Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday TPM reported that quotes from Sam Tanenhaus' interview with Paul Wolfowitz, which appeared in the Vanity Fair magazine article, don't appear in the transcript of the interview provided by the Pentagon. I'm still waiting to get the complete story from both sides. So I don't want to go into too many details quite yet. But, in the interests of not leaving the open question hanging out there, I can say that the discrepancy turns on a dispute between the two parties as to what was and what was not on the record. More on this soon.

Is Doug Feith dusting off his resume? Or, more to the point, should Doug Feith be dusting off his resume? (Feith is UnderSecretary of Defense for Policy and generally considered one of the uberest of uber-hawks in the administration.)

In Washington, people seldom get fired because of manifest incompetence (God knows that's true.) Nor do folks usually get canned because of one mega screw-up. People hold their positions because of a latticework of ideological positions, interpersonal connections, reliability, their usefulness for various tasks and constituencies. When enough of those are pulled away, a person's position can grow precarious.

Feith gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times a few days ago in which he got seriously out in front of stated administration policy on possible US troop redeployments in Asia. Not that what he was saying was wrong necessarily, just not ready for public consumption.

Let's hear what Chris Nelson had to say about this in the Nelson Report a couple days ago ...

Summary: on the big Asia troop redeployment stories last week, it's now clear that Undersec. DOD Feith spoke without clearance on where to put the Okinawa Marines, and, at most, Australia looks like a future training site. General thrust of his L.A. Times interview more right than wrong. But net effect may be, finally, to show Rumsfeld why Feith is too loose a cannon to keep around.


Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, interviewed in Singapore over the weekend, "clarified" the rather stunning remarks of Undersecretary for Planning Doug Feith, barely stopping short of calling Feith an idiot for his L.A. Times interview claiming that U.S. Marines now on Okinawa would likely be moved to Australia.

-- but, while Wolfowitz ridiculed Feith's "Australia" statement as a "salacious detail" from "some eighth level in the bureaucracy", he did confirm what we also reported, on Wednesday, and again Thursday, that "the story in the broad concept was generally pretty accurate."


-- but both formal, and informal, responses to Feith's L.A. Times interview from State Department, White House and even DOD sources, on Friday, made clear that professional Asia policy handlers viewed with great displeasure what one DOD source frankly called "Feith's obvious ignorance of the political ramifications of all this", especially for Okinawa and Australia.

Another source noted that Feith's tendency to try to work directly with Secretary Rumsfeld, at the expense of consultation with colleagues, and his habit of aggressive confrontation with perceived "opponents" within the Administration, nearly led to his being fired once before.

-- it was an open question, Friday, whether this latest episode, which went far beyond "inside baseball" to present serious international political concerns, will be the last straw for Feith, but Wolfowitz's dismissive language should be noted.

So loose cannon-hood is one issue.

Then there's the question of the "Road Map." People sometimes tend to lump together all the neocons and hardliners in the administration on all the issues in the Middle East. That's not accurate. Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, may be seen as the godfather of the administration neocons. But he is also quite serious, I think, about a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Perhaps it wouldn't be one that doves have in mind, but one which would require what Israeli leaders often call 'painful compromises' -- certainly the creation of a Palestinian state, some retrenchment of settlements from the West Bank, and possibly even some compromises on Jerusalem.

Feith is a different sort of character. I think he can fairly be called a hardcore, Greater Israel, rejectionist -- someone who thinks the whole peace process, even a leaner, meaner one, is a mistake.

Up until now that fissure didn't matter quite so much. But in the present circumstances that puts him seriously off-message.

Finally, there's WMD and the intelligence failure issue.

If there's blame to go around in this administration it should cover a lot of very high-level people. But one of the key issues is the special intelligence shop that was set up over at the Pentagon because they didn't like the intell they were getting from CIA about Iraq. A lot of the intell they started working with came from Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi's 'intelligence network' inside Iraq. And a lot of that info now seems to have been pretty bogus.

That special intelligence shop, The Office of Special Plans, came under the oversight of Doug Feith. (Today he gave what The New York Times calls "rare briefing today to rebut accusations that senior civilian policy makers had politicized intelligence to fit their hawkish views on Iraq and to justify war on Saddam Hussein.")

Don't get me wrong. I don't expect Feith to be going anywhere anytime soon. I'm not even saying he'll be going anywhere at all. Canning him would be greeted with great hostility by many of Bush's most ardently pro-Israel supporters -- not so much Jews, as evangelical Christians. But that latticework that keeps people in office looks like it's fraying a bit for him. And if the WMD intell question gains too much political traction, too much heat, I'm not sure there'd be anyone quite so well-placed to take the fall.

Okay, from the sublime to the ridiculous. As I reported earlier this afternoon, the Pentagon's transcript of the Vanity Fair interview between Sam Tanenhaus and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz seems to have left out at least one key exchange.

That's the sublime.

Now to the ridiculous.

Rush Limbaugh has a blurb up on his website that says you can debunk Hillary's new book with passages from Sid Blumenthal's new book -- a sort of inverted harmonic convergence of Clinton-hating, you might say.

Limbaugh writes that Hillary's claims to be the last one to know are bogus, as are her claims to any estrangement after Bill's confession. Everything was staged ...

Sydney Blumenthal's book blows Hillary's out of the water. He writes that Bill called him after his Lewinsky grand jury testimony to see what he thought of it. Next, Hillary picked up the phone followed by James Carville.

Sydney heard Hillary and Bill talking in the background, and rejoiced that they were "still working together." They managed the entire scene at that time, pretending to be estranged. How many times did we see this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo (below) of the first family and dog departing for the Vineyard the day after Bill testified, with Chelsea between them and Hillary off to the side?

Yet Blumenthal says that Mrs. Clinton was in on the strategy, not giving her husband "the silent treatment" as we were told. This disagrees with Mrs. Clinton saying in her book that Buddy the dog came along to keep Bill company, since he's the only one who would. I have to feel sorry for the Democratic presidential nominees today, because this book is the only story out there!

As you might expect, this is rather misleading spin. He even gets the quotes wrong. Blumenthal explicitly says he never talked to Hillary about her emotions or feelings or what was happening between her and her husband. This is his description (p. 461) of his first contact with Hillary after the president's admission ...
I called Hillary. We dispensed with the extraordinarily difficult personal problem at the start. As her friend, I wanted to respect her privacy. I said that whatever "issues" anyone had, and hers was worse than anyone's, we had to think about the politics. That was her reasoning as well. She said that the President would be "embarrassed," but that was for him to deal with. And that was all she said about it.
What follows this passage is an uncomfortable description not only of Hillary's feelings of personal betrayal but of her humiliation and chagrin at having defended her husband against charges she now understood to be true. Four pages later Blumenthal describes talking by telephone to Clinton, then Hillary, then Carville and Mark Penn after the president's speech to the country. While talking to Penn he says ...
I could hear the President and Hillary bantering in the background. Whatever they would have to do between themselves to get over this episode, in the challenge to their marriage and the presidency they were still working as a team. Without that, nothing was possible.
Now that I think about it, would anyone really trust Rush Limbaugh on something like this? Doesn't one go to Rush for Vince Voster and the Temple of Doom sorta things? In any case, next back to why passages seem to have been scrubbed from the Pentagon's Tanenhaus-Wolfowitz transcript.

Remember that transcript the Pentagon posted of the interview Sam Tanenhaus did with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for Vanity Fair magazine? Just how complete and accurate is it? As I discussed in my article this morning in The Hill, what I found most surprising was a passage in which Tanenhaus discusses the portion of the interview in which he and Wolfowitz discussed the possibility that Saddam may have played a role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. According to Tanenhaus' article, Wolfowitz is "confident" Saddam played some role in the 1993 incident and has "entertained" the theory that he played a role in the Oklahoma City bombing as well. In the interview, according to Tanenhaus, Wolfowitz declined comment on the 1995 bombing.

These are theories that are, to put it mildly, not widely credited. And it raises some serious questions about just what sorts of theories gained credence at the DOD.

I wanted to see the actual interchange so I called up the transcript of the interview on the Pentagon website. And that passage is nowhere to be found.

So I called the Pentagon to see if the transcript was a complete transcript or only a partial one. A Wolfowitz spokesman, Jeff Davis, told me that, though he wasn't present during the interview, to the best of his knowledge it was a complete transcript -- save, possibly, for any pleasantries at the beginning of the conversation, or any parts that may have been off the record.

So what happened to the parts of the interview where the 1993 and 1995 bombings were discussed? Davis speculated that those quotes from Wolfowitz might not have been from the interview at all, but rather from published accounts of other previous statements Wolfowitz may have made, or other transcripts from the Pentagon website that Tanenhaus may have gotten his hands on.

So then I called Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair's Beth Kseniak told me categorically that Tanenhaus' and Wolfowitz's discussion of the 1993 and 1995 bombings definitely took place during their interview.

If that's true, why isn't it anywhere in the Pentagon's transcript?

Very Friedmanesque, but also very good column by Tom Friedman in Wednesday's Times; also a good column by Maureen Dowd -- each on figuring out why we fought the war we just fought.

Tragic. Just tragic. Back on that awful day last February 1st when the shuttle Columbia ripped and burned apart over Texas, I never really believed that some sort of rescue or repair mission wasn't possible -- either an attempt at a repair of some sort, or sending one of the other shuttles up to save the crew. Couldn't they rush another shuttle up to rescue them? Couldn't they do a spacewalk and fix the damage? The conceit of the NASA brass was that there was simply nothing that could have been done -- a claim that took a lot of sting out of the fact that so little was in fact done to find out what damage the ship had sustained.

That never sounded right to me. And now it turns out that I and, I'm sure, many, many others who were similarly unconvinced were right.

You probably remember in the movie Apollo 13 when a crack NASA team of white-buttoned-down-shirted gizmocrats ingeniously brainstormed a way to use all the available materials on the crippled spacecraft to get the three astronauts home safely. Recently, as part of the investigation, NASA set a similar team to work on devising possible rescue or repair plans -- as though they had known in time that something was wrong.

You almost wish they hadn't, but the team came up with two very credible -- though certainly not foolproof -- plans to rescue the seven astronauts. In both scenarios the ship, Columbia, was doomed. But not necessarily the crew. One plan was to quickly get the shuttle Atlantis into space for a rescue. It turns out this would have been possible. The question was how quickly they could get it to launch. And that would have been a close call. If they couldn't have managed that in time there was a repair that might have worked. A space walk to the underside of the shuttle, it turns out, would have been feasible. The plan would have been to hope the repair held on through the most violent part of reentry and then have the astronauts parachute out at about 35,000 feet.

None of these ideas were sure-fire, of course. But they would have had a fighting chance. And as the author of the MSNBC exclusive says, under the pressure of actually having lives to save, they might have come up with even more ingenious solutions.

Read it and, literally, weep.

The Glenn Hubbard story, the struggles of a hard-working economist struggling to maintain tax progressivity while cutting or abolishing every tax paid by high-income earners ... From the Post ...

"It's hard to get a lot of progressivity at the very top," said R. Glenn Hubbard, the architect of Bush's most recent tax cut proposal and a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. By slashing taxes on dividends, capital gains and inheritances, the cuts ensure that tax burdens will no longer rise consistently with income, as they would with a perfectly "progressive" system. "But," Hubbard added, "we've very much retained progressivity overall because so much money was dumped into the bottom rates."
Hard. So hard...

This graph would seem to tell the tale. It's from the new Pew poll on global attitudes toward the United States. I was a little confused at first about the timing of the poll. It's being reported and sent around today as though it's a new release. Indeed, the International Herald Tribune says it was conducted in May. Yet the Pew site says it was released on March 18th and that the polls were conducted in the week previous to that. So I'm not quite sure what to believe. It's not an insignificant difference -- considering that that week was the one immediately prior to the beginning of the war when anti-US sentiment was presumably at its apogee.

In either case, the results are sobering. Folks tend to get their backs up when they hear about foreign disapproval. They say that what people overseas think or don't think doesn't tell us what's right or wrong. And they're correct, of course, as far as it goes. Amongst countries as amongst individuals, you must make your decisions based on what you think is right, not what everyone else says -- though unanimous disapproval should usually provoke at least some serious reflection.

The more relevant point, however, is that foreign disapproval on such a scale is a fact that must be taken into account quite apart from rights or wrongs. It is a form of collateral damage produced by the conflict -- no different from combat fatalities, expended materiel, and so forth -- part of the price we've paid for the decision to go to war.

One other point: the essence of the Atlantic Alliance -- both its values and its strength -- is that it is an alliance of democracies. That's why NATO won the Cold War. Despite some significant ebbs and flows of public opinion, the great majority of the people of Western Europe supported the alliance throughout the Cold War. Given these facts, America's standing among the people of Europe -- as opposed to the governments of Europe -- is no secondary matter. It is fundamental to the preservation of the alliance. And it is deeply frayed.

LATE UPDATE 2:01 PM: My bad -- there are two polls, one from March 18th, another embargoed till 2 PM this afternoon and to be announced at a press conference in downtown DC. The numbers in the new poll show a bounce back up in the European and other allied countries, but not nearly to the levels they were at a couple years ago, or even one year ago. And in some key countries like Turkey there is virtually no bounce back at all.