Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A bit short on time this evening, but just a quick note on North Korea. One of the most defining characteristics of the long-simmering Korea-quasi-crisis has been the way the major dailies, the Times and Post especially, and the cable nets have gotten spun every which way in their initial reporting on developments out of North Korea. The Kelly meeting last week in Beijing looks like it's turning into another example. The LA Times provided the first public clues about this a few days ago. But basically it wasn't at all as first reported. The North Koreans combined a lot of bluster and threats with a rather desperate plea for what is often, in diplomatic circles, called the "buy-out" option. Basically, a security guarantee and aid in exchange for the North Koreans getting out of the nuclear business and allowing comprehensive monitoring. There are all sorts of stories to tell as the folks at DOD cry bloody murder that they've been outmaneuvered by the people at the State Department. But the real question is this: it seems likely to a lot of people now that Colin Powell, Armitage and Kelly could give President Bush a very big diplomatic victory in Northeast Asia over the next year or so. The price, however, would be going back to the basic model that was pursued by the previous administration. Tougher, more comprehensive, to be sure. But the same basic idea: aid and security guarentees in exchange for getting out of the nuclear biz. Can the White House swallow its pride? And will the AEI Fedayeen ever sit still for it?

A couple months ago, PBS's Newshour interviewed me for a segment on blogs. I think it was put on hold because of the wall-to-wall coverage of the war. But I just found out it's running on this evening's edition of the show. So if you're interested in blogs or blogging or just TPM, you might be interested in watching.

The US occupation force's arrest of Muhammad Mohsen Zobeidi, the self-proclaimed "Mayor of Baghdad" is a very positive development. The most troubling thing in the last two weeks has not been the Shi'a demonstrations in the south but the palpable sense of drift in US efforts to create even some sort of de facto occupation government. Given our priorities in Iraq we don't want to be feared exactly. But we must be respected. And Zobeidi's unimpeded effort to set himself up as the political authority in Baghdad was threatening to accomplish the one thing we cannot allow: making our authority an object of ridicule. Zobeidi was providing almost as much comic relief as the much-missed Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. Only this clown was on our dime, not Saddam's.

Wrong, George Will. Wrong. On the This Week roundtable this morning, the subject of the Santorum comments came up. And after well-stated comments by Michel Martin and Fareed Zakaria, Will piped up and said that what Santorum was saying was "by what standard" (going from recollection here, not a transcript) can you distinguish, can the state distinguish between homosexual acts and adultery or incest or other forms of illicit sex. Yet, as we noted earlier, this is precisely not what Santorum said. Not at all. If you read the actual interview which ginned up this whole controversy, you see that Santorum makes the positive argument that these forms of non-heterosexual or outside-of-marriage sex are in fact equal since they are all "antithetical to strong, healthy families."

Will was calm and dispassionate in stating something that is demonstrably false. He seems either not to have read the actual conversation or he's overly eager to help Santorum out of his jam.

A few days ago Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Slate defending Ahmed Chalabi against various press criticism. One of Hitchens' points is the following ...

In news stories as well as in opinion columns, it is repeatedly stated that Chalabi hasn't been in the country for many years—or since 1958. This contradicts my own memory and that of several other better-qualified witnesses. They recall him in northern Iraq many times and for long periods in the 1990s, helping to organize opposition conferences and to broker an agreement between the opposing Kurdish factions.
The implication is that Chalabi is being slandered and falsely accused, that there is evidence he was in northern Iraq but that it is being covered up.

This statement is at best quite misleading.

You don't need to rely on anybody's recollection or witnesses. Everyone who has ever reported on or written about Chalabi -- friend or foe -- knows he ran an INC operation out of northern Iraq in the early-mid-1990s. When Chalabi was still supported by the CIA, he was running his operation from the part of Iraqi Kurdistan enjoying de facto autonomy under the protection of US-backed no-fly-zones. There's no mystery about this. EVERYONE KNOWS THIS.

People who are critical of Chalabi often say that he hasn't lived in Iraq since his adolescence. Often they'll add something like 'with the exception of a short period in northern Iraq protected by the US no-fly-zone', etc. Sometimes they don't add this.

But when they say this, the point they are trying to make is that he has never lived in Iraq as an adult -- with the exception of a short period as a would-be insurrectionist in Iraqi Kurdistan -- and thus that he enjoys none of the connections or familiarity with the country that one expects of an exiled opposition leader. This may or may not be a mark against him as a credible candidate for future political leadership or influence in Iraq. But it's certainly not an unreasonable point to raise. And the points it's meant to address are not nullified by a relatively brief period spent operating out of safehouses in northern Iraq.

Chalabi's period in northern Iraq is very good evidence of his willingness to put skin in the game, to put his own life in some danger in an effort to overthrow Saddam -- an important point in his favor. But it's not particularly relevant to the issue of when he went into exile from the country.

Hitchens is creating a false impression of mystery, cover-up and bias, when the facts on this point are clear to pretty much everyone.

Press reports often uncritically repeat Ahmed Chalabi's claims that he has no ambitions for political office, let alone leadership, in a post-war Iraq -- notwithstanding the fact that this is widely known to be false.

This graf in an article in Saturday's Times is thus helpful ...

According to State Department and Pentagon officials, Mr. Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, has argued that he should head the interim authority. But several senior officials said that was unlikely.
I add the italics to make the point that this seems not to be some State Department slur.

Ahmed Chalabi thinks he should head the interim Iraqi government. Based on?

In the words of the immortal Nigel Tufnel, there's a fine line between cleva' and stupid. And after reading the full transcript of Rick Santorum's remarks to the AP about homosexuality, it occurred to me that there's also a fine line between Christian conservative and porn-king.

Say what you will about Teddy and Barney and the rest of the liberal standard-bearers on the Hill, I don't think any of them has ever brought up "man on dog" sex in an on-the-record interview. (In the transcript, the reporter herself is obviously stunned and interrupts the Senator to tell him his comments are "sort of freaking me out."

More generally, I have to agree with Andrew Sullivan who said on his website that the full transcript is actually much more damning than the snippet that's been widely reported. Up until just a few years ago it was commonplace for people to say, why can we outlaw polygamy and yet have it be the case that outlawing homosexual sex is unconstitutional? When you get into topics like incest or pedophilia that's a different subject because everyone can recognize that these are issues involving non-consenting adults, and so forth. But presumably polygamy is a choice made by consenting adults. And yet we outlaw it. So it's a good question because it shows that even while most of us recognize a 'right to privacy' we nevertheless believe in a right to privacy that is shot through by deeply-held social value judgements.

When I first read about Santorum's remarks I found them objectionable. But I assumed that they were some form of a 'slippery slope' or reductio ad absurdum kind of argument, such as the ones above. But they weren't. In fact, the point he goes to great lengths to make doesn't even have anything to do with a constitutional argument. He's not saying, how can you make value-neutral distinctions between homosexuality and bigamy or incest. He is, as nearly as I can tell, making the positive assertion there are no distinctions. They are each "antithetical to strong, healthy families."

Having said all this, I can't say that I'm surprised. I'm surprised he said it quite so clearly, not that he thinks it.

Now you have the President supporting Santorum and calling him an "inclusive man." For the reasons Eleanor Clift sets forth here, I guess the president doesn't feel it's possible to criticize Santorum -- which tells you a lot. But "inclusive"? I can think of a number of words he could have used. 'Principled'? Maybe they're bad principles, but he's principled. 'Deeply religious'? Okay. But 'inclusive'?

One thing that hurts politicians more than anything is saying things that make them sound ridiculous. Calling Rick Santorum 'inclusive' makes the president sound ridiculous.

Thus saith ABC's John Cochran in a new story at ABCNews.com ...

To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war — a global show of American power and democracy.

Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABCNEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.

"We were not lying," said one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis."


The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed everything, including the Bush administration's thinking about the Middle East — and not just Saddam Hussein.

Senior officials decided that unless action was taken, the Middle East would continue to be a breeding ground for terrorists. Officials feared that young Arabs, angry about their lives and without hope, would always looking for someone to hate — and that someone would always be Israel and the United States.

Europeans thought the solution was to get a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But American officials felt a Middle East peace agreement would only be part of the solution.

The Bush administration felt that a new start was needed in the Middle East and that Iraq was the place to show that it is democracy — not terrorism — that offers hope.


The Bush administration wanted to make a statement about its determination to fight terrorism. And officials acknowledge that Saddam had all the requirements to make him, from their standpoint, the perfect target.

Other countries have such weapons, yet the United States did not go to war with them. And though Saddam oppressed and tortured his own people, other tyrants have done the same without incurring U.S. military action. Finally, Saddam had ties to terrorists — but so have several countries that the United States did not fight.

But Saddam was guilty of all these things and he met another requirement as well — a prime location, in the heart of the Middle East, between Syria and Iran, two countries the United States wanted to send a message to.

Hmmmm. I feel like I've heard someone else saying something like that -- and before it was cool! Definitely read the whole piece.

A few weeks ago I sat down to read (and review) a book that I expected to like a lot. And then I didn't. I had that expectation because the subject is so rich (terroristic Islamism) and because I have such respect for the author (Paul Berman). The book is Terror and Liberalism. Here's my review in The Washington Monthly.

"Shock and awe said to many people that all we've got to do is unleash some might and people will crumble. And it turns out the fighters were a lot fiercer than we thought. Because, for example, we didn't come north from Turkey, Saddam Hussein was able to move a lot of special Republican Guard units and fighters from north to south. So the resistance for our troops moving south and north was significant resistance. On the other hand, our troops handled it, handled that resistance quite well."

Who? President George W. Bush in an interview today with Tom Brokaw aboard Air Force One. In the interview, he goes on to say that he wasn't worried because he had confidence in the plan.

Meanwhile, don't miss this report on the fall of Baghdad by Tim Judah in The New York Review Books. You know the story: the increasingly comical statements by al-Sahaf, the wildfire of rumor, the sudden collapse of the state, the looting. But like all good reportage this brings it to life, lets you experience some of it like you were there, lets you understand some of it.

Also, I've had a number of folks write in to ask recently for recommendations of books about the Middle East and/or Islam. Now, obviously, these aren't topics about which I can speak with any expertise. But I can suggest a couple that I liked and I felt I learned from. One is Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman by William Montgomery Watt. If I recall correctly this is actually an abridgement or condensation of a longer, more academically-oriented book. It's a biography of Muhammad and -- as such -- a history of the earliest origins of Islam. It's short, maybe a couple hundred pages (I'm sitting in a Starbucks right now. So I can't look at my copy.) and it's a couple decades old so I suspect it might seem a touch dated in some superficial ways.

Now, obviously the information in this book won't give you any better purchase on rebuilding Iraq, the Middle East generally, clashes of civilizations and so forth. But if you're looking to familiarize yourself with Islam this is obviously some pretty key info. I remember it as one of the better books -- better written, crafted and so forth -- I've read on the subject.

Also very worth reading is A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. Almost every conflict in the Middle East for the last seventy or eighty years can reasonably be seen as the fall-out from or at least deeply tied to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. This is a really, really good book. One of those if you only read one book kinda books.

Finally, there's Ataturk, the most recent major biography of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. I'm a fan of Ataturk's and a fan of this book. If you want to learn more about the origins of modern Turkey it's not a bad place to start.