbersome, immobile and less agile and quick to react than it should have been.

May uses diplomatic, military and intelligence sources from the French and the German sides to assemble a very clear view of how the two diplomatic and war-fighting machines operated. May's readily apparent depth of familiarity with these sources is little short of breath-taking.

All of this combined to allow the weaker power, Germany, to defeat the stronger one, France.

What makes this book valuable to read today is that May makes a convincing case that our Western military and intelligence services are much more like that of the French circa 1940 than the Germans. And that's sobering.

Through Washington's Iraq debate of 2002, the recurring line from the Iraq-hawks and the right was the claim that the bureaucrats at the State Department were doing everything they could to keep democracy from coming to Iraq. It was ridiculous at the time. And looking back at it now it produces mainly confusion as you try to figure out whether to laugh or to cry and end up doing both.

(Actually, a bit more specificity is probably in order. It was one part valid, six parts ridiculousness, and three parts utter bad faith.)

Here's a choice clip from a piece Lawrence Kaplan wrote this March in The New Republic ("Federal Reserve: The State Department's anti-democracy plan for Iraq.")

What's more, the State Department has designated an outspoken foe of the Iraqi democracy movement from the Clinton years, NEA's Thomas Warrick, as its chief "vetter" of Iraqi officials. At a gathering of Iraqi democrats in December, Warrick, along with the CIA's Ben Miller, stood in the doorway of the meeting and literally tried to block leading pro-democracy dissidents from entering. INC representative Entifadh Qanbar, who was himself prevented from getting through the door, recounts, "Warrick said, 'You can't get in, and I'll have the guards help you out.'"

As a reader who reminded me of this passage aptly said, the INC's main probelm with the folks at the State Department and their Future of Iraq Project was that it stood in the way of their ability to take over Iraq in the wake of the American invasion -- a prize they were presumably entitled to on the basis of good media and think-tank contacts in Washington.

My God did Chalabi's crew play this town like a fiddle ...

Another interesting <$NoAd$>development.

There's no way to link to articles in the New York Sun. But an article yesterday by the Sun's Eli Lake noted the following ...

The person who this month is occupying the rotating presidency of the Iraqi Governing Council, Jalal Talabani, led an 18-person delegation to Iran last week, where he signed a raft of agreements with the government there on issues ranging from trade to counter terrorism. Iran regularly tops the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The architects of the war had hoped that a blossoming, democratic Iraq would quicken the pace of opposition to Iran's ruling mullahs. Now, however, the US and the Governing Council appear to be trying to stabilize Iraq with Tehran's assistance.

More on the firing of Tom Warrick, noted in the previous post ...

Last March, shortly after Warrick joined Garner's team, Don Rumsfeld met with Jay Garner in the Secretary’s office. During the meeting Rumsfeld walked over to his desk and asked Garner if he had someone on his team named Warrick. Garner said he did. Rumsfeld told him he had to go. Garner told Rumsfeld that he needed Warrick on his team. But Rumsfeld told him the answer was no --- end of story.

Garner then gave Warrick the word, but assured him that he’d be able to get him back on the team later.

In a subsequent meeting Garner told Rumsfeld that he needed Warrick back on his team. It was at this point that Rumsfeld made clear to Garner that the decision came from above and that there was nothing he, Rumsfeld, could do about it. Warrick had to go.

The big news today is the interview retired <$Ad$>Gen. Jay Garner (America's first civilian overseer in Iraq) gave to the BBC, and particularly his criticisms of various aspects of the reconstruction.

Of particular interest is Garner's discussion of the firing of State Department employee Tom Warrick, the author of the Future of Iraq Project, a multivolume collection of reports and documents put together by a series of working groups during the lead up to the war.

In retrospect, Warrick's groups' work -- though disparaged and warred with at the time by hawks at the Pentagon -- predicted much of what's transpired in the last six months.

Warrick's brief role in Garner's operation tells us something about the retired general. Though Garner was ideologically in sync with many of the Iraq-hawks assumptions about 'regime change', he was openminded enough -- sufficiently free of ideological blinders -- to see that Warrick just knew a lot about the country and that his contribution could be crucial.

Here's the passage from an AP article on the interview ...

"Tom was just beginning to get started with us when one day I was in the office with the secretary of defense, and he said 'Jay, have you got a guy named Warrick on your team?' I said, `yes, I do.' He said, 'well, I've got to ask you to remove him.' I said, `I don't want to remove him; he's too valuable.'

"But he said, 'This came to me from such a high level that I can't overturn it, and I've just got to ask you to remove Mr. Warrick.'"

Now, it probably goes without saying that the number of people who are that much higher than the Secretary of Defense in the hierarchy is pretty small.

In fact, a source intimately familiar with these conversations recently made clear to me that he believed the person applying the pressure in this case was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.

That tracks with a lot else we're finding out about the lead-up to the war. Though the ideological poles were at State and the Pentagon, the decisive force, the one really tipping the scales in one direction or another, was the Office of the Vice President.