Josh Marshall

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Articles by Josh

Ugh! Is it just me or did tonight's episode of The West Wing make you almost ashamed to be a liberal. Not that I'm a liberal exactly. But my God! I've only watched the show maybe 4 or 5 times. But this was supposed to be a special episode. So I watched it with friends. Anyway, where to start? Mawkish, preachy, trite, boneheaded, ridiculous on logical principles. I mean, can we get Sorkin back on crack? This is terrible.

I'm really glad The West Wing has all those ex-Clintonites on hand as consultants to give the show that seamless verisimilitude. Otherwise I never would have known that, in cases of a terrorist incursion into the White House, policy dictates that the Chief of Staff is in charge of interrogating the suspect. I don't think Andy Card reads Talking Points, but maybe Podesta can help us out here. Did you ever get tasked with that detail, John?

Oh well. For a few months now -- that is to say, long before 9/11 -- I've been working on a story about Osama bin Laden. Particularly how the government of Sudan had opened a back channel to the United States in 1996 offering to take bin Laden -- then resident in Sudan -- into custody and turn him over either to the Saudis or to the United States.

In essence, we passed on the offer. It wasn't quite that simple. The Saudis didn't want him back. And at the time the United States had no criminal indictment against him. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, we passed on the offer. We told the Sudanese we didn't want him going to Somalia and regretfully acquiesced in his departure for Afghanistan on May 18th 1996.

I've been interviewing various players in this little drama for some time now -- something I've alluded to elliptically in a few posts over the last couple months. And though I was able to nail down the Saudi part of the equation, sufficient confirmation of the US part of puzzle eluded me.

So why am I telling you all this? Shouldn't I be more hush-hush about it?

Well, when the Washington Post broke the story in Wednesday's edition of the paper that sort of made secrecy a tad less important, didn't it?

Oh well.

Cynics and wags may look at the Anglo-American 'special relationship' and deride the Brits as America's poodle. But you look at Tony Blair's speech at the Labour Party Conference today and you say ... some poodle!

"This is a battle with only one outcome - our victory, not theirs ... Let there be no moral ambiguity about this, nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could ..."

This is one of the many reasons why folks with politics of the TPM variety love Tony Blair.

We're smitten. We're in love. We've fallen and we can't get up.

A few quick points. Lost amidst much of the news over the tightening noose around the Taliban is what this is all going to mean for our long term relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Much has been made of the Saudis' balking over allowing us use of one of their key military bases. But the depth of non-cooperation and estrangement between the US and the Saudis, and their recent history of sufferance of, or passive cooperation with, bin Laden has far-reaching consequences. The Saudis are the ones with the big oil supply (with very elastic production). They are the ones who host our primary military presence in the Gulf. They are both bin Laden's enemies and his accomplices. Once the dust settles here there are going to be some serious 'whose side are you on' type questions to be asked.

Second, I noticed today on WSJ/Opinion Journal's Best of the Web that The Weekly Standard has just debuted a new web site. BoW says the Standard site was "long an online laggard." But we can leverage the strategic flexibility created by the fact that TPM is headquartered in a small apartment in DuPont Circle and faces precious little pressure from advertisers to be a little more evocative and blunt.

It blew. It was really awful -- especially when you consider the cash they pour into the print magazine.

Anyway, I'm happy to report the redesign is quite nice, a real improvement.

It may surprise you that we're plugging the Standard here at TPM. (A good bit of the content does offend my basic sensibilities. And the frequent, needess-to-mention anti-Clintonism speaks for itself.) But strictly in magazine terms it is perhaps the best political magazine currently being published. And it's now the undisputed home of the most original and intelligent voices in contemporary conservatism and the ones TPM most admires -- two groups which, admittedly, tend rather to overlap.

Speaking of which, here's an article I just found on the Saudis on the Standard site which touches provocatively on themes noted above. A few of the points seem over-stated -- particularly with regard to the puritanical streak in Islam and Wahabi anti-modernism -- but I strongly commend it to you.

I was sitting in my apartment trying to force myself to do something more productive and lucrative than write another TPM post, when I heard some chants and several helicopters buzzing overhead. I craned my neck out my fourth-floor window to see an anti-war march shambling down R Street, screaming a really wretched rendition of Whitfield and Strong's 'War'.

I don't mean to be snarky. But I can't help thinking this provides some harsh illumination on the whole IMF-WTO protest movement. These folks are here of course because there was supposed to be an IMF meeting in DC, but that got cancelled because of 9/11.

But the idea seemed to be, hell, we already built the puppets and rented the group house in Adams Morgan so we might as well protest something.

I'm told there was actually a brief but strenuous debate over whether to focus the protest on the imminent use of military force or the fact that heightened security at airports and border crossings is seriously impeding the inflow of some of the finer Jamaican weed.

P.S. For aggrieved lefties who wish to rail against this post, I've set up this special email address:

A lot of folks in the Bush administration have risen to the occasion of late; but that only shines a harsher light on the folks whose true colors are coming through in these arduous days. At the top of the list of course is Ari Fleischer.

Clarity, after a fashion, is one of Fleischer's most refreshing qualities. Unlike most others in his field of work, in Fleischer we have all the complicating traces which make up the higher alloys burned away to reveal the pure metal of hackdom: embarrassingly little knowledge of the subjects he discusses, still less of the talent of a Karen Hughes, and none of the ethical ballast which gives the likes of Mike McCurry their dramatic tension.

Let's just touch on a few points.

Ari's part in the bogus story about the specific threat to Air Force One. (Just a note, I don't think the president had anything to apologize for, staying away from DC for a few hours, while the capital had all the feel of a war zone. But the lies of lackeys like Ari are revealing and scandalous).

Ari's crass and pitiful phone call to NBC execs trying to squelch an interview with Bill Clinton, on the rationale that national unity required keeping the former president off the airwaves.

(BTW, is anyone noticing that Jake Tapper is breaking big stories on the 9/11 aftermath about twice a week now?)

Ari's clumsy effort to exploit our calamity to blunt any criticism of the executive branch, referenced briefly in Paul Krugman's Times column.

And these are only the offense after September 11th (bogus White House vandalism story, etc.). Isn't it time this guy comes in for some serious criticism, and not just from the alternative press?

Ohhh, the perils of the blame game and, oh, the perils of not doing your homework. After a few placid days, Andrew Sullivan is back banging the bells of recrimination, laying a good bit of the blame for our recent catastrophes on the Clinton administration.

Sullivan, like other Clinton-haters, wants you to believe that we had a feckless, dilatory, and naive counter-terrorism policy under our former president and had to wait for the current crew to clean house, see the terrorist threat through the cold eye of realism, and act accordingly.

Which makes you wonder, of course, why the only big foreign policy player (beside CIA Director George Tenet) the Bush administration kept on from the Clinton team was Richard Clarke, head of counter-terrorism at NSC.

Can't have it both ways, can we?

Woe unto the world because of fatuous Karl Rove spin! for it must needs be that such spin shall come; but woe to that man by whom the spin is transmitted!

(Matthew 18:7 slightly revised)

Though I've never ignored his rough edges, I've always been a pretty big fan of Rudy Giuliani. Or at least anything but a consistent critic. Obviously his actions in recent weeks have just crystallized his strengths and what I think you have to call his claim to greatness.

That's why it really pains me to see what's happening now. Like many greats, Giuliani's virtues aren't just equalled by his shortcomings, they're difficult to distinguish one from another. If I had a magic wand I'd certainly like to see Giuliani remain as Mayor. But what's going to happen here is that he's going to try to hold on, more than likely fail, and then taint all the well-deserved praise.

Perhaps he'll even give a hint that his heroism during this crisis had a political tinge, when I think it's rather certain that it had none.

Even if he pulls it off, it won't look good. It'll looking grasping because it won't be by acclamation. It'll be political. Something hashed out in the normal runamok of politics.

The news today is that he's come up with a secret plan to extend his term three months -- which two of the three candidates have accepted. But extending a term isn't a private deal that can be worked out between contenders and the incumbent. It's a public matter, a matter of law.

He should have left well enough alone. But he couldn't.

Here is a piece of mine in today's New York Post saying some kind things about President Bush but calling to account the growing number of his conservative supporters who are using the present ceasefire on partisanship to score cheap political points.

Not linked on their site, but next to my column in the paper edition, is this column by Michelle Malkin. The article attacks Hillary Clinton for her behavior since the 9/11 calamity. I once met Michelle when we were a left-right pairing on C-Span's Washington Journal a year or so back. And she was perfectly pleasant, friendly, and engaging. But her column today is one of the most vicious and indecent pieces of writing I have ever read.

Finally, here's a column by Maggie Gallagher, also in today's Post but not linked on their site, which takes me to task for my column in those pages last week.

My first thought was that she had simply misunderstood my point -- willfully or no. More likely we simply disagree. That will be the placeholder for a more acidy response.