Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

We went into Iraq to eliminate Saddam's stock of weapons of mass destruction, to depose a reckless strongman at the heart of a vital region, and to overawe unfriendly regimes on the country's borders. Agree or not, those were the prime stated reasons. Now we've got a deteriorating security situation and a palpably botched plan for reconstruction. And our effort to recover from our ill-conceived and poorly-executed policy is now the 'central front' in the war on terror, which is among other things extremely convenient.

The president has turned 9/11 into a sort of foreign policy perpetual motion machine in which the problems ginned up by policy failures become the rationale for intensifying those policies. The consequences of screw-ups become examples of the power of 'the terrorists'.

We're not on the offensive. We're on the defensive. A bunch of mumbo-jumbo and flim-flam doesn't change that.

Excerpts from tonight's presidential speech ...

In his address on Sunday night, the President will inform the American people about the current actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will discuss the progress our coalition is making in winning the War on Terror; outline our strategy for meeting our objectives in Iraq; and emphasize why our efforts in Iraq and the Middle East are critical to winning the global war on terror:

"The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and beyond, would be a grave setback for international terrorism."

The President will discuss the recent bombings in Iraq and why the terrorists are making this desperate stand in the heart of the Middle East:

"There is more at work in these attacks than blind rage. The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world."

The President will reaffirm our nation's commitment and outline our strategy to meet this challenge:

"Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated. This will take time, and require sacrifice. Yet we will do whatever is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our Nation more secure."

"Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq, and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future."

Finally, the President will call on the nations of the civilized world to contribute to the efforts in helping the citizens of Iraq transition to self-government:

"Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation?"

"Iraq is ready to take the next steps toward self-government. The Security Council resolution we introduce will encourage Iraq's Governing Council to submit a plan and a timetable for the drafting of a constitution, and for free elections. From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people, and secure the blessings of their own liberty."

Just released by the White House.

An update and (partly) a revision of the post below. Juan Cole throws serious cold water on the Iran element of the Post story, fingering a lot of that info as coming from the Iranian exile community eager to have the US turn our attention to them. Cole, as in recent posts, continues to see the current troubles as much more a matter of ex-Baathists than the still small stream of jihadists coming in from over the borders. See Cole's morning post here and particular the second graf ... Perhaps the name of Sue Schmidt on the byline of the Post piece should have gotten my reportorial defense mechanisms more in gear (alas, such are the dangers of penning political analysis late on a Saturday night.)

Two points seem clear to me. 1) The chaos in Iraq has opened the place up to serious infiltration by all manner of bad-actors from around the region -- a development which is not a justification for administration policy, but an example of its failure. 2) The administration is far from weaned of its propensity for using manipulated or just plain bogus intelligence to advance its policy or cover its tracks. One veteran journalist/sage whose take on things I never discount tells me this morning: "Yes, the more I think of it, the more the timing is suspicious, and reminiscent of the last Sept. 11 'celebration.' Ridge saying there is a new Al Q threat in the US (but not issuing an alert, because they know that alerts are now politically counterproductive). The Wolfowitz opeds on terrorism. I'd watch for Bush to make a reference to the Post article, or at least to its contents, in his speech tonight. The main difference this year is that they are using the Post rather than the Times to do their leaking."

This is one hell of a story in Sunday's Washington Post. The outlines of the tale are ones we've known for a while now: Iraq had little or nothing to do with al Qaida before the war. But the war itself -- the supposed remedy for the tie between Iraq and al Qaida -- ended up making the Iraq/al Qaida mumbo-jumbo into a reality.

You knew that in general terms. But here are the particulars. One confluence of events seems key. By the middle of 2002 al Qaida was seriously damaged, its infrastructure disrupted, many of its soldiers and key leaders dead. The mix of damage to the organization and increased security in the United States made new mass-casualty terrorism in America all but impossible. The organization had to fall back on smaller-scale attacks mainly in Muslim countries, carried out by local affiliated groups.

But the Iraq war -- and the onset of the occupation -- provided the organization (or its remnants) with a new opportunity. It was both a new vehicle to galvanize followers and operating there meant fewer logistical difficulties since it was close by. Even just before the war, in February of this year, key al Qaida operatives started planning the move toward Iraq as the new front.

Also key is the role of Iran, which, according to the Post article, provided key members of the damaged al Qaida organization with a safe-haven during the period between their expulsion from Afghanistan and the opening of their new front in Iraq.

A story like this, culled together from different sources, many of whom are no doubt interested parties, is only a first run at the truth. Points will be refined; major elements of the story may change. But I think this story and those that will follow it will be a major point of discussion for some time to come.

When I read it, the story left me mute, expressionless, bereft -- as though I'd just watched someone die.

Okay, what's up with the departure of Bernard Kerik from Baghdad? When the former New York City Police Commissioner arrived in Iraq in late May to serve as Baghdad's de facto police chief he told reporters, "I will be there at least six months - until the job is done."

According to the ten fingers here in front of me, he wasn't there much longer than three months.

The Pentagon now says Kerik was supposed to leave this summer and "extended his stay to finish his ongoing projects." And Kerik's spokeswoman -- actually the spokeswoman for Kerik's employer, Giuliani Partners -- now says the job was only supposed to last 90 days.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there would seem to be more than enough law enforcement work to do in Iraq right now. And it wouldn't seem like the most opportune time to have the job vacant, as it now is.

And there's more.

Today the FBI recalled its lead agent in Iraq, Thomas Fuentes, who'd been in the region since July and replaced him with Chris Swecker, the head of the Bureau's Charlotte, North Carolina field office.

The FBI switch may well be a standard rotation. But what gives with Kerik? There must be something more to the story, no?

Another postcard from the 'responsibility era' ...

Instead of pointing fingers at the security forces of the coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against Iraqi people in this country, it's important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility.

Donald Rumsfeld
September 6th, 2003

The CBO says the Pentagon can only maintain the Army's current troop strength deployment in Iraq until Spring 2004. How much longer can President Bush maintain Don Rumsfeld's deployment to the Pentagon?

Realism, neo-realism, neo-conservatism, democratic internationalism, hegemonism, multilateralism. How about just this: 'Don't shoot your mouth off if you can't back it up' ...

The various foreign policy schools each have points to recommend them. But a lot of effective statecraft comes down to grade school principles like these.

Paul Wolfowitz may be saying that he's wanted the UN in Iraq from day one. But those of us who are still reporting from the planet Earth know this is the exact opposite of the truth.

Stiffing the UN and threatening retaliation against key Security Council members may have been impolitic and ill-judged. But stiffing and threatening when you were going to have to come back to them six months later with hat in hand asking to get bailed out is just stupid.

I spoke this morning to a foreign policy insider who'd been to an off-the-record conference also attended by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Minister just after the end of the war. He confirmed what was at least informally obvious to everyone who was watching: that the French were practically pleading for us to let them in on the effort in Iraq as long as the halo of victory was still over us.

Now, not so much.

Nor is this the only instance of un-backed-up tough-talk that ends up making us look weak.

Look at North Korea.

A year ago, after North Korea admitted to working on enriching uranium for making nuclear weapons, the White House said, that's it. No more paying you off to behave. No more talk. No more nothing. It was a foreign policy equivalent of the famous moment in Godfather II when Michael Corleone tells Senator Geary: "My offer is this: nothing. Not even the $20,000 for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally."

And yet the last year has been a seamless repetition of the same pattern: bold ultimatum and threat, followed some weeks or months later by ignominious cave.

First we wouldn't negotiate; we wouldn't give them aid; and we wouldn't give them a security guarantee. They had to disarm and behave. Then maybe we'd talk.

Then we would talk, not but negotiate.

Then we would negotiate, but we wouldn't give them aid.

Then we would give aid, but only after the North Koreans disarmed.

Now, according to this morning's paper we're ready to "discuss a package of economic and energy aid even before North Korea completely terminates its nuclear weapons programs."

Clearly we've got them right where we want them.

Bluster that you can't make good on makes you look much weaker than if you'd never blustered at all.

I've never been a huge fan of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton. When the North Koreans banned him from the multi-party talks, the first thing I thought was, "Wow. They're finally taking a constructive approach toward these negotiations." However that may be, Bolton's comments in Paris today take the cake. About Saddam and WMD ... "Whether he possessed them today or four years ago isn't really the issue." Or this: "The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have ... WMD programs."

So many issues, so little time.

What are you supposed to make of this?

Paul Wolfowitz told reporters today that it's not the US which has changed positions, but the UN. We've wanted a new UN resolution for months. It's just that the UN has finally come around to our position. The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad "changed the atmosphere in New York."

How about that? Wolfowitz is an awfully sharp guy. But he's turning into the Comical Ali of the collapse of neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East.

The UN is putty in our hands!

We have bent them to our will!

The humiliation of the French is complete!

In the 19th century history was supposed to repeat itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. In the 21st century it seems to be farce, followed by farce, followed by farce in a kind of infinite recurrence. Sort of a mix of Marx and Nietzsche, I guess.

On a more unfortunate note, there's this clip from Steven Weisman's aptly titled piece "Bush Foreign Policy and Harsh Reality," in Friday's Times ...

"The question is whether the world is ready to pick the United States up off the floor and dust them off," said a senior Western envoy involved in discussions on Iraq. "A lot of people aren't ready yet."

We have bent them to our will!