Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

So Donnie Fowler is out as sorta kinda campaign manager of the Clark campaign.

I'd been getting hints and allegations of this for several days from various fronts. The first round of coverage last night had it that this was a dispute between the Internet-savvy draft Clark types and the professionals from the Clinton-Gore scene. This morning there's more of a focus on Fowler getting demoted to a "lesser role but still an important role" and deciding instead to quit.

Really, I'm not sure quite what to make of these various interpretations of what happened. It's not like Fowler is some sort of grass-roots activist. His CV, even his ancestry, is very much from Clinton/Gore-land. On the other hand, he saw first hand in Gore 2000 what can happen to a top-heavy, insidery operation.

My sense is that there are just no clear lines of authority in that operation. That leads not only to chaotic management but also to everyone having a different sense of what 'the problem' is.

Based on things I hear from various folks who are in the mix, I think that it's much less clear-cut than this Internet types versus the insiders line we're hearing.

What surprises me and, to an extent, impresses me is that Clark has managed to do as well as he has, even with this sort of chaotic management at the home office.

The thing about campaigns is that they end up telling us something about the candidate. Getting a campaign up to speed in a few weeks is no simple task. If Clark is someone who will make a good president, he'll get this situation in hand.

The big picture here is that there's a vacuum of authority in the campaign operation. Because of that, all the various currents in the Dem party -- out-of-power Clinton-Gore types, new-fangled Internet types, etc. -- are trying to fill that vacuum. Bottom line: Clark has to assert himself over his campaign back office.

Am I wrong to think his heart's not really in this one?

Comments today from President Bush ...

I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.

Rather short of dead or alive ...

When I come across something fishy from the Bush administration, I try to use what I call the Clinton Test to keep myself honest and steer me right. As I’ve noted before in these pages, the Clinton Test is quite simply, how would I react to situation X if it was Clinton --- someone I supported --- rather than Bush --- someone I oppose.

It’s a good rule of thumb because seeing a given action through the prism of someone whose motives you are inclined to view favorably is a good check on unwarranted suspicions.

Having laid out the Clinton Test, I think the report in this morning’s Dallas Morning News pretty clearly passes the test. In other words, this is more than worthy of criticism -- no matter who is involved. According to the Morning News, all the White House documents requested by the Justice Department are first being reviewed and vetted by the White House counsel's office.

That sounds a bit different from a normal criminal investigation, doesn’t it?

Now, it’s worth noting that the White House has the right --- subject to a great deal of judicial interpretation --- to claim executive privilege for certain sorts of White House communications. And one could imagine various issues which could come up in such documents for which a privilege might reasonably be asserted.

But it seems from the description in the article that the White House is getting to decide which documents the investigators get and which they don’t without having to go to the trouble, the contest, or the political fall-out of actually exerting privilege.

I’d like to hear more about just what the process is. But on the face of it, it seems like the entity being investigated (i.e., The White House) gets to determine what evidence can be used against it. I mean, I’ve heard of defendants’ rights and all. But this seems to take that notion a bit far, doesn’t it? If the Justice Department investigators have acquiesced in this scheme that also gives me the impression that they’re falling, shall we say, rather short of the Ken Starr level of zealousness.

Finally, let’s say there really are compelling national security and/or executive privilege grounds for refusing to turn over some of these documents. Isn’t that the best argument yet that the president should do the right thing and get to the bottom of this right now?

They could get to the bottom of this by the end of the day. If they don’t even try, I think we know why.

It's amazing how quickly people can get thrown off the scent.

Look at all the chatter swirling around the Wilson/Plame scandal: the pros and cons of leaks, the difficulty of unearthing and prosecuting leakers, attacks on Joe Wilson, Novak's never-ending-story, back and forth about this, that and the other. Bill Safire has 701 words in Monday's Times all devoted to churning these points and covering for his friends with artful zingers and disinformation.

All of it is beside the point.

For the last ten days we've known that two senior administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA employee for some mix of retribution and political gamesmanship.

It's next to certain that the president --- like the rest of those who read Novak's original column or heard about it --- knew this in mid-July. But it's absolutely certain he's known about it since September 27th.

And what has he done about it? Nothing.

All mumbo-jumbo to the contrary, the universe of possible culprits is quite small. I suspect the identity of the two is already well-known in the White House. But even if that's not the case, the president could quickly figure out who they are --- probably by demanding that they come forward, and certainly by reviewing phone logs and emails. Yet he has done neither.

We now have the farcical spectacle of the Justice Department initiating a massive investigation --- with the net thrown almost comically wide --- in order to find out what the president could find out in a few hours, tops.

That's the whole story right there.

The president has said he wants to get to the bottom of this. Yet he has done nothing to get to the bottom of it. The only credible explanation is the obvious one: that he doesn't want to get to the bottom of it.

Whether the Justice Department can find the culprits on its own is an interesting legal chess game. But no more.

The president's lieutenants did this. Rather than trying to punish them, he's trying to protect them. The only thing the White House has been aggressive about is attacking the victims of its own bad-acts: Wilson and Plame.

These simple --- and I think indisputable --- facts tell you all you need to know about what's happening here.

In the end, I strongly suspect that Bush will rue the day he didn't do the right thing on day one.

From the Department of Says It All ...

Kay's discovery of one vial of a reference strain of botulinum toxin that an Iraqi scientist had stored in his refrigerator in 1993 at his government's request was described by Bush on Friday as a piece of evidence that Iraq was prepared to have prohibited biological weapons.
From Walter Pincus' piece in Monday's Post.

And they were off to such a good start. Unless I'm mistaken Tony Snow led off Fox News Sunday this morning by calling Valerie Plame a CIA "analyst." In other words, rather prejudicing the question by introducing it packaged in a bit of misinformation.

A few days ago I wrote about the potential ripple effect of exposing Valerie Plame. You go back and see what companies she worked for, who her associates were, where she traveled and so forth, and you probably unravel a lot -- stuff that probably leads to the exposure of other agents and operations.

The Washington Post today has one example: the apparent CIA front company that Plame listed as her employer, Brewster-Jennings & Associates.

People are noting that the company's name made the rounds yesterday after Bob Novak mentioned it on TV, in apparent attempt to discredit Plame as a Democratic partisan.

I've avoided the rush of Novak-bashing that's swirled around this story. But his stance as a journalist simply trying to report out a story is being rapidly and severely diminished by his desperate effort to advance the agenda of those who leaked to him in the first place, i.e., to smear and discredit the Wilsons. (It's also being diminished by his far from credible efforts to exonerate the leakers by again and again revising what he's said on the subject.)

The truth, however, is that Novak's televised mention of Plame's 'employer' is a non-issue -- at least in terms of doing further damage.

The damage was done on July 14th when he first mentioned her name.

The point here is what foreign intelligence agencies (and to a lesser extent transnational corporations and perhaps terrorist groups) are able to find out. And you can rest assured that from the moment she was fingered as a CIA agent in a prominent nationally-syndicated newspaper column, all of them ran her name to map out her lists of associations and activities.

Information which was readily available on the Internet in a public database like the FEC's would have popped up really quickly.

So Novak didn't do any real damage yesterday -- but that's largely because there wasn't much damage left to do after his original disclosure.

Take a look at the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal today.

I'd summarize their argument as follows … Fine, maybe this leak did occur. But let's not let these small points obscure the big point: the war between the White House and the CIA. Once the public sees that battle for what it is, they'll side with President Bush.

In part, I agree: the war between the White House and the CIA is the big story. It's the feud from which this law-breaking springs.

But pushing this story out to this larger policy battle isn't going make things any better for them, only worse. Because they've already lost that battle. They just don't realize it yet.

There's a cartoon from years ago --- I think from the New Yorker, but perhaps from somewhere else --- in which there's a guy sitting at his desk and he's just had his head sliced off. Only the slice came so fast and clean that his head is still sitting there on the stump of his neck. He's thinking everything's fine. He'll only find out there's a problem the first time he tries to move.

That's where these folks are right now.

What were the two specific big questions that this fight was over? The state of the Iraqi WMD programs and the potential fall-out from toppling and occupying an Arab state. The particular issue of Valerie Plame grew out of a tussle over how advanced the Iraqi nuclear program was.

So where's the nuclear program?

It's really almost as simple as that.

You see, the White House's side of that argument has completely collapsed.

And as for the other part --- what it would be like to occupy and rebuild Iraq --- the White House's vision is in a similar state, a vast arctic glacier with great stands of ice sloughing off into the sea.

Critics of the White House need to avoid the temptation of seeing the career folks at State and CIA as always and unfailingly in the right. They've certainly got their shortcomings. But on just about every big question that's been at issue over the last year, when the facts have come in, its been a debacle for the White House. Actually, the career types should thank their lucky stars for this White House since it's only the latter's unflinching ridiculousness that has made them look, by comparison, like geniuses.

In any case, getting into this bigger war won't help because it will only show that they pulled these sorts of shenanigans against their own intelligence agency because of the latter's inability to prove a White House hypothesis that turned out to be completely wrong. So rather than crime without context you have crime in the service of ideological zeal and self-deception.

One of the failings of ideologues is their inability to see that everyone else isn't necessarily an ideologue like them. So when the analysts at Langley didn't find evidence to support the White House's brainstorms, the folks at the White House assumed that the analysts were just Saddam-hugging ideologues rather than trained professionals --- albeit with their own very real biases and assumptions --- who were in most cases acting on their own inability to find any evidence to substantiate what the White House was so desperate to prove.

Breaking the law is one thing. But delving deeper is liable to show that the administration took the public's support for a war on terror, pocketed it, and then went to war against its own intelligence agencies and, in some cases, reality.

I've made a point of not editorializing about my interview with Wes Clark. I'd rather just let the plain text speak for itself (even my endless repetition of the word "obviously") and people can make up their own minds.

But I'll make one exception because of the article that appears in the New York Sun today. The front page story in the Sun takes Clark to task for this passage in the interview …

Clinton administration: broad minded, visionary, lots of engagement. Did a lot of work. Had difficulty with two houses in congress that [it] didn't control. And in an odd replay of the Carter administration, found itself chained to the Iraqi policy -- promoted by the Project for a New American Century -- much the same way that in the Carter administration some of the same people formed the Committee on the Present Danger which cut out from the Carter administration the ability to move forward on SALT II.

The piece in the Sun doesn't just disagree with Clark's point. They portray it as some bizarre or even unhinged misunderstanding of the main currents US foreign policy. The author, Ira Stoll, got Bill Kristol to say "It's really a little bit crackpot. I don't think Clinton was really following the PNAC script. We called for regime change. Last I looked, Saddam was still there when Clinton left. Maybe he got confused."

Stoll also got Randy Scheunemann --- less publicly known, but an important neocon voice in DC --- to say Clark's comments were "bizarre." "The Clinton administration was on the verge of cutting a deal with Saddam. If they would have followed the Iraq policy of PNAC, they would have empowered the Iraqi opposition instead of going around denigrating it. This is a guy who could barely win a war in Kosovo. Now Wesley Clark is running for president by running against a think tank?"

This is, to put it generously, a lot of doubletalk.

Here's my take on this.

When I interviewed Clark that passage was the one that struck me most and the one that stood out in my mind. The analogy hadn't occurred to me before. But it's extremely apt. And the backroom politicking over Iraq is something I know a bit about.

Why it stuck in my mind was that it showed not only a deep grasp of foreign policy issues but an equally canny sense of the informal and extra-governmental ways policy gets hashed out in Washington. More than anything it signaled an understanding that what we've been seeing for the last two years is part of a much longer history stretching back into the late 1960s.

The point is that the CPD and PNAC advocacy were both cases in which outside pressure groups --- groups of neoconservatives --- basically B-teamed the given administration, getting around their flank by working congress and the media to force the administration's hand or make certain policy options politically unviable.

With Iraq policy this involved getting the Clinton administration off its policy of "dual containment" and toward one which, on paper at least, embraced the principle of "regime change" as American policy. This in fact was what happened with the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in late 1998. The embryonic PNAC and other prominent neoconservatives worked the press, lobbied in congress, coordinated with the INC, and the then-weapons inspectors to push for a harder line against Iraq. And in significant ways they succeeded.

This isn't a secret or a slur. It's something the neocons see, with some good reason, as a feather in their cap.

The Clinton administration never truly embraced the hawkish position. But what the Iraq hawks were focused on was setting down benchmarks, the principle of "regime change" as official policy, official monetary support from Chalabi's INC, widely signed public letters advocating a more hawkish policy, and so forth.

This all got underway in mid-1996 and followed through more or less through the end of the administration. Much of the big stuff took place during 1998, in part because there was a quite conscious effort (one of the architects walked me through it a year or so ago) to use Clinton's weakness during the Monica scandal to advance the ball, so to speak. Once it was clear that Gore was Clinton's chosen successor the lobbying/mau-mauing shifted to him, with the vice president's advisor Leon Fuerth tapped to tend to their care and feeding.

The details of all this are too complicated to go into at the moment. But Clark's point isn't "crackpot" or "bizarre." He's got it exactly right. The analogy to the late Carter administration is quite apt. And Kristol, Schhuenemann <$Ad$> Stoll each know it. Indeed, they were each in their own way part of it.

There's nothing untoward about this. This is what democracy's about --- organizing people, pressuring elected leaders, shaping opinion, and so forth.

But when you see these slashing words from the neocons against Clark, it's not because he's "confused" about anything. It's because he's got their number. And they know it.

One more example of the quality of this piece. Stoll notes that ...

While Howard Dean has been critical of Saudi Arabia, few other mainstream politicians of either party have been openly at odds with Egypt, which is the no. 2 recipient of American foreign aid and which has a peace accord with Israel. Pakistan, meanwhile, has been widely praised for assisting America in the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Extreme? Not something noted by 'mainstream politicians'? Ira, don't trip yourself up here. Calling a spade a spade when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt is the neocon position. It's your position. Portraying it as extreme here for the tactical purposes of this one article won't stand up well when you're making the self-same argument next week.
Oh what a tangled web we weave ...