Josh Marshall

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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.

Okay, let's file this one away under the heading of things that don't have any clear significance to the present circumstance but are nonetheless so utterly bizarre that they are sure to kick up at least a few conspiracy theories.

You may remember from that presidential election we had a while back that President Bush once had an ill-fated oil company called Arbusto. Lotsa sweatheart deals, etc.

Well it turns out one of Bush's big investors was Osama bin Laden's elder brother Salem.

Hey ... listen, I kid you not, as my dad would say.

The story was first floated in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and then yesterday in Britain's Daily Mail. I read the Daily Mail piece on Nexis but I can't get a link for it. It's summarized, though, in this article from the India Times.

According to the articles, the White House declined comment.

Could this be story be all smoke? Maybe, but it's been printed in several reputable papers outside the United States. There are some further details in this article from last week in the SF Weekly.

I was just about to toss up a post asking whether there was really anybody who had any objections to letting airline pilots carry guns on flights. After reading a few articles, though, it does seem clear that there is at least one pretty good possible objection.

It changes the dynamics of hijackings entirely.

One of the things the WTC and Pentagon hijackers taught us is that getting guns on to planes is prohibitively difficult or at least needlessly risky. Yet with this reform every flight would start with a gun already on-board and in a sense in play. The question would only be who managed to get their hands on it.

On balance, I think arming the pilots is a good idea, and you could take plenty of precautions to deter or dash the plans of hijackers whose whole plan was to enter the plane unarmed and somehow get control of the captain's weapon.

The one idea that seems clearly wrong, though, is the pilots' association's proposal to leave the decision to the individual pilots over whether or not to carry a weapon. I think we want to arm 'em or not arm 'em. After all, this isn't about the pilots. It's about the safety of the passengers and even more the safety of untold numbers of other innocents in targets of opportunity across the country. Let's decide whether this makes commercial aviation more or less safe, and then tell the pilots how it's gonna be.

I mean, imagine having your travel agent telling you, it's a widebody, you're in first class by the window, and Captain Scroggins is known to pack some serious heat ...

What's the phrase?   "Some men are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. And still others are simply ridiculous hacks from whom no good can ever come."

Or something like that.

Anyway, it brings me to the subject of Dan Quayle. I just walked home in the rain in the middle of the night and flipped on the TV to see this sorry chump rambling on about how we gotta get Saddam and he's bad because he's a terrorist and he's bad and it's not like the Gulf War but it's like back in Desert Storm and yada and we gotta be wise and yada and we looked at the big picture yada ...

It was pitiful. I can't watch him talk without thinking I'm watching a grown man struggling to tread water in a pool that's only three feet deep.

The peg for all this, I guess, is a recent meeting of something called the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. It's chaired by the Darth Vader of Republican defense policy hawks, Richard Perle, and it includes, inter alios, Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. They met last week and apparently decided that we need to go after Iraq after Afghanistan.

On the face of it this board sounds a bit like a virtual retirement community for has-been Republicans like Quayle to get together for old time's sake over the situation room planning maps. But I actually remember a friend of mine (who really knows this stuff) telling me that it was a pretty big deal when Perle got appointed to chair it. So who knows.

Anyway, watching this wretched goof try to string together a few coherent thoughts on international terrorism made me shudder (reshudder?) at the thought that he ever could have been president. Whatever you think of our current president (and, as I've said, I'm giving him pretty good marks so far in this crisis) think what sort of jam we'd be in if this floundering bonehead were running the show.

It's an overcast, gloomy, ominous day in Washington ... One of the worst things these people did to us, I thought as I woke up this morning, was to make our optimism, our naivete -- our best qualities -- seem somehow shameful.

Could this be a strategy? If so, it would have the subtlety and cleverness of Sun Tzu.

It's been no mystery and no surprise that the on-their-heels Afghan Northern Alliance, beaten back to a few obscure redoubts in their losing battle for control of their country, have pitched themselves as potential US allies in the fight against the Taliban.

But now they actually seem to be gaining victories on the ground. And in part it seems they've been able to accomplish this because the American build-up is tying down Taliban forces.

This is worth paying attention to.

Is this town big enough for Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz? I'm not sure it is.

There's been a back-and-forth over the last week between Powell -- as the point-man for slow and deliberate response -- and Wolfowitz as the rep for overwhelming military retaliation on the model of Michael Corleone's hit on all the family's enemies at the end of Godfather I.

To date, much of this has been going on at the level of tea leaves. But it's now escalating to the point where something or someone may have to give way.

I don't have the transcript yet, but on This Week this morning Sam Donaldson was interviewing Powell. And in the course of that interview Donaldson pressed the Secretary of State on these internal disagreements within the administration. Particularly, Powell made a point of saying that whatever their private views, everyone in the administration is united following the president.

But he said everyone at the "cabinet level." The clear target of that qualifier was Wolfowitz. So Powell wasn't denying the rift; he was affirming it. And hurling what amounts to a pretty weighty accusation against the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

LATE UPDATE: Here's the relevant portion of the interchange from the transcript posted at

DONALDSON: You're a general. But you don't sound very warlike, compared to other voices in this town, and some within the administration.

POWELL: The only voice that I try to compare myself to and to be consistent with is the president of the United States. All of his cabinet-level security advisers are in agreement with the policy direction he has given us, with the instructions he has given us, and the decisions he has made.

Mr. Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, myself, Dr. Rice, the secretary of the Treasury, the FBI, the attorney general, all working together, understand the instructions the president has given us.

Special thanks goes to TPM reader WM for sending along the link.

I guess it's not surprising, given the torn emotions of these recent days, that I've gotten more slashing emails to Talking Points in the last week than I think I've ever gotten (e.g.: "But beyond these more particular points, I'd like to take this opportunity to question your basic integrity and humanity.") The interesting thing though is that they're coming in about equally from the right and the left, both reacting to the same posts, and both insisting that I'm coming down, egregiously, on the wrong side.

The ones that require some response are the ones from the left because many come from regular or longtime readers who are stunned by the line I've taken on recent events, and think I've changed by colors, spots ... pick your metaphor.

Anyway, I think the issue here is that having the White House in Republican hands has obscured the coloration of my political opinions, making it seem like I'm a down-the-line liberal or lefty, when I'm not.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm criticizing The Nation's take on this. As some of you know, my last job was as Washington Editor of the American Prospect. And the problem there was that I was not liberal enough -- at least to certain particularly influential folks. But, okay, okay ... I'm over that.

Anyway, the criticism, even vicious, is fine and welcome. But I haven't changed. We're just talking about different subjects.

Here's a brief and perhaps not wholly successful attempt, on my part, to get at what we mean when we say that the terrorists who attacked New York and DC hate freedom and democracy.