Josh Marshall

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A long-unspoken fear of Washington's China-hawks is the influence President Bush's father (and his father's advisors) seems to have over his policy on China. That concern became a lot more pronounced as China-watchers read the tea-leaves over the weekend.

First a little background.

China policy has long had a special place in the former President's heart. And he and his close advisor and former NSC Director Brent Scowcroft travel to China frequently, seamlessly mixing business and policy hobnobbing.

The former President was there meeting with Jiang Zemin in early May with Scowcroft in tow. Then Scowcroft was again meeting with key government leaders in early July. He met with China's Defense Minister Chi Haotian in Beijing on July 1st.

A few days later on July 5th the current President went to the family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine to celebrate his 56th birthday with the Bush clan. There of course he spent a lot of quality time with pop. He left Maine on Monday the 8th.

Then later in the week, according to Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post and Reuters, the President had a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (it's unclear how many others were in the meeting) and basically gave him clear marching orders to warm relations with China, now.

A Hong Kong paper quoted a high-level administration source thus: "The president made clear that he had been well briefed and had given the issue considerable thought... He left Pentagon hawks in no doubt that it was time to start moving forward, if possible ... He is very keen for a relationship to start to develop and believes it is important for America's security interest and the wider Sino-US relationship."

There's nothing wrong with this of course. The president is the president. He can take advice from whomever he pleases. But who exactly has the president's ear on China policy? And why? How did he suddenly get so 'well briefed'? And why the seemingly sudden change? And what ever happened to one president at a time?

Vive la difference!

Whatever else you can say about US government policy on the legal status of American al Qaedaites it certainly doesn't lack for variety.

Let's review.

Abdul Hamid, aka John Walker Lindh. A white US citizen and run of the mill goofball from the Bay Area. Walker converted to Islam, travelled to Yemen, then Pakistan, then Afghanistan. He was captured at Mazar-e-Sharif and is now on trial on federal charges in Virginia.

Abdullah Al Muhajir, aka Jose Padilla. A Hispanic US citizen, one-time gangbanger, and an undeniable if utterly hapless al Qaeda terrorist. Padilla was arrested at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of planning to steal dirty bomb materials, figure out how to construct a dirty bomb, and then make a dirty bomb. Padilla is currently being held incommunicado in a military brig in South Carolina in indefinite detention as an "enemy combatant." He cannot meet with a lawyer and there are no plans to charge him with a crime.

Yasir Hamdi, aka Yasir Hamdi. A Saudi who is also --- by accident of US citizenship laws and the constitution -- a US citizen. Hamdi was born of Saudi parents and was raised in Saudi Arabia. But he was born and lived for a year or two in Louisiana. Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan, taken to Guantanamo Bay and then evacuated to a Navy prison facility in Norfolk, Virginia. Hamdi is also an "enemy combatant" but courts are currently hashing out whether he might also get to have his own lawyer.

In the interests of looking ahead, the TPM editorial staff has done some further research and has assembled a list of new American al Qaedaites whose identities and exploits are to be announced in coming months ...

Lupo Montez, aka Abdullah bin Mohammad. US citizen of Saudi extraction, underwent conversion to Catholicism, took an Hispanic name, and became a farm worker in Napa Valley, California. Mohammad was visiting elder brother Marwan in Kandahar Afghanistan when captured by elements of the 82nd Airborne. Mohammad is currently in the custody of the INS in Douglas, Arizona and has been allowed to meet with a local immigration attorney three times.

Nazir bin Abu Bakr, aka Freddy Baker. African-American US citizen who converted to Islam while attending Duke University in the late 1990s. Baker was captured at Mazar-e-Sharif in November 2001. At Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he denied being a US citizen, instead insisting that he was from Kenya. After being recognized by former Duke classmate First Lieutenant Edward "Lank" Griffin and determined to be an American, Baker was transferred to a holding cell at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He is being held there incommunicado, without legal counsel, as an "enemy combatant." Baker has also been convicted in absentia by a military tribunal for charges arising from the disappearance of twenty-seven books on Islam and one copy of Basil Davidson's The Lost Cities of Africa from Perkins Library at Duke University.

Abu Jafar bin Yahya, aka Philippe Le Brun. US citizen who converted to Islam and travelled to Kandahar Afghanistan to study at leading Taliban-affiliated Madrassa. Le Brun was abandoned by departing Taliban because of accusations that he had ducked tours of jihad with repeated re-ups of Madrassa study in 1999, 2000, and early 2001. He was captured by elements of the 101st Airborne soon after the Taliban flight from the city. Le Brun was originally detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After his claims to American citizenship were verified, he was transferred first to an army brig at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, then later to Texas to stand trial on state misdemeanor charges of "consorting with the enemy." Le Brun was later determined not in fact to be a US citizen but rather a citizen of Luxembourg. He is currently fighting extradition from the United States from an INS holding center in Miami, Florida.

Talking Points seems to be getting old.

And fast.

The first sign has been creeping up on me slowly for the last several months: Frank Sinatra just seems a lot cooler to me than he used to. I mean, yes, yes, yes, I still mainly listen to Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones and John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. But that voice! I mean, I'm not sure quite what he had but, man, he had a lot of it.

Admittedly the whole thing is a rather disturbing development. Maybe it's something to do with the Cianci affliction.

The second sign came on me this afternoon with a jolt. I was working my way down my normal jogging path on S street in Dupont circle when a little goofball on a skateboard -- maybe 13 years old or so -- was coming toward me and stumbled and fell in my direction. I hopped out of the way and all in one motion steadied him with one outstretched hand as he fell. And as this happened I instinctively blurted out an avuncular "Watch out, son."

Son? SON!!! Watch out, son? Where'd that come from? I'm only 33 years old. I'm not even old enough to ... or at least ...

Anyway, enough about me. What I actually came to talk to you about tonight is Iraq.

There have been a slew of quite good articles appearing recently. Not all great actually, but good informational articles. Here's one yesterday which appeared in UPI, another in the Times of London and this from today's USA Today. There's a lot of good information in each of these pieces. But, frankly, my doctrine on these pieces in the dailies is not to believe any of them. If you did you would have to believe that the US from one day to the next went from preparing to go to war with Iraq to backing out of it entirely and then back to war again, all within a couple days. These articles are all based on self-interested leaks and few if any of them take the time to probe the nature of their sources self-interest, though that is admittedly a difficult thing to do. Each of the three pieces above has solid factual information. But the central thrust of each is, to the best of my knowledge, false.

There is one fact, however, that I believe may be becoming clear.

Many people believe that an Iraq invasion would be questionable, perhaps disastrous, policy but great politics. Great politics at least in the sense that a successful campaign in Iraq sometime in 2003 or 2004 would seal George W. Bush's reelection.

The truth I think is almost precisely the opposite.

(The Bush administration has gotten a lot of things completely upside down about Iraq and this is totally one of them.)

As regular readers of this column know, a couple months ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that regime change in Iraq probably was the right thing to do. But I feel pretty strongly that it's at best a wash politically.

Let's grant for a moment that if an invasion of Iraq went badly the political consequences would be disastrous for the administration. I don't think anyone doubts that. But let's say it went well: a quick victory, no grave collateral damage either human or geo-political, and few US casualties.

Still, I'd say it's basically a wash for the administration.

Here's why.

For better or worse President Bush has convinced a substantial majority of the country that he's a strong war leader and a sure hand at foreign policy. Whether or not you or I believe that is irrelevant. Most of the country does. And so, unlike the case when he came into office, it wouldn't accomplish that much politically for President Bush to show he could successfully conduct a military campaign.

The other point is more fundamental. I suspect that if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam's government with few negative consequences, the typical American voter's response would be something like this: "Wow. That was impressive. Great execution. I guess we're not gonna have to worry about Saddam Hussein any more. But then again I'd never really given the whole thing too much thought anyway. So what's the next issue?"

I don't doubt for a second that if such a successful engagement took place during an election, or not that long before it, that the president would get a sizeable boost. But not too long after I suspect the political benefit would be gone entirely, much as it was in 1991. This issue is just not very high on anybody's agenda. It's a big gamble. And it wouldn't end for a long time. The United States would have a big military presence on the ground for a years and years.

9/11 was totally different. Everybody in the country was scared and angry. Very scared and very angry. The president said he'd strike back. He did strike back. And at least in the first major engagement -- overthrowing the Afghan government -- he succeeded rapidly and unambiguously. It's never surprised me that his popularity has lasted as long as it has.

But Iraq? Totally different. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. I think it's still the right thing to do. But politically it's a total loser.

More postcards from the responsibility era.

One of the things I like that they [Andersen Accounting] do for us [Halliburton Co.] is that ... I get good advice ... from their people based upon how we're doing business and how we're operating, over and above the, just sort of the normal by-the-books audit arrangement ...

--Dick Cheney, 1996

They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king.

--Bob Dylan, 1983

This sharp little number on the president's July 8th press conference attacking the Democratic Senate for allegedly holding up various legislative priorities is well worth your reading.

Is this the better part of wisdom? Or some other part I haven't come across yet?

Here's an interview with Dr. Sari Nuseibeh published at the Al Bawaba website in which Nuseibeh defends himself against the charge that he has betrayed the Palestinian people by organizing and signing a statement demanding an end to suicide bombings against Israel.

Here is a story in today's New York Times about how the Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau today ordered the shut down of Nuseibeh's Jerusalem offices because he was "undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."

Next up, Arial Sharon derides Palestinian peaceniks as anti-Islamic wussies...

I have to admit that the president's speech admonishing Wall Street about corporate responsibility threw me at first. But now Tommy Lee is givng a speech about safe sex. And tomorrow, I'm told, Pam Anderson is giving a major policy address about how it's what's on the inside that really counts. All of this throws me.

There's a short note today in Slate on Louis Freeh by yours truly ... errr, Talking Points.

Hi. I'm Harvey. And I was in the wrong place at the wrong time...

I don't know if Harvey Pitt has uttered these words in the last few days. But he should ... especially if he can find the meeting place of the DC twelve-step group for political appointees who through a mix of cruel fate and poetic justice are about to receive the Washington equivalent of a vicious melvin and a two-minute-plus swirly.

If you're harboring any doubts about whether the corporate corruption scandal has political legs, take a gander at Mr. Pitt and watch your doubts melt away. As nearly as I can tell Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain and just about every other politician who can get a reporter on the phone is now calling for Pitt to resign. And even the administration's defenders are a bit tepid in their defenses.

Pitt is, in a word, toxic -- as welcome at your political fundraiser as a handfull of plutonium. He's the poster boy for the hot political evil of the day. And everyone and their uncle wants to call for his resignation because there's absolutely no political downside to it.

Got any names of politicians who called on Tom White to resign? Nope? I didn't think so.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have much sympathy for Pitt. But the calls for his resignation don't seem to have much to do with anything he's actually done. Or at least not anything he's done since the Senate (if I recall right, unanimously) confirmed him as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The problem for Pitt is that his calling card was the proposition that the SEC was simply too harsh on corporate America and that anti-business busybodies like Pitt's predecessor Arthur Levitt needed to just give the CEOs a *$%#*%* break and let them get about the business of doing the right thing without so much un-fun big government oversight. Now of course we know that at just the time Pitt was parading these views corporate America was actually becoming a Hieronymus Bosch painting of fraud, skullduggery and 'aggressive accounting,' and that, if anything, the SEC hadn't done nearly enough to make folks behave.

That of course makes Harvey Pitt into something like the Neville Chamberlain of corporate governance. And when you consider that even Neville Chamberlain wasn't really quite Neville Chamberlain that's actually saying quite a lot.

In any case, Pitt is really no better or worse than the entire administration. He's a pretty good advocate of what was -- until a few weeks ago -- the administration's stance on corporate government and oversight. Watching Pitt accuse Arthur Levitt of going too easy on CEO shenanigans is more than a touch comic. But it's no more a case of ideological cross-dressing than what the president is going to try to pull off tomorrow. He's just first in line to get the treatment.

More bad news for anyone who puts much stock in the truth-telling abilities of the OMB. TPM regulars will remember the controversy over an inaccurate statistic in a recent OMB press release, and the resulting brouhaha involving Messrs. Krugman, Kaus and, I suppose, TPM.

On Tuesday I questioned whether even the follow-up letter from the OMB -- the one calling Krugman to task -- may have contained some inaccuracies or falsehoods. Now Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity/Salon has the goods.

The complaining letter to the Times itself contained a statistical inaccuracy. More damningly though, the claim that the original inaccurate data had been "retracted weeks ago" turns out to be utterly bogus. And in this case, unlike the others, this is clearly a fudge or a lie, not a slip-up.

When OMB Communications Director Trent Duffy wrote the Times he said the error had been corrected "weeks ago" to underscore the sheer extent of Krugman's irresponsibility and tendentiousness. On Tuesday I said this sounded very unlikely. And yesterday Nyhan got Duffy to admit that OMB had only erased the false number from the document on July 26th, after the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities publicly called them on the error, a mere five days earlier. And they didn't issue an actual retraction until last night, after Nyhan called them on the error about the error.

Live by the honesty card, die by the honesty card.