Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Last night I wrote that it looked like the Joint Chiefs might have done an end-run around Don Rumsfeld on the UN resolution question. Then this morning a reader who knows a lot about these things told me he didn't think that was necessarily so, that Rumsfeld -- privately, at least -- had come around to a realization that a course correction was in order. Rumsfeld's the Secretary, and hated in the building as he may be, what he says goes.

But this article in Thursday's Post seems to say that an end-run is pretty close to what took place -- if not around Rumsfeld precisely, then the bulk of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The article is well-worth reading in its entirety. But the upshot seems to be this ...

We've known about the basic division between State and Defense on the UN question, with the former wanting a substantial internationalization of the occupation and the latter more or less opposing it. The Pentagon has operational control over what goes on in Iraq. So they've had the upper-hand. But in Washington it's been close to a stand-off between the two camps, with the advantage to DOD.

What changed, apparently, was that the Joint Chiefs went over to Powell's side. Not only did they come over to his position, but at some level they seem to have worked in concert with Powell's team at State to push the White House into shifting its position.

On the president's first day back from Crawford, says the Post ...

Powell, whose department had long favored such an action, informed the commander in chief that the military brass supported the State Department's position despite resistance by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, whose office had been slow to embrace the U.N. resolution, quickly agreed, according to administration officials who described the episode.

As the Post aptly puts it, Powell -- with the support of the Chiefs in hand -- presented the president with "something close to a fait accompli."

Much of what happened and is happening here still seems murky. And to a significant degree this change of direction is less a matter of shrewd bureaucratic in-fighting than a simple, dawning acquaintance with reality on the part of everyone in the administration -- a realization that, as Fareed Zakaria put it last week, Plan A wasn't working. It would also be fair to say that the people around Powell -- if not necessarily Powell himself -- would not only like to internationalize the effort but to make the shift in policy itself appear as much as possible as a bureaucratic victory for State. (The point being, who's leaking here and to what end?)

But even with all those caveats, given what's happened at the Pentagon for the last thirty months, a decision on the part of the Chiefs to take a more assertive stand toward the Pentagon's civilian leadership would be a development of potential momentous proportions.

From the department of 'says it all' ...

"Mainly, people want reassurance that the administration knows what it's doing," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), "that things are going better than CNN would have us believe."

That and more stories about what congressmen and senators heard from their constituents over the recess in this article in today's Post.

And, yes, that's (R-Utah).

The word I keep hearing is that we can expect increasingly open conflict between Don Rumsfeld and the branch of neoconservatives who really take democratic imperialism seriously. Actually, given the players involved, that probably means increasingly public attacks on Don Rumsfeld coming from neoconservatives.

The rub is the troop strength issue. Rumsfeld wants no more US troops and may even want to use the situation as a laboratory for testing various theories of defense transforming -- more gizmos, less manpower.

The neocons -- or at least some of them -- really believe in their own kind of brand of nation-building. They want to see more troops in the country. But they don't want those troops to be Bulgarians or Bangladeshis or anyone else but Americans. If that means dramatically expanding the US Army, fine.

Then look at this article in Wednesday's Post. There's yet another big push coming from the administration to bring in the UN -- something that seems to happen the day after every major truck bombing. But the Post says the following ...

A senior administration official said that Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently begun lobbying key members of the administration to support a U.N. resolution. The official added that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have become "much more interested in this than before," because they know a new resolution is necessary for them to attract new peacekeeping forces to Iraq.

The defense official said Gen. John Abizaid, the new head of the U.S. Central Command and the top commander in Iraq, and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been "strongly engaged in the internationalization effort, to include a new U.N. resolution."

The Post article doesn't quite draw the inference explicitly. And at this point I'm just speculating. But that sounds a lot like Rumsfeld's chiefs are doing an end-run around him. Acrimony between Rumsfeld and the Chiefs would be nothing new. It almost cost him his job before 9/11. But their willingness and ability to buck him would be something new. At least new in the post-9/11 world.

In foreign affairs, Rumsfeld has resolutely pursued policies based on the maxim that it's better to be feared than loved. On the domestic front, however, there seems to be a growing number of groups who neither fear him nor love him. At a certain point you've got to wonder where that leads.

I'm reviewing a book on the president's foreign policy. And there's a reference late in the book to a May 3rd article in the New York Times. If you want to get a sense of just how unprepared this administration was for what they were getting themselves into, you can't do much better than rereading this piece.

(Unfortunately, the Times no longer posts their archives.)

The plan at that time was to quickly draw down the American troop presence in Iraq until they numbered about 30,000 by the fall of 2003. Needless to say, the fall of 2003 is pretty much now.

Just think how wide of the mark these guys were.

Not that any of this was a surprise, of course. Just before the outbreak of war, then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told a Senate committee that he thought "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to pacify and stabilize post-war Iraq.

He had some experience. He'd led the peace-keeping operation in Bosnia. And he'd dedicated much of his tenure as Chief of Staff to preparing the Army for peace-keeping and other non-traditional and low-intensity combat deployments.

A few days later Paul Wolfowitz went up to the Hill and said Shinseki had no idea what he was talking about. His estimate was "wildly off the mark," Wolfowitz said.

Obviously it was Wolfowitz who had no clue what he was talking about.

And now we have this: according to a new Congressional Budget Office study, the US will only be capable of maintaining our current troop strength in Iraq till next March. By this time next year, says an AP story about the study, "the 180,000 American troops now in and around Iraq would have to be drawn down to [between] 38,000 to 64,000."

Let's walk through what this means.

Virtually every independent observer believes our forces in Iraq are stretched too thin. The issue isn't only numbers. But it's a key, probably the key part of the puzzle. People who work at the pleasure of Don Rumsfeld say differently. And so do a few mumbo-jumbocrats on the right. But no one else.

Large areas of Iraq remain quiet and peaceable. But key sections of the country appear to be teetering either on the edge of chaos or a sort of endemic violence that will be hard to pacify. And those sections are arguably some of the more pivotal in the country -- Baghdad, Najaf, etc.

We may be moving toward a situation in which intra-ethnic and intra-religious rivalries break out into open, if low-level, violence -- a sort of slow-motion civil war.

I doubt we're close to that yet. But even seeing it on the horizon is ominous. Because were that to happen our difficulties would grow almost immeasurably.

Absent a substantial increase in the size of the Army, or lengthy deployments and reserve call-ups which most experts consider unsustainable, we clearly need others to come in and lend a hand. Now we find out that we can only sustain current levels for roughly six months. How much leverage do you figure that gives us with the countries we'd like to have send in their own troops? How much leverage does that give us with France, Russia and China?

Right. Not much.

News tonight says that we're about to make a big push for greater UN involvement -- perhaps circulating a new resolution as early as tomorrow. Unfortunately, this request comes not at a moment of strength for us but in the face of four car-bombings in a month and a palpable sense that we are not in control of the country we are nominally occupying. Add that to the fact that we're already stretched thin and, according to our own government study, can't maintain the current force for much more than six months. Again, put that all together and then ask, how much leverage do we have?

In real life we have a word for this sort of situation: a jam. We've managed to leverage our mammoth strength into an improbable weakness. And so much of it was not only predictable, but predicted.

Consider an analogy. When a heart surgeon loses an occasional patient, that's simply the price of inherently dangerous work. When a heart surgeon tries a risky procedure for a patient who will die without it, and the patient dies, that's just a tragic end to an unavoidable risk. When a dermatologist cracks open a patient's ribs to try out a new approach to open heart surgery which most cardiac surgeons say will never work, and the patient dies, that guy probably gets sued or kicked out of the profession or maybe thrown in jail. Maybe all three.

True enough, the patient hasn't died. As Fareed Zakaria says in this superb piece in Newsweek, "It might already be too late to achieve a great success in Iraq. But it is not too late to avoid a humiliating failure."

All true enough. But the real question is, who gets fired over this mess? And when?

A couple days ago I mentioned my new article in the Washington Monthly, an effort to put together a general theory of the administration's pervasive mendacity or what Barron's columnist Alan Abelson recently called their "regrettable aversion to the truth and reality when the truth and reality aren't lovely or convenient."

The heart of the matter, I think, is the administration's revisionism.

Revisionists are by their nature always at war with established expertise, whether it's orthodox Marxists picking apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of 'bourgeois ideology' or Frenchified academic post-modernists who 'deconstruct' knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues always seek to expose 'the facts' as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases.

Across the board, the history of the last thirty months has been one of often open warfare between ideology and expertise in the executive branch. Of course, the history of early 20th century Progressivism shows that the cult of expertise is itself capable of excesses. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the article.

TPM man of principle pop quiz. Who said this?

One way to make sure that the manufacturing sector does well is to send a message overseas, (to) say, look, we expect there to be a fair playing field when it comes to trade ... See, we in America believe we can compete with anybody, just so long as the rules are fair, and we intend to keep the rules fair.

Dick Gephardt? Dennis Kucinich? How about George W. Bush?

Where we are.

From Robert Kagan's piece in today's Post ...

There are good reasons why the administration is not sending more troops to Iraq, of course. But they are not the reasons outlined by U.S. commanders. Those generals are saying we have enough troops in Iraq chiefly because they know full well they dare not ask for more. The price of putting another division or more of American troops into Iraq will be high. It means mobilizing more reserves and using more National Guard forces. It either means pushing the Army to the breaking point or making the very expensive but necessary decision to increase the overall size of the American military, and fast. Right now administration officials don't want to think the unthinkable. Unfortunately, they may be forced to in a month or two. And, unfortunately, by then it may be too late.

I don't think I share Kagan's full pessimism about the assistance to be gained from an effective internationalization (see column). But the picture he paints of the state of US forces and our ability to handle expanded deployments sounds disturbingly accurate.

I watched John Kerry on Meet the Press this morning. I didn't catch all of it. But I think I saw the most important parts.

Russert had his standard line of baiting, gotcha questions. But what struck me was how well Kerry held up under the questioning. He struck the right notes about the administration's ideological rigidity, lack of preparation, and constant state of being at war with itself. And he was cool enough and quick enough on his feet to show how many of Russert's gotcha questions -- meant to show contradictions or flip-flops -- really showed no such thing.

One dig against Kerry is that he's waffled on Iraq. In an article tomorrow, the Washington Post says that "he has come under fire for sounding ambivalent on the Iraq war and for failing to connect with the antiwar, anti-Bush voters dominating the nominating process."

But I thought his explanations of his stance rang true. An evolving position isn't the same as a waffling or indecisive one. After all, we already have a president who is dogmatic and inflexible and confuses those qualities for leadership. And look where that's gotten us ...

I am more and more often visiting this website, a blog run by University of Michigan Islam and Middle East scholar Juan Cole. The presentation is a bit more jumbled than I'd like. But the quality of the content more than makes up for that minor shortcoming. This evening Cole has a long post discussing the Imam Ali Shrine bombing. He makes a seemingly persuasive conjectural argument that the perpetrators were Saddam loyalists.

Lies and fun. What a combination. And the Washington Monthly's got it.

The up-coming issue of The Washington Monthly includes 'The Mendacity Index,' a compilation of expert opinion on the comparative rates of dishonesty for the last four presidents -- Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. In the words of the Monthly's editors ...

We asked a nominating committee* of noted journalists and pundits to pick the most serious fibs, deceptions, and untruths spoken by each of the four most recent presidents. We selected the top six for each commander-in-chief, then presented the list to a panel of judges** with longtime experience in Washington. Panel members were instructed to rate each deception on a scale of 1 (least serious) to 5 (most serious). Then we averaged the scores for each deception and for each president. We believe their validity rests somewhere between the Periodic Table and the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

Take a look at how each of the four made out. And then head over to BeliefNet (which is partnering with the Monthly on this project) to rate each president's top six deceptions.

Paired with the Monthly's Mendacity Index is my next article in the Monthly, 'The Post-Modern President: Deception, Denial, and Relativism: What the Bush administration learned from the French,' my attempt to put together a grand unified theory of the Bush's White House difficulties with the truth.

The article is out in the soon-to-be-released September issue. And we'll be posting a pre-release link in the next day or so.