Josh Marshall

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Sullivanus Laughibalis. I’d heard that Andrew Sullivan was preparing a “counterblast” to my recent writings on the ‘imminent threat’ ridiculousness. Well, now it’s up. And you can see it here: "Marshall Comes Up Empty".

Most revealing nugget: Sullivan found the direct quotations chosen by TPM readers so weak, skewerable, and unconvincing that he fails to quote, mention or even make reference to any of them.

Imagine that.

(Also note the funny-business with the Rumsfeld quote.)

Do you reap what you sow?

From Dick Cheney on the hustings on Friday ...

In Iraq, a ruthless dictator cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. He gave support to terrorists, had an established relationship with al Qaeda -- and his regime is no more. (italics added)

One can only imagine where they're going with this one.

The Republicans are puffing themselves up with a lot of mock outrage over this Democratic draft memo. And the White House is about to get into the act too.

I’ve got an idea, a proposal, shall we say, that I’m going to float on behalf of the Democrats to get us past all this acrimony and suspicion.

The Democrats will turn over all their memos and work product on everything to do with intelligence and investigations into intelligence. Everything back to September 1st, 2001.

And I mean everything --- every staff memo, every planning memo, minutes from brainstorming sessions, memos from each senator's staff, communications with the White House and the CIA, and planning and strategizing with regards to both. All the work product. Everything. They’ll package it all together and give one copy to the majority and one copy to the White House.

In exchange, the majority will hand over the same range of documents to the minority and the White House.

And the White House and the rest of the national security-related departments and agencies in the executive branch will hand over the same to the majority and the minority in the Senate.


"The U.S. military swept through Iraqi neighborhoods early Saturday, firing at houses suspected to be harboring hostile forces in the wake of an apparent attack on a Black Hawk helicopter that killed six U.S. soldiers."

That's the lede of a piece Fox News is running on the aftermath of today's helicopter downing.

We all know how this works.

Two guys walk into a ring for a fight. One knows he’s about to get creamed. But he can’t bear the shame and humiliation of walking away from a fight. So at the very last moment he whips out some phony claim that the other guy’s cheating.

He puffs himself up with forced indignation. And huffily storms off.

Everybody knows it was bogus --- the accused, the accuser, everyone else. But it gives the coward just enough of an angle, just enough of a smokescreen to get out of the place without having a glove laid on him and with a bit of his dignity intact.

This is of course more or less exactly what the Republicans are doing with the hullabaloo over this unsent Democratic staff memo.

Precisely the same.

(The actual memo bears reading because, though Jay Rockefeller has said he never authorized it and it was never sent, it's much more tame than the hyper-ventilating coverage would suggest. The 'plot' is essentially a plot to have a real investigation.)

As I said in this earlier post, the Republicans are trying to use this memo ridiculousness to shut down any scrutiny of the intelligence related bad-acts in the lead-up to the war.

And they’re already starting. According to Newsmax, Newt Gingrich said yesterday that the president should refuse to cooperate with the committee altogether.

“I don't see how the White House can cooperate with an intelligence committee which has this level of partisanship,” he told Sean Hannity on Thursday.

See where they’re going with this?

Throughout the day I've been collecting thoughts about the ridiculous charges Senate Republicans are making about this Democratic staff memo revealed by Sean Hannity. But I've been reporting out another story for most of the day. And, honestly, I'm just too worn out to write.

A quick thought, then more later.

The Republicans are trying to protect the administration from a host of disclosures about shenanigans in the lead up to the war. They've seized on this memo (which is a bit embarrassing for the Dems, certainly, but hardly more than that) and are trying to use it to secure even further partisan control over the intelligence oversight process -- or, in other words, to prevent any serious inquiry into what happened in the lead-up to the war.

The stakes are truly that serious.

Senator Santorum apparently wants to use the brouhaha as an excuse to stack the Senate Select Intelligence Committee with Republicans.

The whole thing will be a test of how much people in this town can be played for saps, and whether the Democrats can shake off these intimidation tactics and learn to fight back.

They truly know no limits.

According to an email sent out Wednesday by director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, the Bush administration will no longer respond to budgeting questions from congressional Democrats. And they imply they may apply this new principle, if you can call it that, to non-budgetary oversight.

(Given the questions that are being asked, I can certainly understand the motivation.)

They've dressed it up a bit. The wording actually says they'll no longer respond to queries not sent by the committee chairmen. But since Republicans are the chairmen that means the GOP chairman will have a veto over every Democratic request for info.

AEI's Norm Ornstein, not exactly a shill for the Dems, says "I have not heard of anything like that happening before. This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for."

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And if you're already pretty corrupt when you get the power ... well, then things can really get bad pretty quick, as we're seeing.

Okay, so the much-awaited results of our imminent threat contest.

In recent weeks a number of conservative commentators have tried mightily to make the case that because administration leaders seldom used the phrase ‘imminent threat’ that they didn’t argue that this was the situation we faced.

Yet, as I said in The Hill on Wednesday, their argument is really just a “crafty verbal dodge — sort of like ‘I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.’”

Democrats aren't responsible for disentangling this mumbo-jumbo if they want to talk about the president's record and responsibility.

Part of the administration’s effort to float the imminent threat argument was based on redefining what such a threat would mean in the face of terrorism and inadequate intelligence information. Many of the president’s defenders refer to this statement in the president’s State of the Union address in his defense …

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.

But what the president is saying here is that in the context of rogue states in alliance with terrorists we’ll never have the sort of advance warning which used to count as the evidence of an imminent threat. And thus what we had in Iraq actually amounted to an imminent threat. In fact, the administration anticipated this line of reasoning in its National Security Strategy document when it said “We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.”

Condi Rice made a similar point in September 2002 when she said on Nightline: “Well, the President talked about a direct threat. And a threat that might materialize at a certain time. And after the experience of September 11th, the question of what is imminent is a different question because, at any time a threat that has been brewing, a threat that has been developing, can suddenly strike you from the blue.”

But enough of this, because on numerous occasions administration leaders dispensed with this nuancing entirely and just said it was a plain old imminent threat -- and progressively more often as we moved toward war.

The key is the claim that it is a present threat that could come at any moment and which the country has to confront now or risk potential disaster. I made my argument about the bogusness of the “we never said it was an imminent threat” argument in my last column in The Hill. And if you’re interested you can read it there.

But now, let’s get down to who won the super-slick TPM T-shirt.

Some people sent in quotes like this one from Richard Perle:

And the only point I want to make is that as long as Saddam is there, with everything we know about Saddam, as long as he possesses the weapons that we know he possesses, there is a threat, and I believe it's imminent because he could choose at any time to take an action we all very much hope he won't take.

That’s pretty clear, ain’t it?

Throughout the build-up to the war, Perle was acting as a de facto spokesman for the war-hawks in the administration. And he had an office in the Pentagon. But at the end of the day he wasn’t a principal in the administration. So, although his statements typified the administration line, his can’t be the winning quote.

More in contention are the quotes from the president’s spokesmen at the time. Did they think the president was arguing there was an imminent threat? The evidence here is awfully clear. Three examples from my Hill column …

Last October, a reporter put this to Ari Fleischer: “Ari, the president has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.”

Fleischer’s answer? “Yes.”

In January, Wolf Blitzer asked Dan Bartlett: “Is [Saddam] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home.” Bartlett’s answer? “Well, of course he is.”

A month after the war, another reporter asked Fleischer, “Well, we went to war, didn’t we, to find these — because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn’t that true?”

Fleischer’s answer? “Absolutely.”

Any of those could be winners in my book.

But others are still in contention.

What always struck me as the most egregious statement at the time was the president's claim on the very eve of the war that we "will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." (italics added)

Administration leaders also called the threat “urgent” (Bush), “mortal” (Cheney), “immediate” (Rumsfeld) and a bunch of other similar lines.

But the most important enunciator of the president’s argument is the president himself.

So first prize in the TPM Imminent Threat T-Shirt Contest (TPMITTSC) goes for this quote from the president’s October 7th 2002 speech in Cincinnati Ohio ...

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

The first runner up goes to another line from a few moments later in the same speech ...

Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

And the second runner-up goes to this exchange from May 7th 2003 with then-presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer:

Question: Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?

Fleischer: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all.

Now, we had almost 500 entries. So many people sent in the same quotations. And the only fair way to sort them out was to go with the entrant who came up with the quote first.

(BTW, a special thanks to TPM editorial assistant and all-around helper Zander Barnes for processing, organizing and reviewing all the entries.)

So, with that in mind, the winners are …

1st Place … Jason Barnosky (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM T-Shirt)

2nd Place … Anita Krasno (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM Mug)

3rd Place … Jon Rey (Winner of a finely-crafted TPM Mug)

Now, in these trying times, it’s important for all of us to keep our morale up. So if you’re hit especially hard by not winning the contest, keep in mind that you can buy your own TPM apparel, mugs and carry-alls in the TPM Shop.