Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've had a number requests, actually a number of demands, over the last few days that I address the criticisms, which appeared on another website, of this earlier post of mine on Croatia.

You can read the criticisms for yourself. But, as I read them at least, the criticizer, Ms. Radic, takes issue with me on three basic grounds. 1) What the UN peacekeepers did or didn't do in Croatia's Krajina region. 2) Whether Croatia had a right to retake the Krajina. And 3) whether the Croatian government had a right to attempt to influence the American government to attain its objectives.

The first criticism seems easiest to deal with. Radic says the UN peacekeepers had nothing to do with ending the fighting in the Krajina. Rather, it was a product of a stalemate between JNA forces (the Yugoslav national army under de facto Serb control) and the nascent Croatian army. Is this true? Absolutely. But I never said otherwise. I said they were brought in to "maintain" the peace. And for better or worse the way peacekeeping always works is that a cessation of hostilities -- arrived at by whatever means -- has been arrived at before peacekeepers arrive. So here, we don't disagree. Radic has simply -- and I say with all due respect -- misunderstood what I said.

The second two points are more complex and also related to one another.

It's always difficult to say that one or another state has a "right" to this or that strip of land. But to the extent that any state has such a right, I believe Croatia had such a right with regards to the Krajina. (I welcome anyone to find anything in the original post to the contrary.) Only it's not quite so simple. The Croat reconquest of the Krajina has always been a point of controversy and conflicted opinions for the following reasons ...

The Croats have always had the reputation as relative good guys in the 1990s Balkan wars. And, by and large, I believe this is an accurate perception. But the reconquest of the Krajina was the one instance in which they took actions not that dissimilar to those of their enemies. To the best of my knowledge nothing occurred in the Krajina truly equivalent to the worst excesses that occured in Bosnia. But it wasn't pretty either. A number of high-ranking Croat military officers are now under indictment by the Hague war crimes tribunal for things that occurred during the offensive. And contrary to what Ms. Radic says, most experts do not believe that the misdeeds that occurred were simply the work of a few rogue commanders.

So you have a military action that was largely justified in general terms but in which a number of bad acts did occur.

Now let's discuss a few other areas of complexity. What happened in the Krajina raises the following question. If country A has already attacked country B and employed criminal measures (as the Serbs had) what standards do we apply to country B if they fight back? Do we demand that country B follow all the niceties of the rules of war in fighting back, even if we were unwilling or unable to save them from the first assault? On the face of it that doesn't seem fair. (I think this question raises itself even more forcefully in the case of Kosovo, which hopefully we'll discuss at a later point.)

There's also another point which should be raised. In the early and middle 1990s the US government, through indirect means, provided substantial assistance to the Croats in their efforts to build a modern army. And when the Croats did actually go into the Krajina the US government decided essentially to turn a blind eye. There were a number of reasons for this. But the most important was that the strength of the empowered Croat army bloodied the nose of the JNA and got Milosevic et.al. to come to the Bosnian bargaining table. The US very much wanted some other serious army on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and it ended up being the Croats.

Finally, the whole UN regime in Yugoslavia in the middle 1990s did range from the useless to the scandalous, with UN officials making demands, while not having the authority or the nerve to back up their points with force. One need only read one of the countless books on the crisis in Bosnia to see many examples of this. The US of all countries is least on the line for this, since in the end it was American leadership and American arms which eventually shut down the JNA and Milosevic.

So where does this all leave us? Did the Croatians have the right in the abstract to retake the Krajina? Yes. In the actual circumstance? Yes, but it was a complicated matter and in the event it was not done without significant numbers of war crimes, atrocities and instances of ethnic cleansing. For my part I am quite comfortable calling these "quite ugly consequences." Looked at from a distance, and taking into account the totality of the Balkan War of the 1990s, I'd say that the reconquest of the Krajina was more part of the solution than part of the problem. But that doesn't absolve what occurred there. And it's a close run thing in any case.

Now to the final point, did the Croats have the right to try to influence American policy?

This point brings all the other ones together. Because, properly read, I don't think my post expresses an opinion on this at all. The confusion here may be partly the result of writing by an American being read (for which I'm very glad) by people overseas. But the whole thrust of the post was not aimed at the Croats but rather the American consultants who were working for them.

The Croats can do whatever they believe is in their national interest, especially if it does not violate American law, which this did not. My beef is with Americans who -- for money -- are willing to take a hand in -- however indirectly -- actions which are not only frowned upon but which are violations of the rules of war. The Croats live in a dangerous neighborhood. Well-paid consultants in DC don't.

If you go back and read the documents I posted, I think readers will see quite clearly that the authors of the consulting proposal knew what they were talking about -- ethnic cleansing type activities -- and used euphemisms and talk-arounds to describe them. Is this illegal? No. But I think Americans should know that these are the types of services which foreign countries can buy in Washington, DC. For a price.

So, to sum up a long-winded response ... Radic misunderstood me on certain points. And on others she was expressing understandable outrage -- just not at anything I actually said. If anyone has any questions, I'd recommend that they read my comments and her response.

P.S. To those who sent in some of the more strident comments, I'd recommended you be more civil and -- even more -- important, read more carefully. It'll save you endless embarrassment.

All is okay with TPM, just reporting from the road (today in NYC). More posts later today, including another installment of great moments in foreign agency. Today the Zaire Program 1991.

What shall we call it? Great moments in foreign agency?

One of the points of Talking Points is to give you a peek behind the curtain and let you see how Washington really works. Well, here's a revealing, tragicomic, ugly example.

There've been a number of items in the news of late about the on-going efforts to bring various Balkan war criminals to account.

But let's go back to 1992 and '93.

Back then, one TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.of the contested areas was the part of Croatia called the Krajina. This was essentially an ethnic Serb enclave within the borders of Croatia and as you might imagine this became a volatile crisis point in the fighting between Serbs and Croats. In any case, United Nations peace-keepers were sent into the region in the beginning of 1992 to maintain the peace. And did a reasonably good, though by no means perfect, job at it.

For a while, the matter was thus placed in suspense, until 1995 when then-Croatian President Franjo Tudjman gave the UN Mission an ultimatum to leave. Eventually the Croatians rolled in and retook the region with some quite ugly consequences.

As we noted a couple months ago, Croatia got help laying the groundwork for this rampage from a DC PR and lobbying shop called Jefferson Waterman International. JWI agreed to help the Croatians deal with whatever bad press might ensue from reasserting their ethnic rights in the region.

So how exactly does a lobbying outfit make this sort of pitch to a foreign head of state? How do public relations and war crimes mix? Well, today we're proud to show you.

Click here to see JWI's proposal for yourself. Trust me, it's worth a look.

Here's an interesting article on an important topic you've probably never heard about: American POWs forced into slave labor in Japan during World War II, their current efforts to seek judicial relief in the courts, and the State Department's long-running effort to stand in their way.

The piece is in the Taipei Times and it's by Steve Clemons. You can find links to articles on this and other related topics at Steve's site, steveclemons.com.

Let's get another ball rolling. At what point does Lou Dobbs of Lou Dobbs Moneyline become so comically biased that it becomes a problem?

Yes, it's business news. And right-wingers would have a good point in arguing that the 30 minute 'let's all love the environment' program that CNN used to run on the weekend tilted as much left as Moneyline does to the right.

But then the tree-hugger show didn't double as the evening newscast, did it?

More on this to come.

It's bad enough that the likes of Tom Synhorst can clog up your phone with annoying pre-recorded phone messages from Tom DeLay or ambush candidates like John McCain with lurid under-the-radar smears. But should he be able to do it on the government's dime?

He thinks so. And apparently he's right.

Synhorst is now behind something called Constituent Calls -- a joint venture of Synhorst's company DCI (now Feather, Larson & Synhorst-DCI) and some other outfit called CallingPost. Constituent Calls is basically a phone-banking operation specializing is peppering your phone with prerecorded messages from your congressman or senator. They can pick a special target audience from amongst their constituents and even get a guarantee on how many people will be annoyed by their message.

Just listen how great it is ...

Immediate feed back from constituents is another advantage of this service. Feedback can come in the form of a response keyed in by the constituent receiving the message, or calls to a phone number given in the message. Additionally, you are guaranteed that 80% of your targeted audience will hear your message. We can also send your message during specific times of day, in order to reach people at home or target answering machines.

Now here's the key. The Constituent Calls website says your Rep or Senator can get the government to pay for this crap out of their franking allowance -- the government money members of Congress use to send constituent mail.

Again, from the horse's mouth ...

Automated calls are considered unsolicited mass communications and can be paid for out of the Members' Representational Allowance when conducted under the guidelines set forth by the Franking Commission. For more information, contact the Franking Commission and/or the Office of Member Services directly.

Is this the best use of government money?

Does this annoy you as much as it annoys me?

Is Ari Fleischer long for this town?

After today's antics (blaming Middle East violence on Bill Clinton), and then getting snapped back so hard his neck is probably still vibrating, maybe not.

Obnoxious and irresponsible is one thing. Offensive and incompetent is quite another.

The bill of particulars on Fleischer has been growing for some time. But no one is going to be laughing about this one. I'd say the writing's on the wall.

Will it be Senior Counselor Fleischer? Or just Fleischer Associates?

Ari Fleischer: outta the loop; outta luck; outta time.

A few days ago I went to a lunch panel where two luminaries -- one of the right and one of the left -- discussed the cultural contradictions of capitalism. You know, morals and the market, creative destruction, that sort of stuff.

Well, I think we have our test case.

On March 13th Fox is broadcasting a live boxing match called "battle of the bad girls." It's former ice-skater, knee-capper, and accidental pornstar Tonya Harding vs. suburban mattress-back, attempted murderess and darling of alienated university post-modernists Amy Fisher, AKA the Long Island Lolita.

A long-time reader (CR) writes in to ask, just what is this "astroturf" or phony grass-roots organizing you keep talking about?

Good question. Let me see if I can answer it.

Start with the premise that any organized interest group or corporation can hire some shark who served a few terms in the House and have him go to the Hill and lobby. But what really gets Reps' and Senators' attention is when the issue being discussed is one that people care about back home. One that can get the switchboard humming with calls from the district.

That matters.

If angry voters are pissed because Senator X isn't supporting or opposing amendment Y, that matters a helluva lot more than the lobbyist's $2000 suit, manicured fingernails, and gaudy watch. Astroturf organizing begins with the following question, why can't we buy that kind of support too?

Well, it turns out you can! Or at least, sorta. Astroturf organizing describes a series of services consultants provide to simulate the existence of grass-roots interest or concern with an issue. It's fake grass-roots, thus 'astroturf.'

So how is it down? Basically, with a mix of phone-banking, setting up of front groups meant to imitate citizen groups, media campaigns, and the like. Perhaps even demonstrations if a sufficient number of rent-a-protestors can be assembled. On top of this, mix in some clever new angles for your message... like maybe pollution actually counts as paid speech and is thus constitutionally protected! These guys are very creative.

In any case, astroturf originated in the field operations run by the tobacco companies and the gun lobby. Again, phony groups, paid-rabble-rousing, and so forth. But obviously this wasn't all phony. With guns at least, there obviously is a very real constituency for anti-gun-control activism. (Much less with tobacco, of course. And that's where the art was really developed. More on this later.) But the folks who originated the skills got them down to such an art that they started selling them to other organized interests. The health care industry. Energy deregulators. Microsoft. And on and on.

A typical 'astroturf' effort might have a given turfster receiving a certain amount of cash for delivering X number of citizen calls to a certain congressperson, yelling at them to oppose this or that piece of legislation.

Don't place caps on my electricity prices! I WON'T STAND FOR IT!!!!!!!!

There's also something called 'grass-tops' organizing. This is what Ralph Reed got in trouble for when he was allegedly lobbying candidate Bush on Microsoft's behalf, while also working for candidate Bush. (I have some doubts whether this was the whole story, but we'll get to that later.) Grass-tops is when you get a certain number of community leaders, bigwigs and so forth to contact a candidate or office-holder on behalf of some issue. So this is the tops not the roots; you get the idea.

The key to the 'astroturf' world is that pols are continually getting wiser and wiser to the turfsters' games. A good staffer can spot turf a mile away and once it's identified as such it loses all its value. So the turfsters are constantly developing more and more subtle ways to imitate and fake citizen interest.

More later on how American politics is becoming more and more like 1970s baseball, with astroturf crowding out natural grass.

As a general matter I'm not at all well-inclined to those who've tried to argue that Islam is somehow an inherently violent religion. I don't think that's true.

But the following does occur to me. One hears quite often that 'Islam' means 'peace.' Not just the religion, but the word itself. My understanding though is that it means something closer to the English word 'submission.'

Similar, yes. But hardly the same thing.