Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I’ve found it difficult to write about Iraq for the last few days because, in a sense, there seems little to say. A good part of what I’ve written on the subject in recent months has been intended to challenge the attitude of denial that has characterized so many public pronouncements on the state of the war --- the sort of militant up-is-downism, for instance, which was on display when the president said the recent wave of attacks was a sign of how good things were going.

Now, though, that denial (or at least one aspect of it) seems to be evaporating rapidly. And there’s little to push back against. The CIA report on the situation in Iraq, which got so much play on Wednesday after its existence was revealed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, was apparently even more bleak than the article suggested. And if you read the article, you know that’s gotta mean it was pretty damn bleak.

Now, one other point to look at in trying to get a handle on what’s happening here. Both the Guardian and the Times say that Bremer explicitly endorsed the CIA report in order both to underscore the gravity of the situation and signal his agreement with the report's conclusions. The Guardian drives the point home more explicitly than the Times. But they both seem to be making the same point.

Thus the Guardian …

Although, the report was an internal CIA document it was widely circulated within the administration. Even more unusually, it carried an endorsement by Paul Bremer, the civilian head of the US-run occupation of Iraq - a possible sign that he was seeking to bypass his superiors in the Pentagon and send a message directly to President George Bush on how bad the situation has become.

This brings us back to that the high-level meeting Bremer had with Pentagon officials at the end of last month. As I noted yesterday, at the time I was told that at that meeting Bremer painted an extremely bleak picture of the situation on the ground in the country and signaled great pessimism about the future.

That sounds very similar to what we’re hearing about this CIA report which apparently triggered these high-level meetings over the last two days --- the one that brought Bremer rushing back to Washington. Have the unvarnished reports about the true state of affairs on the ground in Iraq not been making their way up to the very highest levels of the government in Washington?

What's really troubling about the moves we now seem ready to make is that we're about to launch the wobbly new Iraqi provisional ship of state out into the very same gale force winds that we ourselves have found too difficult to endure.

Some CPA documents came into my hands yesterday.

And here's something an enterprising presidential candidate could grab hold of and use for good politics and for doing good for the country. Frankly, as the author of the document says, the president could do himself some good if his people would give the issue some attention.

We all know there were no WMD in Iraq. We thought there were. But there weren't. Some GOP dead-enders still want to pretend that it's still an open question. But it's not.

And yet we know there were active WMD programs at one time.

That's not relevant to the debate about why we went to war, or whether intelligence was manipulated. But it is relevant for another reason: those scientists who did the work are still there. And the knowledge for how to make all sorts of nasty stuff is still in their heads.

It would sort of be a bummer if they ended up putting that knowledge to work for al Qaida or the Syrians or anyone else for that matter.

Now, the people at the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) have thought of this. But the programs aimed at putting these guys to work, according to the documents I'm looking at, are woefully underfunded and getting held up by the same old interagency mumbo-jumbo. And of course all the while we're sinking lots of money into the on-going search for WMD that pretty clearly is never going to be found.

A good use of our resources? Doesn't sound like it.

The author of the document argues that the administration should give up the hopeless effort to convince people there might actually have been WMD in Iraq at the time of the invasion and focus its public arguments on its efforts to keep these scientists out of mischief.

Unfortunately, he concedes, those programs haven't been given enough money and are tied up in bureaucratic infighting.

Is Bremer out? Is he being promoted? Suspended? Two weeks ago the rumor was that he was trying to resign.

I've heard every rumor under the sun today. And all that seems really clear is that something major is about to happen on the ground in the US occupation.

Of the pieces I've read this afternoon the ones which seem to have the best handle on it are Fred Kaplan's in Slate and John Burns' in the Times. The best, that is, in as much as they jibe with what my sources are telling me and my general sense of the situation.

Almost two weeks ago now, Bremer had consultations with senior Pentagon officials. And the chatter out of those meetings said that Bremer had grown deeply pessimistic about his job in Iraq and that John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command, was advocating some sort of decisive move back toward actual war-fighting to arrest the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Here's what Kaplan says this afternoon in Slate ...

The guess around the Pentagon is that Bremer's role in postwar reconstruction will probably be scaled back, if not suspended, at least until the war is really over. Whatever the U.S. armed forces do next—and it's a safe bet the change in policy will go well beyond semantics—should not come as much of a surprise. The muddling-through of the past couple of months could not have been sustained much longer, on any grounds.

Meanwhile, here's an article in the Financial Times about how the Iraqi Foreign Minister we appointed is saying the IGC is getting a bum rap and that the problem is infighting among the Americans.

What strikes me as most revealing here is that Bremer is the one getting yanked out of the country on short notice to talk with his superiors and the generals running the show on the ground -- namely, Sanchez and Abizaid --- suddenly seem to have their voice and are volubly taking the initiative.

This line out of an article from an article out of tomorrow's Times has the ring of truth to me ...

One Defense Department official said Mr. Bremer had returned to defend his approach as the White House re-examined some of his biggest decisions, including disbanding the Iraqi Army.

But the truth is I don't know.

What's clear is that something is coming to a head over there and we look set to get a big dose of reality out of Iraq.

One more note on the Neil Bush-Taiwan story.

This is the story about the meeting between the president's brother and the Taiwanese president and charges that $1 milion was paid to arrange it.

Charges get thrown around a lot in Taiwan. They have a vituperative politics and a vituperative press. The country is heading into an election and the folks making the charges are the ones trying to unseat the president.

But what caught my eye about this story (noted below) is Neil Bush. However the meeting was arranged, why does the President of Taiwan want a meeting with the president's ne'er-do-well brother? Foreign policy advice? Insights on fighting an air war over the Taiwan Strait? Seems hard to figure.

What's more, Neil's got a history. And I'm not talking about the Silverado business. See this piece I wrote on Neil for Salon in the spring of '02.

And for more on the history of the use of cash in Taiwanese foreign policy, see this Salon piece from a week earlier.

Wow, that's not a positive development.

When you can your campaign manager it's almost never a good sign. But there's always the chance it is or, at least, can be presented as a clean break for a stalled operation. Al Gore sorta kinda pulled that off when he hired Donna Brazile in 2000 -- at around the same point in the cycle, if I remember right.

But now comes word that two more senior officials in John Kerry's campaign have bailed in protest over Jim Jordan's firing -- Robert Gibbs, Kerry's spokesman and his deputy finance director.

That takes a lot of the wind out of any potential 'decisive break' storyline and makes it look a lot more like a campaign in disarray, if not heading for collapse.

Okay, a little more on Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's meeting with Neil Bush, the president's brother, during a brief visit to New York City recently.

Opposition leader James Soong, formerly of the Kuomintang (KMT) and now Chairman of the People First Party, has accused President Chen of paying $1 million to have a meeting with Mr. Bush.

(A little background is necessary here: because the US has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, meetings with US political leaders are highly coveted by members of the Taiwanese government.)

It's not clear from the news reports what direct evidence Soong had for his charges. But part of the evidence he put forward was an overture allegedly made to the head of the KMT Lien Chan. "A broker for the [Bush] family member told Lien he could meet with the US president's brother if he was willing to pay US$1 million. I believe Chen was well received by the US because he paid the money," Soong said.

Representatives of President Chen have roundly denied the charges and refuse even to discuss whether he met with Bush under any circumstances. And a spokesman for the president has said the the airing of the charge is an affront to the Bush family.

Now this update from Taiwan News ...

Meanwhile, DPP Legislator Parris Chang, who along with Chien accompanied President Chen for his U.S. and Panama trip, confirmed that the president had indeed met Neil Bush, but the summit had nothing to do with Neil Bush's older brother George Bush.

"The opposition party is simply too desperate (for the presidential election). The accusation is extremely ridiculous," Chang said.

He explained that a Taiwanese businessman based in Houston arranged the summit for President Chen, and revealed that no deal was made behind the meeting.

"I don't think the summit has anything to do with his brother. President Bush would probably send government officials from the State Department, if he really wants to deliver a message to President Chen," Chang said.

In addition, DPP Secretary-General Chang Chun-hsiung held a press conference yesterday morning to criticize the PFP accusation as inaccurate and potentially damaging to bilateral ties between the U.S. and Taiwan.

Who's the 'Taiwanese businessman based in Houston'?

What's the deal with this? <$NoAd$>I've heard hints of this from my Taiwan sources over the last 24 hours and now it's all over the Taiwan press. This from the English-language Taipei Times ...

President Chen Shui-bian yesterday defended himself against accusations by People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong that he paid US$1 million to meet with a family member of US President George W. Bush during his visit to the US earlier this month.

Although Soong did not say who the family member was, PFP and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials later identified the person as Bush's brother Neil Bush.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 500 people in Yunlin County on Sunday, Soong said the US' high-profile reception for Chen was a result of the US$1 million that Chen gave to the Bush family.

A broker representing the Bush family had contacted KMT Chairman Lien Chan before Lien went to the US last month, Soong said.

"A broker for the family member told Lien he could meet with the US president's brother if he was willing to pay US$1 million. I believe Chen was well received by the US because he paid the money," Soong said.

I'll be on the phone with my sources trying to find out more.

An email from a <$NoAd$>friend about the Dean post below ...

From: "John B. Judis"
To: "Joshua Micah Marshall"
X-Mailer: Poco3 Beta (1700) - Licensed Version
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 08:42:41 -0500
Subject: Dean

I share your sentiments completely. The only thing I'm semi-certain about is Dean's lack of electability in November. I think it is because I lived through the McGovern campaign, as did some of those ex-Clinton people who have tried to pump up Clark. The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace). The economy deprives the Democrat of the issue that would allow him to attract working class votes; the war splits the Democrats, but not the Republicans. True, there are more "Starbucks" voters now than in 1972, but on the other side Bush is far more popular than Nixon was. Nixon was actually trailing Muskie in polls, which is why he thought he needed all the dirty tricks. I fear a cataclysm in the fall if the Democrats nominate Dean. Unfortunately, the alternatives are only slightly better.

John B. Judis Senior Editor, The New Republic Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment

We'll see. As I said in the post below, I think this race is far from over.

Okay, have to say it. I’m still not convinced. Everyone I know seems to think that Howard Dean is close to having the Democratic nomination all wrapped up. AFSCME’s apparent endorsement, for instance, seems premised almost entirely on the perception that Dean’s going to be the winner.

But I just don’t see it.

I’m not saying there’s another candidate who I’d say is more likely to win. I just think Dean’s strength is overstated.

A few points and then we’ll follow up with other posts later.

First: Every primary and caucus this year distributes delegates proportionally. You get 30% of the vote and you get 30% of the delegates. So winning a primary by a couple points in a big field isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Second: I continue to think that Dean’s style of candidacy only has a real purchase on a portion of the Democratic primary electorate. And I think he has most of those people already. Yes, this is a standard criticism of Dean: he’s the candidate of the Starbucks crowd (not that that’s a criticism: I write about half of my posts from the neighborhood Starbucks) and so forth. And the endorsements of SEIU and AFSCME are supposed to change that --- giving his candidacy a broader demographic sweep.

But I remain unconvinced. I’m not sure Dean can break out of the very energized and mobilized constituency he already has. And that’s what strong showings out of Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to accomplish.

Third: Our models for primary campaigns are based on frontrunners who are supported, by and large, by the party establishment. That’s not the case here. And that makes a difference. So there's an asterisk by his frontrunnerdom.

Fourth: Dean clearly now has the biggest constituency. It’s activated, mobilized and it’s big. But he’s in a large field. I think there’s a much larger slice of the Democratic primary electorate that doesn’t want him than the one that does. And as the field narrows, that will become the salient fact. (Isn't #4 kind of like #2? Okay, maybe a bit.)

Fifth: Electability, another salient fact.

Now, many things I write on TPM, I write with great confidence. This isn’t one of those cases. For a host of reasons I find this primary campaign very hard to get a handle on. And it’s quite apparent to me that I could have this all wrong. What I'm telling you is just what my gut tells me.

Live by the word game, die by the <$NoAd$>word game.

Andrew Sullivan arguing that no one said the threat was imminent (emphasis added) ...

We can fight over words in this way, but the fundamental reality also undermines Marshall's case. The point about 9/11 is that it showed that we were in a new world where we could be attacked by shadowy groups with little warning. The point about Saddam is that he was a sworn enemy of the U.S., had been known to develop an arsenal of WMDs, was in a position to arm terrorists in a devastating way, and any president had to weigh the risk of him staying in power in that new climate. The actual threat hangs over us all the time. It is unlike previous threats from foreign powers. It is accountable to no rules and no ethics. We know it will give us no formal warning. But we cannot know it is "imminent".

Webster’s, well-known dictionary manufacturer, defining ‘imminent’ …

Main Entry: im•mi•nent
Pronunciation: 'i-m&-n&nt
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin imminent-, imminens, present participle of imminEre to project, threaten, from in- + -minEre (akin to Latin mont-, mons mountain) -- more at MOUNT
Date: 1528
: ready to take place; especially : hanging threateningly over one's head (was in imminent danger of being run over)
- im•mi•nent•ly adverb

Some curveballs hang too temptingly over the plate.