Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Are those same "senior administration officials" who blew Valerie Plame's cover to Bob Novak bending his ear again? You don't have to look too hard at the avalanche of mud being pushed against Wes Clark to get a very clear idea of who the White House doesn't want to run against next November.

In any case, back to Mr Novak, our cog in the machine. Novak's column today accuses Clark of hobnobbing with various and sundry war criminals. In particular he describes a meeting between Clark and Bosnian-Serb arch-war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic. They were in fact photographed wearing each others' caps.

Thus Novak ...

Clark was a three-star (lieutenant general) who directed strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. On Aug. 26, 1994, in the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka, he met and exchanged gifts with the notorious Bosnian Serb commander and indicted war criminal, Gen. Ratko Mladic. The meeting took place against the State Department's wishes and may have contributed to Clark's failure to be promoted until political pressure intervened. The shocking photo of Mladic and Clark wearing each other's military caps was distributed throughout Europe.


U.S. diplomats warned Clark not to go to Bosnian Serb military headquarters to meet Mladic, considered by U.S. intelligence as the mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim civilians (and still at large, sought by NATO peacekeeping forces). Besides the exchange of hats, they drank wine together, and Mladic gave Clark a bottle of brandy and a pistol.

Now, why would Clark meet with a man who'd masterminded the Srebrenica mass-killing? Perhaps because the event hadn't occured yet. Clark met with Mladic in late August 1994. The Srebrenica massacre happened in July 1995.

Now, we knew Mladic was bad news well before Srebrenica. So in itself this doesn't settle the matter. And this incident deserves to be looked at in the context of all of Clark's activities in the Balkans -- which stretch through much of the 1990s. But I put it forward as an example of the caliber of honesty and integrity in reporting that we're dealing with in this case.

Certainly we can expect more and more of this from the usual suspects.

Coming up later today, part two of TPM's interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson. And part one of the Cheney Files, the the full text of the Vice-President's most recent financial disclosure statement.

Once an adman, always an adman. When reading Bill Safire's columns I sometimes wonder when and how he distinguishes between things he actually believes to be true and those which he simply makes up in order to craft a cleaner argument.

Eventually you realize that it's not a distinction he makes.

Read his column today on Wes Clark, in which he unveils the grand-plan of the Clinton's to use Clark to knock Dean out of the race and weaken the other candidates to prepare the way for Hillary's eventual entrance into the race sometime in early 2004. Clark, says Safire, will then be rewarded with the #2 slot.

There are a lot of Clinton folks around Clark right now. And there are more than a couple Clinton insiders who don't realize, to my undying surprise, that she will never be president of the United States or, I think, even run.

Those details aside, you'd think Safire would steer clear of these double-bank-shot conspiracy theories after all the Clinton hokum he got caught peddling in the 1990s.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Those, of course, are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grieving. But the model applies to public policy as well. And sometimes, shall we say, more than others.

I had moments of imagining -- a forlorn hope, I grant you -- that the White House might have gotten up to the 'bargaining' stage in dealing with the demise of their 'plan A', as Fareed Zakaria recently described it, for Iraq.

I guess not.

They seem firmly wedged between denial and anger -- a betwixt and between state producing a sort of militant ridiculousness.

According to advance leaks coming from the White House, when President Bush addresses the UN next week, he will challenge the world body to pony up money and troops for Iraq or risk irrelevance. (Of course, these claims of the UN's irrelevance are rather belied by the president's hasty retreat to the same.) The UN must show, says Condi Rice, that it is "actually capable of acting, and really willing to act, and not just debating."

That should go over well.

"If that's the attitude, he's going to get the door slammed in his face," says Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton NSC staffer and now think-tanker. "Because no one regards it to be their duty or responsibility to clean up the mess that many people think has been created by the way we have handled the postwar period." (Daalder by the way has a really good new book out about Bush foreign policy, which I just reviewed, America Unbound.)

I'm going to reserve judgment and see if the tone and the message is actually as stupid as these reports imply. But if it is (and piece in Monday's Times seems to confirm that it is), you do have to wonder just the White House is trying to achieve.

I have no doubt that the administration really wants foreign money for this operation -- even more than foreign troops probably. Yet this is the kind of tack that makes you wonder how badly they really want it, or even if they want it.

A few days ago President Bush said he was issuing a "plea" for financial aid and troops for Iraq -- something his journalistic defenders have understandably ignored. But while that sort of begging isn't called for, insults aren't going to produce good results at this point. A bit of magnanimity perhaps? Trash talk works a lot better when holding a handful of aces than when you're holding no cards and the rest of the people at the table know it. (If they're worried about the French, this'll play right into their hands.)

I don't think there's a lot of analytic thought behind any of this. It's seems more reflex response. They're locked in a feedback loop, a tangled form of denial. They know they need help. But they can't get past their arrogance and ideological fixations to ask for it. They know they need to 'go to the UN.' But they go there and hit them with the same trash talk that worked so well last year.

They are, in a word, adrift. And unfortunately 'they' is 'we'.

A sampling from the mailbag ...

From: [suppressed]
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2003 14:54:04 EDT
Subject: destroying dean
To: talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
X-Mailer: 7.0 for Windows sub 10693

If you have time, wander over to Billmon and see what's being said about your attempts to torpedo Dean. I think it's sickening that you are determined to stamp out an exciting and potentially successful grass roots effort to choose our nominee. A lot of us are tired of the arrogance of the DNC, DLC and Josh Marshalls who are convinced that they know what is best for us. (Your track record isn't that impressive!) If you succeed in using dirty tricks to topple Dean, I will not be voting in 04, and I know a lot of other Democrats who will join me in sitting it out. Watch the hubris, it could be your undoing! Susan P.

My own feeling is that the only real Democrats are those who will support the party's eventual nominee, end of story. There is an awfully distressing tendency among a minority of Dean supporters to serve up no end of lacerating comments about other candidates and then to react with a sort of stunned and outraged shock when anyone criticizes their guy. It's the flip side of seeing the race in such heroic, if not messianic dimensions.

The primary is actually not concluded yet. And, pace John Calvin, I assume the outcome is not predetermined. So it is still permitted to criticize Mr. Dean and not be an enemy of democracy.

Part of Howard Dean's political draw today seems to be the fact that he didn't allow himself to be fooled by arguments about Iraq's WMD. Thus this line Thursday at a speech to the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire ...

The most important piece of foreign policy is judgment. The other four fellas who supported the (Iraq war) resolution all now say they were misled by the White House. If you were misled by the president and you were in Washington, what kind of experience is that if I could have figured it out in Vermont.

But what about what Dean said on Face The Nation a couple weeks before the war resolution vote, when asked what the president would have to do to prove that there was an immediate threat justifying war ...

I don't think he really has to prove anything. I think that most Americans, including myself, will take the president's word for it. But the president has never said that Saddam has the capability of striking the United States with atomic or biological weapons any time in the immediate future.

More important, what about this whole issue of conditional or contingent support for war?

A number of Dean's opponents in the Democratic primaries said at the time -- and still do now -- that they weren't opposed to war under all circumstances. Their position was that if it were going to be done it had to be done in a multilateral fashion, with allies, and so forth -- you know the drill. Dean is now getting credit on the campaign trail for avoiding that kind of shilly-shallying and just arguing that the war was a bad idea in any case.

On his website, for instance, Dean says: "I opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq from the beginning. While Saddam Hussein’s regime was clearly evil and needed to be disarmed, it did not present an immediate threat to U.S. security that would justify going to war, particularly going to war alone."

But on this point Dean's position has evolved too. In that same Face the Nation interview, when asked whether there were conditions under which he might favor war, Dean said ...

My question is not that we may not have to go into Iraq. We may very well have to go into Iraq. What is the rush? Why can't we take the time to get our allies on board? Why do we have to do everything in a unilateral way?


My problem is not whether we're going to end up in Iraq or not. Saddam Hussein appears to be doing everything he can to make sure we do go into Iraq. My problem is, it is important to bring in our allies.

Now, my point is not to say that Dean was some sort of war-hawk. Clearly, he was no friend of the president's policy. But then neither was John Kerry, and certainly not Wes Clark. So let's drop this idea that support for war under some circumstances and not others is some sort of waffling or dodge. Because if it is, then Dean isn't in the clear either.

From Ruy Teixeira's excellent blog, Donkey Rising, I found this link to a new CBS poll on President Bush and Iraq. The president's approval ratings are more or less in line with other recent public polls. But on his handling of Iraq, 47% now disapprove as opposed to %46 who approve. Only 22% think he "has developed a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq." See the full breakdown of the numbers here.

Bonus Poll Data Analysis: One number from the poll seems worth noting for humor purposes alone. "Do you think George W. Bush has been spending too much of his time on foreign policy problems, or too much of his time on problems here at home, or has he been spending his time about right?" Too much foreign: 44%, About right: 40%, Too much at Home: 1%. (Eventually I recovered from my laughter, got up off the ground, and climbed back into my chair.)

I'd like to identify that 1% so if I encounter them in public I can give them a wide berth.

Is simplism the new integrity? I guess it is.

According to the prevailing chatter, Wes Clark has been waffling on his position on the war. CBS said as much: "Clark Waffles On War."

Frankly, I don't think I've ever heard anything quite so stupid.

The idea seems to be that there are really only two positions on the war, the Dean position and the Bush position.

Either you were against the war from the beginning, against even threatening force under any and all circumstances, soup-to-nuts, or you were for it, more or less under the same range of conceivable circumstances. If you have a position that falls between these two monochromatic options, you're indecisive, a waffler or a trimmer.

I could see this coming when someone sent me this fact sheet from the media watchdog group FAIR, which argues that Clark has somehow been mislabeled as "anti-war" or that he's falsely labeled himself thus. The fact sheet then goes on to catalog various of Clark's statements over the last year and argue that he's stated contradictory opinions at different times. One of these contradictory statements, according to FAIR, was one praising the audacity of the original war-plan notwithstanding his disagreement with launching the war in the first place.

This last criticism goes to the heart of the matter -- the difference between thinking that this war was ill-conceived and poorly planned (which I think is Clark's position) and being 'anti-war' in the sense of some broader political ethic (which seems to be how FAIR is defining the phrase.) Expecting a retired four-star general to fall into this latter category seems a bit much to expect.

The truth is that Clark's position on the war is at least as consistent as any other candidate in this race. He is one of the few candidates who strikes me as having given any serious thought to the question -- outside the context of the politics. And he is the only one who's written extensively on the national security challenges which face the country, Iraq, and the strategic and diplomatic shortcomings of the president's policy. (In other words, not just "me too!" or "no way!") And -- imagine that -- his arguments are the same now as they were a year ago.

Republicans and a number of Democrats who support a certain candidate have teamed up -- made common cause, really -- to argue that it's not possible to have voted to authorize the president to use force and then to criticize the circumstances and manner in which he chose to do so. The supposed flip-flop isn't one at all. What he's saying is that he probably would have voted to give the president the power to use force but never would have voted for the war he actually ended up waging. (We'll discuss in a later post why there's nothing necessarily contradictory about this.)

To my mind, Clark came off quite well in the articles in today's Times and the Post. Word I got from various groups he spoke with at University of Iowa today gave similar reports. And I suspect he'll continue to do well so long as he doesn't let himself get drawn into this foolishness.

Where's the Kay Report? Twelve days left in September.

I noted yesterday that Clark looked wobbly on the first few questions he got from Aaron Brown. But I'm told by many others that he did quite well on Hardball the same evening. So perhaps it was just jitters having Aaron bring him up short. Apparently he had some good events today.