BLOG by Joshua Micah Marshall

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07.10.04 -- 2:32PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Several points about the SSCI report on the Niger matter that may not get a lot of attention but are nonetheless important for understanding the larger story ...

You'll note that the footnote at the bottom of page 57 says that in March 2003 Sen. Rockefeller asked the FBI to investigate the source of the forged uranium documents and the motivation of those responsible for them. Because of that investigation, the Committee chose not to examine any questions about the documents themselves, who forged them, where they came from, etc. In fact, the Committee walled its investigation off so that it looked only at what happened with the documents after they appeared in the US Embassy in Rome in October 2002.

Second, in many accounts of this story we hear that multiple intelligence agencies had reports of Iraq's attempts to procure uranium from Niger. But many of those reports or judgments were the fruit of the same poison tree.

On page 69, for instance, the report states that on "March 4, 2003, the U.S. Government learned that the French had based their initial assessment that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger on the same documents that the U.S. had provided to the INVO" (i.e., the IAEA).

Now, it's a premise of much reporting and in fact a subtext of the committee report that there were these various reports about Niger and that only much later did these documents surface.

That's true with respect to the US, but also misleading.

The French were basing their judgments on documents in question or perhaps a report based on them, as we've seen.

The US, in turn, was basing most, though not all, of its suspicions on these reports it got from this unnamed foreign intelligence agency that provided an initial report to the US shortly after 9/11 and then another with more detail in February 2002, as the SSCI report states. That foreign government was Italy. And the information they provided also stemmed from the same documents.

So France, Italy and the United States each had reports about the alleged Iraq-Niger sales. And each stemmed from the same source -- the forged documents, the origins of which the SSCI chose not to investigate.

The documents weren't peripheral. They were central, though precisely how and why only emerged over time.

Britain is a more complicated case that we'll address later.

--Josh Marshall

07.10.04 -- 12:09PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

I'll dispense with the literary prologue and get right to the point.

Susan Schmidt is known, happily among DC Republicans and not so happily among DC Democrats, as what you might call the "Mikey" (a la Life Cereal fame) of the DC press corps, especially when the cereal is coming from Republican staffers.

This morning she has an article on the Senate intel report and Joe Wilson, specifically focusing on the relevance of Wilson's reporting on Niger (the report says analysts did not see Wilson's findings as weakening claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger) and his wife's role in recommending him for the assignment.

We'll discuss the broader issues of Plame's role in Wilson's assignment and the underlying question of the alleged Iraq-Niger negotiations. A clearer-eyed take on Wilson and report can be found here in this story by Knight Ridder. But for now a few points on Schmidt's treatment.

In her fourth paragraph Schmidt writes that "contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address."

This is one of those cases in which it's helpful to actually read the report rather than just run with what you've got from the majority committee staffer who gave you the spin.

The claim with regards to the back-and-forth was always that the CIA struggled to get the uranium references out of the October 2002 Cincinnati speech and then failed to do so -- though why presicely is less clear -- when the same folks at the White House tried again to get it into the 2003 State of the Union address. And indeed on page 56 the report states that ...

Based on the analyst's comments, the ADDI drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy Natoinal Security Advisor and the speech writers. Referring to the sentence on uranium from Africa the CIA said, "remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory."

... Later that day, the NSC staff prepared draft seven of the Cincinnati speech which contained the line, "and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa." Draft seven was sent to CIA for coordination.

... The ADDI told Committee staff he received the new draft on October 6, 2002 and noticed that the uranium information had "not been addressed," so he alerted the DCI. The DCI called the Deputy National Security Advisor directly to outline the CIA's concerns. On July 16, 2003, the DCI testified before the SSCI that he told the Deputy National Security Advisor that the "President should not be a fact witness on this issue," because his analysts had told him the "reporting was weak." The NSC then removed the uranium reference from the draft of the speech.

Although the NSC had already removed the uranium reference from the speech, later on October 6th, 2002 the CIA sent a second fax to the White House which said, "more on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine city by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British."

I find it difficult to square that with Schmidt's claim that the report states that the CIA "did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence."

Then there's a point with regards to Plame's role in selecting Wilson for the mission. The report includes testimony from those involved saying that Plame did suggest Wilson for the mission -- a point we'll return to. Based on this Schmidt says ...

Plame's role could be significant in an ongoing investigation into whether a crime was committed when her name and employment were disclosed to reporters last summer.

...

The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson's bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. To charge anyone with a crime, prosecutors need evidence that exposure of a covert officer was intentional.

Again, a conversation with a lawyer may have been more helpful than one with a staffer.

There's no 'challenging the bona fides of a political opponent' exception to the law in question. While Plame's alleged role may have some political traction, it's legally irrelevant. Government officials are not allowed to disclose the identity of covert intelligence agents, whether they feel like they have a good reason or not.

Finally, down toward the end of Schmidt's article she writes that: "According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998."

I read the report's discussion of the whole Niger business. And I didn't see that reference. However, on page 44 there is a reference to Wilson reporting to the CIA that "an Iranian delegation was interested in purchasing 400 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1998 [but that] no contract was ever signed with Iran." (emphasis added).

Perhaps I missed the reference that Schmidt is noting. But it seems awfully similar to the one the report notes about Iran -- same date, same tonnage. Presumably in this case, Schmidt innocently confused the two neighboring and similar-sounding countries, though it's a goof you'd think an editor would have caught.

--Josh Marshall

07.09.04 -- 5:57PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

I've always thought that if Washington's Iraq War were a history play or perhaps a tragedy, on the model of Shakespeare, that the folks in Doug Feith's made-to-order intel shop at the Pentagon would be the dingbat comic relief, the antic if malevolent players who provide the theatrical diversion from the main rush of the drama's forward motion. And on this point the mammoth Senate intel report does not disappoint. Pages 304 to 312 of the report provide some enlightening, depressing and even entertaining reading on that count.

From those pages, there's one point that caught my attention.

You'll remember that in recent days and weeks we've been harping again and again on this October 20, 2002 column by Jim Hoagland in the Post in which Hoagland praises the administration's mau-mauing of the CIA that had finally gotten Langley's analysts religion on Iraq, al Qaida, WMD and the rest of it.

In the course of that column, Hoagland notes that there were still some hold-outs against the new party line. And he gives the following example ...

Such misjudgments have continued until today. After four months of inconclusive debate following Sept. 11, the agency produced a new analysis last spring titled: "Iraq and al Qaeda: A Murky Relationship." It fails to make much of a case for anything, I am told. It echoes the views of Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia, and other analysts who have consistently expressed doubts that Iraq has engaged in international terrorism or trained others to do so since 1993.

Go read the pages I noted above to find out the backstory to that analysis or report, which makes Hoagland's mumbo look even more jumbo than it did before. It was cooked and coddled and rubbed and massaged and yet still it failed to meet Hoagland's outlandish requirements.

More details a little later.

--Josh Marshall

07.09.04 -- 1:36PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

A hint of regret, Sen. Rockefeller?

I'm sure they'll show it again later on C-SPAN. So if you get a chance, definitely try to catch a bit of the Roberts-Rockefeller press conference this morning announcing the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on the Iraq intelligence failure.

Sen. Rockefeller and the rest of the Democrats on the Committee voted unanimously to approve the report that a) places all the blame for the intelligence failures on the CIA, b) specifically -- and quite improbably -- rules out administration pressure as a cause of the problem, and c) avoids any discussion of how or whether the administration manipulated or distorted intelligence community findings to build their case for war.

The very structure of the investigation, as Rockefeller noted, necessarily pushed any discussion of the administration's responsibility for or role in the debacle back until after the November election -- a veritable tour de force of political convenience.

Yet in his comments at the press conference Rockefeller seemed to say that each of these conclusions was either false or so incomplete as to be deeply misleading.

As one of the first reporters to get a question in perceptively asked, why exactly then did they vote for it?

Good question.

The reality is that the CIA is responsive to its president, its master. Its over-responsiveness is one of its key institutional flaws -- not just under this president, but under previous ones too. The CIA really did believe at least that Iraq continued to maintain some stocks of chemical and biological weapons. But its reports, analyses and judgments escalated dramatically in their certainty and scope after President Bush was sworn in to office (significantly, even before 9/11). Those at the CIA with more alarmist views gained favor at the White House, while those who were more skeptical lost it.

Remember in all of this that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which Sen. Roberts noted was the focus of the Senate report, was hastily cobbled together after the White House had spent a year making its quite alarmist case about Iraq's illicit weapons.

There is no bright line separating the administration's hyping of the threat and manipulation of the evidence and the CIA's own misreading of the evidence and its institutional decision to service the president's needs.

The aim of the administration's defenders -- Senator Roberts, et al. -- is to draw such a bright line (I'm tempted to say 'forge' but let's say 'draw'), thus suggesting the reasoning that because the CIA is guilty, that the White House must be innocent. But that's not true. It is itself yet another deception. They're both guilty -- only of different things.

The CIA is guilty: of aiding and abetting.

--Josh Marshall

07.08.04 -- 11:27PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

This guy just can't catch a break.

First, the CIA sandbags President Bush with a bunch of bogus intelligence about Iraq.

Now it turns out that the military payroll records that could have helped prove that he really did serve his Air National Guard duty in Alabama in 1972 and 1973 were "inadvertently destroyed" in a tragic microfilm accident.

The Times has more on the president's latest brush with cruel fate.

--Josh Marshall

07.08.04 -- 11:09PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

My synopsis of the new Howard <$NoAd$>Fineman article on John Edwards ...

John Edwards is a man in a hurry. Maybe too much of a hurry. No one's ever been in such a hurry except for the other people who've been in a hurry.* And when you're in a hurry you make mistakes. And if Edwards made mistakes you can be sure Karl Rove will find out. And if Rove finds out about Edwards' hidden mistakes it'll be a bad day for Edwards and John Kerry. And now Edwards is in the fight of his life. And it's only a matter of time before Rove lowers the boom on Edwards' mistakes -- if he made any. And if he did, boy will Karl Rove ever find them and lower the boom on them.

That asterisk is a reference to this paragraph, the second of the article ...

Except for Ike, I can’t think of anyone in modern times that entered electoral politics and gained a place on a major-party ticket on such a hurried timetable. Dan Quayle, who’d held office for 12 years when George H.W. Bush picked him, was a grizzled veteran compared with Edwards. Yes, George W. Bush had been governor of Texas for only six years when he won the presidency. But he had run for the House years earlier, and essentially had spent his entire life in the family business of politics. (A helpful reader points out to me that Richard Nixon had a similarly rapid rise. Elected to the House in 1946, he became Ike's running mate in 1952. But an Edwards-Nixon comparison is hardly one that Democrats would like to make.)

So, Bush was in a hurry too. But he once ran for the House between business failures and, besides, for him politics is genetic. And Nixon did it in six too; but he did bad stuff so that doesn't count.

Also of some interest on the Fineman historical acumen watch ...

Wendell L. Willkie: Never ran for public office before presidential nomination; nominated for presidency in 1940. Zero to sixty in zero years.

Thomas E. Dewey: First run for public office (District Attorney) in 1937, New York Governorship in 1942; nominated for the presidency in 1944. Zero to sixty in seven years.

Adlai Stevenson: First run for public office (Illinois Governorship) in 1948; nominated for the presidency in 1952. Zero to sixty in four years.

Spiro Agnew: First run for public office (Chief Executive of Baltimore County) in 1962, Maryland Governorship in 1966; nominated for the vice-presidency in 1968. Zero to sixty in six years.

Geraldine Ferraro: First run for public office (NY Congressional seat) in 1978; nominated for vice-presidency in 1984. Zero to sixty in six years.

--Josh Marshall

07.08.04 -- 9:39PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Michigan GOP collecting signatures to put Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot. Imagine that ...

--Josh Marshall

07.08.04 -- 5:55PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

A painting that rather sums up President Bush and Iraq.

--Josh Marshall

07.08.04 -- 4:10PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Weird, weird, weird ... Late reports out of Afghanistan say that an American named Jonathan Idema was arrested with others for conducting a "self-appointed counterterrorism mission that included abusing eight inmates in a private jail by hanging them by their feet."

Jonathan Idema is apparently the same guy as 'Keith Idema' who was a short-term commando celeb in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 appearing on various TV networks. He also turns up in various jails or suing Steven Spielberg et al. for stealing ideas for a movie script he and others allegedly wrote.

The US military has gone to great lengths to disassociate itself from Idema since he was apparently putting himself forward as some sort of US special forces operator or contractor. A statement from the US military said "the public should be aware that Idema does not represent the American government and we do not employ him."

Indeed, "security sources" tell the BBC that the "US military circulated warning notices about Mr Idema some time ago, describing him as armed and dangerous and accusing him of interfering with military operations in Afghanistan."

But here's what I don't understand: Who runs their own private jail? And why?

I understand that contractors might, for various reasons, be hired to provide security or run detention facilities. But that doesn't seem like what we're talking about here. The article gives the impression that this guy went over there, set up his own private jail so he could go out and arrest locals and hang them by their feet -- some unholy mix of Kurtz and Barney Fife.

I don't get that.

Is there money in setting up your own jail? Kicks perhaps, as we've seen. But certainly there must be enough bad-acts to go around back in the states, right?

It just seems like someone must have been paying this guy to do something, unless it's like a blog where you just set up shop and figure that someday a revenue stream might turn up.

--Josh Marshall

07.07.04 -- 11:39PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

The essence of the matter -- this from the lead <$NoAd$>graf in Douglas Jehl's article in tomorrow's New York Times ...

A bipartisan Senate report to be issued Friday that is highly critical of prewar intelligence on Iraq will sidestep the question of how the Bush administration used that information to make the case for war, Congressional officials said Wednesday. But Democrats are maneuvering to raise the issue in separate statements. Under a deal reached this year between Republicans and Democrats, the Bush administration's role will not be addressed until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes a further stage of its inquiry, but probably not until after the November election. As a result, said the officials, both Democratic and Republican, the committee's initial, unanimous report will focus solely on misjudgments by intelligence agencies, not the White House, in the assessments about Iraq, illicit weapons and Al Qaeda that the administration used as a rationale for the war.

Convenient ...

--Josh Marshall

07.07.04 -- 7:47PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

From TNR's new piece, 'July Surprise'...<$NoAd$>

A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs [i.e., high-value al Qaida targets] before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Imagine that ...

--Josh Marshall

07.07.04 -- 5:04PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

A couple months ago, in passing, I noted that the Bush administration had been leaning heavily on the Pakistanis to produce some high-value al Qaida bad-guys -- bin Laden? Mullah Omar? Zawahiri? -- at the end of July, nicely timed to knock the Democratic convention seriously off-stride, and certainly, if at all possible, before the November election.

Well, tomorrow The New Republic is going to release a story -- written by recent TPM guest bloggers John Judis and Spencer Ackerman and another colleague -- which provides considerably more evidence and detail about what they've been up to.

I'm told Judis and Ackerman have mulitple Pakistani intelligence sources confirming key details.

If only bagging OBL had been such a priority for them in early '02. But, alas, Iraq called. And priorities are priorities.

--Josh Marshall

07.07.04 -- 4:12PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

A few days ago we noted that Allen Raymond, the guy at the center of the New Hampshire phone-jamming mini-scandal from election 2002, had finally copped a plea in U.S. District Court in Concord.

State Democrats have been pressing for prosecutors to pursue the investigation beyond Raymond, who was paid to do the deed, to the higher-ups who hired him.

The offer of proof in the court documents from Raymond's appearance on June 30th provides several clues. But one that caught my eye is found in this passage.

Here, prosecutor Todd Hinnen tells the court that had Raymond chosen to go to trial, the government would have been able to prove that "in late October 2002, the defendant, Allen Raymond, then the president of Virginia-based political consulting company GOP Marketplace, LLC, received a call from a former colleague who was then an official in a national political organization. The official indicated that he had been approached by an employee of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee with an idea that might give New Hampshire Republican candidates an edge over New Hampshire democratic (sic) candidates in the upcoming election."

Raymond, according to Hinnen's statement to the court, said that he thought the phone jamming scheme this unnamed official went on to describe was doable. And the unnamed official then told him to expect a call from the person at the state GOP.

So who is this unnamed "official in a national political organization" and just what national political organization was this person with?

I assume it wasn't the DNC, right? DSCC? Nah ...

--Josh Marshall

07.07.04 -- 12:51AM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Just what the CIA needs: a leader even more partisan and responsive to the president's wishes.

The fact that it's an apparent pay-off for one of the administration's ringers on the 9/11 commission --- and before the report is even out --- is appparently an added bonus.

NBC is reporting that the former Navy Secretary John Lehman is now the lead contender to replace George Tenet as DCI.

This is the central issue in the debate we're going to be hearing in the coming weeks about 'reform' of the CIA and its sister intelligence agencies. The folks in position to guide 'reform' are intent on accentuating the problems that led to the existing problems -- principally, further politicization and an elevation of ideologues over intelligence professionals. In short, a more thoroughgoing 'disciplining' of the Agency by the present administration, step one of Cheneyization.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 11:31PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

For our text, let's use the column by David Ignatius in Tuesday's Washington Post.

The column describes a conversation Ignatius had with new Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in which the president describes his guidelines for peaceful overthrows of autocratic regimes.

That, though, is not what I want to discuss, not specifically at least.

What interests me is the last line of the column: "The Bush administration talks about democratic change. But it's the Saakashvilis, armed with their homegrown how-to manuals, who actually make it happen."

That sentiment is obviously critical, at least to some degree, of the Bush administration's role as an advocate and force for democratization on the international stage. Implicit in that line, however, is an assumption which now permeates much of the debate about foreign policy in this year's campaign.

That is, that however successfully or wisely the goal has been pursued, the Bush administration is the champion of democratization as a strategic goal on the world stage while John Kerry is the advocate of a more traditional foreign policy Realism, which prioritizes stability and alliances with existing powers over democratization and the export of American values.

Indeed, this was the premise of a critical David Brooks column in the Times from June 19th ("Kerry's Cruel Realism").

Perhaps the clearest sign of the ubiquity of this assumption is that it is not only advanced by the president's advocates but -- from a different and more critical perspective -- by his opponents as well. Many of them fault the president for a heedless or ill-conceived neo-Wilsonianism, which will damage US national security by pursuing illusory or improbable goals.

But talk is cheap.

And when you look at the actual record I think there is very little evidence that the assumption is at all valid. I don't mean simply that the Bush administration has been unsuccessful or incompetent in pursuing its plans for democratization. I don't even mean that they've been hypocritical or inconsistent. I mean that democratization as a moral or strategic goal simply doesn't figure into the White House's plans.

Let's start with a review of the administration's record in the 189 UN member states whose governments the US has not overthrown in the last three and one half years.

In Central Asia the administration has strengthened ties with coalescing autocracies like Uzbekistan, supporting and facilitating the intensification of domestic repression. No one even disputes this.

In Libya, the US has reestablished diplomatic ties with the Qaddafi government even though it is widely conceded that we are doing so in the context of a domestic crackdown.

We have just recently awarded Pakistan the title of "major non-NATO ally" despite the fact that that the country is governed by a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, that it is a serious offender by most human rights and democracy measures, and has the added benefits of being both a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and possessing an intelligence service with longstanding ties to al Qaida.

Other cases are less clear-cut. But attention must be given to Russia where Vladimir Putin has slowly de-democratized the state while enjoying undiminished friendship from the Bush administration. In other cases, where on-going projects of democratization hang in the balance -- the Balkans being the clearest, but by no means the only case -- the administration has pursued a policy of, at best, studied inattention.

One might further add that our most serious fallings-out with longstanding allies have been in cases -- like Germany, South Korea, Turkey and perhaps now Spain -- where governments have bucked our policies -- sometimes seeking political advantage in the doing of it, to be sure -- because their populations overwhelmingly oppose our policies.

I don't pretend that all of these decisions were wrong. In the case of Pakistan I think it has been, by and large, the correct and unavoidable course, though I think the "major non-NATO ally" business was perhaps laying it on a bit thick. And to one degree or another many instances of the Bush administration's cozying up to dictators has been the result of the exigencies of its 'war on terror.'

In essence, if you support the US war on terror, how you run your country is your own business.

But pleading broader geostrategic interests as a defense for supporting dictatorships and human rights abusers is irrelevant as a defense precisely because it is always the defense -- and sometimes even a valid one.

American governments have seldom supported autocracies and tyrants simply for the fun of it. In most cases, we have done so because it served our broader geostrategic interests as we understood and defined them at the moment, whether that be 'stability', American economic interests, fighting communism, ensuring the steady flow of oil, etc. The fact that our priority interest is now opposing terrorism is just the newest defining national goal.

Of course, the two cases where the Bush administration's advocates would beg to differ would be those two cases I chose to set aside at the outset: Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, I think that at any time in recent history any American government would have attempted to put in place a government that is at least nominally democratic in any state it overthrew. And the case of sorry inattention to Afghanistan makes a very good argument for the proposition that actual democratization is very lower on the list of the administration's priorities.

The administration's advocates would also note various initiatives put forward by the White House to advance the cause of democracy, particularly in the Middle East. But these have tended to be ineffectual or quickly forgotten.

Remember, the key here is the advancement of democracy not only as a good thing, a humanitarian gesture, a form of state-imposed meta-philanthropy, but as a way of advancing American national security. But for that to mean anything one would have to point to cases where we, or in this case, the administration made short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our longterm interest in democratization.

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is not to say that the US should, willy nilly, upend friendly non-democracies with an indifference to American strategic interests. But if that's the model the administration is following then there's really, at best, no difference with previous administrations and the whole premise -- so widespread now in our political and foreign policy debates -- that the Bush administration is hawkish on democracy or neo-Wilsonian -- and that this is a departure from previous administrations or a potential Kerry administration -- is just an empty claim embraced by the inattentive and incurious.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 11:12PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Did the BBC fall a bit short on the copyediting in this portion of their brief run-down of John Edwards?

He was born the son of a poor mill owner, and was the first in his family to go to university. He became a successful millionaire trial lawyer who turned to politics after his son, Wade, died in a car-crash.
Maybe the mill was just severely undercapitalized?

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 7:12PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

I wasn't able to catch the CNN coverage of the Edwards pick after, say, mid-late afternoon. But if reader email is any indication, it got pretty bad again after Wolf Blitzer signed on. They've provided more and more examples of the cowed non-ideological press, which becomes worse than ideological, because of its rudderlessness, as it tries to defend itself against sharp and confidently organized complaint. Worse still, when the habit becomes ingrained and chronic, like the battered dog who cowers and shakes when the abuser gives a passing look. Of course, there's the added matter of cosmopolitan and baby-boomer self-loathing, mixed in with the needy and mercurial status anxiety that afflicts the Washington press corps. Ahh, for a novelist's pen.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 6:00PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Pardon the brief delay. We should have part two of the Biden interview up tomorrow.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 3:35PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

CNN's afternoon coverage of the Edwards decision seems better than it was in the morning and early afternoon. Maybe they got an earful from the campaign or just from viewers.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 12:20PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

CNN's subservience to the calls they're getting from the RNC oppo research department this morning is really breathtaking. By contrast, it almost reminds you of when it was really a legitimate news operation. Daryn Kagan seemed to outdo herself, at one point harping on a clip from a Kerry town hall meeting last fall or winter in which Kerry quipped that Edwards might have been in diapers when he, Kerry, was out fighting in Vietnam. Kerry then a few moments later thinks better of comment and says he respects Edwards, etc. Kagan then goes on about how this is an example of Kerry as flip-flopper and then gets Bill Schneider to discuss it.

Of course, they could only go on for so long about that until they needed to run the Bush campaign's phony McCain campaign commercial again.

At the end of the day, the intensity of the GOP response is a measure of their anxiety about Kerry's choice of Edwards.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 9:51AM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

CNN keeps running this ad that the Bush campaign has up on his website, claiming -- not improbably, who knows? -- that John McCain was Kerry's first choice for VP. Does anyone even remotely imagine that this cuts against the Edwards choice in public opinion? I really doubt that the ad will ever even run on television. Saps.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 8:56AM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

So Edwards is the man.

Great.

Indeed, not only did Kerry manage to make a solid VP pick he was able to take a bit of hide out of the behind of the Murdoch media empire. On the newsstands this morning here in New York City the New York Post's headline boasts their exclusive scoop that Kerry has picked Dick Gephardt.

Oops.

(Actually, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Post, all ideological difference aside, as their editorial page provided one of my few financial lifelines after I struck out on my own in 2000. I wrote a sort of semi-regular column for them -- a token liberal, or rather non-right-winger -- through 2001 and, I think, for much of 2002.)

Actually, the Post might have done better to look at this post on an aviation bulletin board that a TPM reader -- JB -- sent me last night, perhaps the first real solid news that Edwards was the pick.

Some cynical commentary now running on CNN, aping GOP talking points; but that's to be expected.

More posts on this later. But, on balance, I'd say this is a very solid pick on many counts.

--Josh Marshall

07.06.04 -- 2:06AM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

Unfortunately, it's not available online, at least not for free. But if you have a chance to pick up the paper copy of the current New York Review of Books, don't miss Amos Elon's review essay of two new books on the current state of what we used to call the 'peace process' and might now term the Israeli-Palestinian mutual embrace of butchery. I don't agree with every strand of the argument; a few points I would dissent from strenuously. But the essay struck me as illuminating as it is pessimistic, and much more sensible and candid than most of what I see on this topic in the American press.

--Josh Marshall

07.05.04 -- 11:58PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

A remarkable turn of events.

We know that the chief architects of the war -- at the White House and the Pentagon -- waged a running battle with the CIA for the eighteen months leading up to the war, both on the WMD front and on their too-skeptical take on Iraq's ties to al Qaida. It was the Intelligence Community that was the proverbial stick in the mud holding up the aggressive posture favored by these other forces within the administration.

But it now turns out that while the White House claimed the CIA was too cautious and naive about the dangers emanating from Iraq, in fact, the Agency was hoodwinking the president into believing the worst about Iraq and keeping him and his advisors in the dark about the weakness of their claims.

You might say that it turns out that the CIA was doing to President Bush what many of us were under the impression President Bush and his advisors were doing to the country.

This is the ironic and tragic tale told by James Risen in Tuesday's New York Times.

Somehow I thought that our best reporters had learned a lesson about peddling self-interested government leaks without applying common sense, context or critical, dissenting voices. But apparently not.

--Josh Marshall

07.04.04 -- 3:49PM // link | RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (0)

While things are spiraling down into the memory hole it sometimes makes sense to give them a few quick tugs before they vanish into oblivion altogether.

Along those lines, remember that some time back there was a big splash about the UN oil-for-food program and claims that various international dignitaries -- including the UN official charged with overseeing the program, Benon Sevan -- had taken bribes or kickbacks from Saddam Hussein out of funds generated by the program.

The evidence for these particular charges stemmed entirely from a collection of documents allegedly in the possession of Mr. Ahmed Chalabi, documents Chalabi apparently deemed too important to let anyone outside his circle see.

There were two Iraqi investigations into this alleged wrongdoing.

First, there was one run by Chalabi crony Claude Hankes Drielsma at Chalabi's direction, with assistance from KPMG (one imagines because Arthur Andersen was no longer available).

Another inquiry was established at the behest of Paul Bremer and run by the head of the Iraq's independent Board of Supreme Audit, Ihsan Karim, with assistance from Ernst and Young.

There was, to put it mildly, a pronounced hostility and antagonism between the two investigations. Chalabi wanted to keep the investigation under his control; Bremer's efforts blocked that aspiration.

Each of the investigations, it turns out, has run into difficulties, though of rather different sorts.

As for Claude Hankes Drielsma and his inquiry, the last we heard from him, early in June, he was claiming that all the computer files of his investigation had been destroyed by shadowy hackers on the same day Chalabi's HQ was raided in Baghdad. In a particular coup, the hackers managed to simultaneously destroy his back-ups kept on various hard-drives. "This report would have been even more damning than anticipated," huffed Hankes Drielsma.

KPMG has stopped working on the investigation because they're owed hundreds of thousands of dollars which have gone unpaid.

In the middle of June, Karim's investigation -- the one run through the Board of Supreme Audit -- signed an agreement with the UN investigation headed up by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to cooperate and share information.

Finally some progress.

But then this last Thursday, Karim was killed when a bomb was placed under one of the cars in his convoy.

Chalabi spokesman, Zaab Sethna told Reuters that Karim's outfit hadn't been well-equipped to handle the investigation. And then, with some mix of irony, understatement, and goonishness, he said: "The assassination of Mr Karim is very worrying. Bremer appointed the audit board and left them on their own ... The investigation was the highest profile probe the board was handling. It is impossible to speculate who killed Mr Karim, but the oil-for-food corruption involved very powerful people inside and outside Iraq."

So, with all these tumults and jagged occurrences, let's not forget to ask. Has anyone outside the Chalabi crew yet seen those documents? Given that we know Chalabi actually ran his own forgery shop in Iraqi Kurdistan in the mid-1990s, and his general lack of 100% reliability, it's hardly an idle question.

The person who really needs to see them, of course, is Volcker, who is not only (sad to say it, but true) the only investigator left standing, but the one heading up the only investigation that actually has real credibility.

The last batch of articles on this matter date from mid-June. And, as nearly as I could figure, they implied that Chalabi had still not coughed up the documents.

If anyone knows otherwise, I'd be eager to hear.

--Josh Marshall

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