Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I see from Matthew Yglesias' site that there is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event. To the extent that the form of attack is different -- mass casualty terrorism versus isolated guerilla attacks on soldiers -- I suspect it's because the perpetrators are not the same people. But that's just a supposition on my part.

However that may be, this new theory from the war-hawks suggests a broader question, a deeper problem.

I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed.

The utility of requiring this would be that if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we'd have the hawks on record saying this was in fact not a positive development.

Now, we've already had the 'flypaper' theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we're pulling 'the terrorists' out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ...

I just conducted my interview this afternoon with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen, the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.

We plan to publish the interview tomorrow evening.

One thing that caught my attention was Bergen's comments on the identity of the foreign jihadists now operating in Iraq and why they're there. According to Bergen, the majority of them are Saudi militants -- numbering as many as a few thousand -- who've come into the country not through Saudi Arabia but through Syria.

Now, why these guys would want to go into Iraq to kill Americans might not seem like much of a mystery. But there may be as much of a push as a pull. According to Bergen, the current Saudi crackdown against Islamic militants is actually quite fierce. And he says that many of them are fleeing Saudi Arabia because of it. Ironically, the crackdown on Islamist militants in Saudi Arabia may be leading to an upsurge of their numbers in Iraq.

If you're wondering whether the Texas redistricting fracas is being orchestrated from Washington, look at this article in today's Dallas Morning News.

The one Republican who's broken ranks over redistricting is Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). He's not just any state senator. After President Bush left for Washington in 2001, he was succeeded by then-Lt. Governor Rick Perry. Ratliff's colleagues then chose him to serve as acting-Lt. Governor, an extremely powerful office in that state.

Today Ratliff revealed that "in the summer of 2001 he was asked by Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land and current U.S. House majority leader, whether he, as acting lieutenant governor, would suspend the Senate's two-thirds rule so the GOP could push through a favorable congressional redistricting plan during a special session." Breaking the two-thirds rule is what triggered the exodus of Democratic senators to Albuquerque and prompted Ratliff to come over to their side.

Add that to this from the Houston Chronicle in mid-June ...

Rove called state Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, the most likely Republican to oppose a GOP-drawn redistricting plan in Texas. Ratliff, who is undecided, said Rove stopped short of saying Bush wanted him to vote for the bill but "indicated that it could be important to the president."

In any case, now there's something you can do about this.

Regular readers of TPM have heard plenty from me about this ugly episode and why I believe it matters. Now Moveon.org is organizing efforts to support the eleven Democratic state senators who are now holed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to block the latest attempt to push through Tom DeLay's precedent-busting redistricting plan.

Here's a letter from state Senator Rodney Ellis explaining what's at stake and what's happening now.

What these eleven are doing is really important.

Stop by the site. If you think this is important, get involved.

Here's a comment from retired General George Joulwan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The quote's from Larry King Live ...

Let me be clear -- what I think, and this is my own personal opinion here, what is -- we're in danger. It's not there yet. But if we're in the careful here, we're in danger of losing the initiative in Iraq, and to a degree in Afghanistan. And that concerns me. We had the initiative going into Baghdad. We had a whole groundswell with us. But now that is turning. So it's extremely important, I think, that we reassess how to bring in the international community. NATO right now is in Afghanistan and Kabul. I think we need to broaden this and really get a secure environment in that country for the agencies to operate from the U.N., NGOs, et cetera. That is what concerns me. I don't see that happening right now.

I think there are very few retired military leaders who disagree with that proposition. Indeed, there seem to be very, very few people outside the Office of the Secretary of Defense who don't think we have too few troops in country.

One obvious reason to have more troops is that providing a secure environment is a sine qua non of almost everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. Another is that it would give the occupation less of a US face, and thus help deflate the charges of neo-colonialism which hover over this whole enterprise.

But there's another important reason.

One of the medium to long-term challenges we face, I think, is that very few people in other countries have much invested in our success. I don't think most Europeans want us to fail exactly. But I think that the way this whole operation has gone down has made a lot of people want to see us at least get our nose bloodied or at a minimum fall rather short of a signal success.

One might say, well, if the French think that, they suck. And maybe they do. But as a practical matter, it doesn't really matter if they suck or if this is a good moral argument against them. One reason is that it's not just the French. And, more to the point, it'll be very difficult to pull this off if everyone else around the world is sitting on the sideliness, quietly relishing our stumbles.

By internationalizing this operation -- on our own terms, but still internationalizing it -- we'll get other countries invested in its eventual success.

The rejoinder to this argument might be that, well, all those other countries will pervert the enterprise to their own weenieful, relativistic, Brussels-esque ends. But, handled right, I don't think we have much to worry about. One of the great failings of the right's hostility to international institutions -- most notably, the UN -- is the inability or unwillingness to recognize how dominant our voice is in almost every international institution we claim membership in.

What I fear is that the administration is going to wait too long to make a course correction.

Despite some rough patches we've hit so far, I think it would still very much be possible for the president to internationalize the operation and have it appear as a grand gesture on our part rather than something we were forced to do because we were unable to manage the situation on our own. We could even present it as something we had intended to do all along. And though few would likely believe us, most countries would probably be eager enough to participate that they'd be willing not to make too much of it.

Unfortunately, if we wait till things really get out of hand, it really will look like a failure for us to call in other countries and we'll be far less able to call the shots. If things get bad enough, other countries that are now willing to send in troops might look at us and say, "You broke it, you fix it."

The key is that there is absolutely no strategic, moral, or diplomatic reason why internationalizing the occupation has to be seen as a failure. Quite the contrary. The problem is that many people in the administration see it as exactly that. And if we wait too long to do what is actually in our own interests, their own flawed vision -- that internationalization means a strategic failure for the US -- could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There's a shocking -- really shocking -- and surreal video of the moment of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad at the CBSNews website. (The link is near the top of the CBSNews site. The caption reads: "CBS News camera captures explosion, aftermath.") The feed begins with a garden variety UN briefing. Suddenly, there's a terrible racket, everything goes black, and the racket is replaced by confused screams and shouts from someone trying to take control of the situation.

Slowly the smoke begins to thin and you see disoriented victims trying to make sense of the situation, an endless number of people shocked, caked in powder, and blood-spattered. And just confusion. The cameraman slowly makes his way out into the open through what seems to be a gaping hole in the building and out into the light which momentarily overwhelms the light sensor on the video camera and makes the entire screen white. Images then slowly come back into view and, again, walking wounded.

Through the feed -- which runs about five minutes -- there are occasional shouts from bystanders, apparently telling the cameraman to turn off his camera. And such tapes can easily become a sort of grisly pornography of violence. But this struck me as different, as close as you'd ever want to come to seeing what it's like to be at the center of such a horror, and yet not needlessly gory. Go see for yourself. It's difficult to watch, but worth watching.

Oh that's classic. Tom DeLay says those Texas state Senators, who are off in New Mexico to stymie his re-redistricting plan, are guilty of violating the federal constitution.

From Fox News Sunday this morning ...

TONY SNOW: All right. Let's switch to another topic. Texas -- there is an imbroglio about redistricting. Republicans want to change the map because their Republican majority is substantial in your home state.

But there's a question. These same Republicans, a couple of years ago, agreed to a redistricting, or at least, in courts, got involved. Why should Republicans get another bite at the apple?

TOM DELAY: Well, we haven't had the first bite. We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. The state legislature in Texas couldn't do it in the last legislature, and three judges did it and they did a very poor job, as evidenced that the fact that we have a minority of Republicans in our congressional delegation.

What -- you know, we in Texas, Tony, have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution. They don't understand their duty, which the Constitution calls for in redistricting. And they don't want to accept responsibility for it, so they ran.

We're insisting that the Constitution be upheld, and we feel very confident that if the state legislature does its duty and redistricts, then we will end up with a majority of Republicans in the congressional delegation.

Now that's classic. DeLay is pushing an effort which is entirely unprecedented in the last half century and hasn't been commonplace in this country for well more than a hundred years. And his opponents, who are resisting his efforts, are guilty of violating the constitution.

Persistent, chronic up-is-downism ...

From today's Wolf Blitzer show, Wesley Clark on Tom DeLay ...

BLITZER: General, I want you to listen, during the war, when you were still working for CNN -- and just want to alert our viewers, you're no longer working for CNN as our military analyst.

CLARK: Right.

BLITZER: But during the war, early in April, Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House, really hammered you directly. I want you to listen to what he told our Judy Woodruff then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.

General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he's paid to be an expert on your network. And he's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.

I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.


BLITZER: Well, pretty strong words from Tom DeLay going after you. What do you say to that criticism?

CLARK: Well, first of all, I'd be happy to compare my hair with Tom DeLay's. We'll see who's got the blow-dried hair.

But beyond that, Wolf, he's got it exactly backward. It's upside down. I am saying what I believe. And I'm being drawn into the political process because of what I believe and what I've said about it.

So it's precisely the opposite of a man like Tom DeLay, who is only motivated by politics and says whatever he needs to say to get the political purpose. And so, you know, it couldn't be more diametrically opposed, and I couldn't be more opposed than I am to Tom DeLay.

You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that's a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.

Noted without comment, but nice dig on the hair!

My friend James Sparrow spent a couple years (with grant support from The Sloan Foundation, I think) setting up an archive on the history of the great New York City blackouts of 1965 and 1977. It's all put together in an amazing website (The Blackout History Project) which covers the social history of these events, what happened, people's reminiscences in written and recorded formats, and so forth. The site also has a great deal of information about just how blackouts happen, what these 'grids' are that folks are talking about, and how various forms of electricity deregulation which have taking place over recent years have made an event like we've seen today much more likely. Like, for instance, why did this become so systemic? If you're interested in knowing more, go check out the site. If you're a journalist or tv producer who wants to get a hold of someone who can really talk about this stuff, get a hold of Jim Sparrow.

This is a delicate topic. But Christopher Christie -- the very political US Attorney for District of New Jersey -- seems intent on saying stupid things about his shoulder-launched missile smuggling case against Hemant Lakhani. For me, it's quite enough that Lakhani was willing to sell terrorists weapons to shoot down civilian airliners. But Christie isn't quite willing to give up the al Qaida connection.

Christie says Lakhani may well himself have been an al Qaida sympathizer.

How do we know that?. Thus Christie: "There is no question that Mr. Lakhani was someone who was sympathetic to the beliefs of the terrorists who were trying to do damage to our country. He, on many occasions in recorded conversations, referred to Americans as bastards [and] Osama bin Laden as a hero who had done something right and set the Americans straight."

Now, as I've said, if Lakhani was trying to sell plane-downing weapons to terrorists, that's more than enough for me. He's a rat. Toss the key, and so forth. Maybe he is an al Qaida sympathizer. But this is pretty feeble evidence.

What exactly do we expect the guy to say when he's talking to our undercover agents posing as al Qaida? "I'm happy to sell you fellows these shoulder-fired missiles. But I do think that whole September 11th business was a bit much. I'm not telling you your business. It's a free country. But I'm just sayin'."

Why can't they just promote this as an effective sting operation against a certified rat , rather than making foolish statements like these.