Josh Marshall

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Depends what the meaning of 'is' is ...

Dude: Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States

Questionable Assertion: Said he'd never really been 'alone' with ex-paramour Monica Lewinsky.

Told to: Jones Legal Team; Judge Susan Weber Wright

Dude: Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

Questionable Assertion: Said he'd never really been 'married' to ex-wife Marianne Gingrich.

Told to: Roman Catholic Church; God

You may note from the datestamp on this post that I am still burning the midnight oil, rather feverishly I might add, on my article on the Iraq debate in Washington, DC.

I couldn't help pointing your attention, however, to Bill Safire's OpEd in today's Times. The subject of the piece is the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and a key Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague last year.

As Safire notes, "If the report proves accurate, a connection would exist between Al Qaeda's murder of 3,000 Americans and Iraq's Saddam. That would clearly be a casus belli, calling for our immediate military response, separate from the need to stop a demonstrated mass killer from acquiring nuclear and germ weapons."

Safire goes on to describe how a "protect-Saddam cabal" at the Justice Department and the CIA is scheming to cover this up.

Let me give you a peek at a section of one of the interviews I conducted for my article.

Danielle Pletka was until recently a key staffer to Senator Jesse Helms. She was the Senator's point-person on Iraq. Recently she moved to the American Enterprise Institute. Pletka is feisty, sharp, and very candid. Some of those she's gone up against have an even more expansive package of adjectives. But I enjoyed my conversation with her, so we don't need to go into that.

Pletka thinks there are more than enough reasons to go after Saddam right now. But a hand in September 11th isn't one of them.

When I spoke to her late last month she told me: "Nobody credible makes the case that there's some connection between Saddam Hussein and what happened September 11th." As she puts it, with admirable directness: "The case [against Saddam] has been the same since 1991, hell, since 1988 and that is that Saddam Hussein is a lunatic and he is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction."

One thing I've learned in reporting on Iraq is how much our policy has been distorted and mangled and generally made a shambles of by mouthy pundits who don't have a clear idea what they're talking about. Safire's piece today looks like a case in point.

I don't want to make too big a deal about this. But I have to agree with Mickey Kaus that Tony Blair's statement on the assassination of Dutch rightist politician Pim Fortuyn was more than a little inadequate. "No matter what feelings political figures arouse, the ballot box is the place to express them," said the Brit PM. This caught my eye here even before I saw that Mickey had pointed it out. It does almost read like, "Well, you can understand the sentiment but this is hardly an appropriate response." Perhaps, as they say in the House, Blair needs to revise and extend his remarks.

I hear that the internal Pentagon investigation into Tom White's alleged lobbying of Congress against Don Rumsfeld's decision to kill the Crusader artillery system has been completed. And Tom White dodged the bullet. They fingered some lower levels guy instead. So Rumsfeld apparently lets White stay on.

The one person who ends up looking a bit off base here is Torie Clarke, who may have gotten out a little ahead of her brief on this one. She told the Times that "without prejudging [the Army's inquiry] "if people try to blame some midlevel staffers, it would be inappropriate and wrong."

"What the hell is she saying?" a Pentagon source told TPM today. "She's saying I don't want to prejudge the report but regardless of what it says you're not going to get away with blaming mid-level people. Well, you know today Rumsfeld said based on Tom White's assurance it looks like midlevel people did it. So we think that Torie Clarke is a loose canon, no pun intended."

On an unrelated note, could Led Zeppelin IV be any more of a kick-$&% album? Yes, yes, yes, I picked up my copy when I was like nineteen but I hadn't listened to it in a while. Metal-infused blues before it got lame? And precious, folky guitar ballads before they got too precious and folky? God, it rocks.

Maybe I've been working on this Iraq article for too long.

Okay, back to insider Washington punditry.

I think of all the paragraphs appearing in any newspaper anywhere this week, this one from a NYT article on "The Osbournes" has to be the most pitiful and hilarious:

The success of "The Osbournes" has been noted across the television industry with numerous television program executives saying they have been approached by other celebrity and show business figures about creating similar reality shows about their lives. The executives have so far kept those names private, and the only similar shows so far close to being scheduled are both on MTV.

Oh the possibilities.

Was Dick Cheney set up? You'll remember that a little while back Vice-President Cheney went to the Middle East to get the region's leaders lined up behind an attack on Iraq. Well, this evening I was talking to a very knowledgeable insider on Middle Eastern affairs, and he said that the State Department had sent out word to folks in the region to give Cheney an earful. Among other things, said my source: "[Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs] Bill Burns met with a prominent Arab ambassador here and he told him, 'Don't tell me your views on Iraq. When he goes there you guys tell him.' So this is the vice president going to the region to hear Arab views and he came back and reported to the president 'The Arabs are not on our side.' They set him up. They set him up."

The press seems to have lost interest in the Taiwan National Security Bureau money scandal. But not, it would seem, the FBI.

I just had a funny experience. I was reading the humor site The Onion and then quickly buzzed over to MSNBC and started reading this article on the craze for the cosmetic neurotoxin Botox. And, well, it was hard to know whether I'd left The Onion. But, alas, it was true.

You've probably seen the reports that Don Rumsfeld has essentially withdrawn his support for Army Secretary Tom White over White's alleged lobbying of Congress against Rumsfeld's decision to scrap something called the Crusader artillery system, something the army is very set on having.

Perhaps this is the final straw for White, who's obviously been on the ropes with Enron for months. Who knows? But don't mistake this for an Enron story or even a Tom White story.

The real issue here is the intense antagonism between the Office of the Secretary of Defense (i.e., the political appointees shaping policy) and the uniformed services at the Pentagon. It's real; it's deep; and it runs from policy to procurement.

The defense intellectuals who are running the Pentagon have little respect for the folks in uniform and the feeling is pretty much mutual. White is a career army officer so his divided loyalties are apparent. So maybe this looks like a chance for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. to kill two birds with one stone.

Wow! Paul Begala really took a whack at Matt Drudge on Crossfire tonight. And he definitely drew some blood. Matt really had the look of serious regret that he'd come on the show. And he looked more than a bit pissed. I only caught part of it as I was walking into my apartment. But it'll definitely be worth catching on the replay tonight.