Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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 ...

<$NoAd$> Postcards from wingerville ...

Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2003 10:30:19 -0700
From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To: talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
Cc: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Wilson.
User-Agent: Internet Messaging Program (IMP) 3.2.1

You write, "Here's the heart of the matter: who Wilson is, what he thinks, what he's done, what his motives are, are all irrelevant because what he says on TV about the Bush administration doesn't matter. What's at issue is what the White House allegedly did to his wife and, by extension, to US national security."

You miss the heart of the matter. Why was a war critic selected by the CIA to vet British claims of Saddam's interest in "yellowcake"? The answer is he was selected by his wife.

When Novak asked the CIA about the wife's role, the agency admitted she was an employee. That specifically undoes any criminal culpability, because the statute requires affirmative action by the CIA to protect covert status. Further, any leaker had to know that she was covert and leak anyway (most improbable).

The CIA and it's actions are directly responsible for anything negative to national security. Joe Wilson is directly responsible for pretending to vet claims of nuclear interest through a series of tea parties in Niger. The Bush administration is directly responsible for ending this treasonous double-dealing in the CIA.

Rick K.

What's that line about a river in Egypt?

For most of what you need to know about where we're going here, read this clip from the lead article in Thursday's Washington Post ...

As the White House hunkered down, it got the first taste of criticism from within Bush's own party. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said that Bush "needs to get this behind him" by taking a more active role. "He has that main responsibility to see this through and see it through quickly, and that would include, if I was president, sitting down with my vice president and asking what he knows about it," the outspoken Hagel said last night on CNBC's "Capital Report."

Hagel is a Republican, even if not much of a loyalist, and he's pointing at what everyone's saying: that the problem <$Ad$> centers on the vice president's office. And people are adding a name: Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff and close advisor.

A mountain of rumor doesn't amount to a single fact. But two respected ex-CIA officers have now publicly pointed to the vice president's office -- a good sign, I think, that that's what they're hearing from ex-colleagues at CIA. An increasing range of circumstantial evidence points in that direction. And now a United States Senator of the president's own party has suggested the same.

If true, Libby's involvement would mean much more than a rapid escalation in his attorneys' billable hours. Much more.

The backdrop to this whole scandal is the war that's been going on between the Bush administration and the CIA for two years. Another reporter who's knowledgable about these issues and not at all averse to this perspective, told me a few days ago that "there are people in this administration who think that the CIA was criminally negligent for 9/11 and that the whole place should be shuttered." That's an accurate portrayal of what a number of those people think.

That war with the CIA centers on the vice president's office. If it turns out that Plame's exposure originated there too, it will inject this legal controversy -- this criminal investigation -- right into that broader policy controversy, the whole issue of the war against the CIA, the questions over politicized intelligence, all of it. The mixing of the two would be explosive because the white light of press scrutiny and the sharp blade of a criminal inquiry would tear open stuff that otherwise never would have seen the light of day.

P.S. For some salient background see this piece by Tim Noah from July 17th.

The knives are out for Joe Wilson.

RNC Director Ed Gillespie says Wilson is prone to "rash statements" and "is someone, given his politics, who is obviously prone to think the worst of this White House."

Others of course are accusing Wilson of being either a left-wing fanatic or a partisan attack-dog.

Let me briefly explain why I don't think that's true and then, more briefly, why it doesn't matter.

A look at Wilson's political giving records shows that he's pretty much a Democrat. And his views on foreign policy show more or less the same. On the other hand, he did give a grand to President Bush in 1999. And he served as an appointee under the president's father. So that cuts against a monochromatic picture of him as a down-the-line Democratic loyalist. More to the point, contrary to what some Republicans seem to think, Democrats still are allowed to serve in the national security bureaucracy.

Partisans of the White House are now arguing that there was something fishy about the decision to send Wilson out to Niger. But I think a more credible reading of that is that it's actually a sign that he was seen as a foreign policy professional who could be trusted to take a look at the facts on the ground and report back, his own political views notwithstanding.

My sense is that Wilson was a respected retired foreign service officer who was basically a Dem in his personal views, but in foreign policy terms a professional. He became disgruntled as he watched the administration pushing a claim that he had already discredited and then became outraged when the White House went after his wife.

It's always seemed to me that if Wilson really had wanted to screw with the White House, he'd have come forward earlier than he did. Like, say, in February or October. (I think you can get a pretty good sense of Wilson in the lengthy interview I did with him a couple weeks back.) In any case, a couple days after Novak wrote his original column in July another reporter told me that "I think that, outside of Novak, everyone in the press who talks to Wilson realizes he is what the US gov should be all about, and wants to defend him against scurrilous attacks." And I think that's about right.

But let's cut to the chase. None of this matters. It's all irrelevant.

Let's assume that Wilson is a hard-core left-winger who's doing everything he can to hurt the president and help the Democrats. Would it matter? Of course, not: because we're no longer relying on Wilson's account for any material piece of information. Back when the issue was his uranium report, we were still relying on his credibility and the nature of his investigation -- at least to an extent. But now we're not.

If Wilson were a rabid political attack dog would it change the seriousness of blowing his wife's cover at the CIA to get back at him? Of course, not. Are we relying on Wilson to tell us what his wife's status is? Not in the least. The fact that the CIA made the referral to Justice tells us all we really need to know about that.

Here's the heart of the matter: who Wilson is, what he thinks, what he's done, what his motives are, are all irrelevant because what he says on TV about the Bush administration doesn't matter. What's at issue is what the White House allegedly did to his wife and, by extension, to US national security.

That's the rub and they can't get around it.