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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

With Turkey so much in the news, let me make a few quick book recommendations for those who might be interested in reading more about the subject. If you're interested in finding out more about the Ottoman Empire and what came before the modern Turkish Republic, here are two good reads. First, there's The Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross. It's currently published in a big pulpy volume clearly intended to be a mainstay on bookstore shelves for decades to come. I will say that it is the best of the single volume narrative histories on the subject that I've read. I just thought it was a bit heavy on political doings, recitations of Sultans (the achilles heel of Ottoman history writing), and just generally grade B history writing.

If you're not up for reading a tome like Kinross's book, there is the exquisite Ottoman Empire and the Islamic Tradition by Norman Itzkowitz. At a bit more than one hundred pages, you can easily dash it off in one sitting. But it's elegantly written, marvelously concise, and provides an excellent overview of a whole epoch of Islamic history, as well as some crucial history of Turkey.

Finally, for the background of the origins of the modern Turkish state I don't think you can do much better than Andrew Mango's Ataturk, the most recent biography of the founder of the secular, westward-looking Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal.

At about a quarter-to-nine the president got a straight-up question. I don't have the transcript. But it was basically: Are we willing to allow the North Koreans to become a nuclear power? Are you starting to get concerned? (This is the "red-line" question.)

As I heard his answer it was: "It's an issue. I'm concerned." He then went on into a miscellany about diplomacy and allies.

Question number two tonight in the president's news conference was on the North Korea crisis. The answer was depressing. And the message was clear: we have no policy. The president wants help from the Chinese, South Koreans, Russians, Japanese, etc. etc. etc. Can anybody help? Does anyone have a policy we can borrow? Does anyone have another question? Next question.

Here's the quote of the day from today's Nelson Report ...

It would be difficult to exaggerate the growing mixture of anger, despair, disgust, and fear actuating the foreign policy community in Washington as the attack on Iraq moves closer, and the North Korea crisis festers with no coherent U.S. policy. We get the phone calls and e-mails from all over this Administration, Capitol Hill, the think tanks, and even fellow scribblers. We've never seen anything like it, and we've been here since 1966.
This is a bad situation, getting worse. And the unavoidable truth is that we don't have a policy and because of that we're letting it hang.

Here's a small but important note on the inner-workings of the policy world. For the last two years Hans Riemer has headed up the Social Security Information Project at the Campaign for America's Future. A lot of people and a lot of hard work have gone into blunting and at least temporarily stymieing the Republican drive to privatize the Social Security system. (They've all been helped by the fact that the public -- cooked-polls notwithstanding -- simply doesn't want Social Security privatized.) But I don't think any single person -- or a lot of groups of people, for that mater -- did more to stem the tide than Hans.

His contribution has been that important.

That included mau-mauing the president's hopelessly stacked-deck Social Security Commission and a lot of other stuff ... working the press, organizing events, not letting the GOP run away from or lie about its pro-privatization positions during the last election.

Anyway, Hans is headed off to a new but as yet unannounced gig. So if you get a chance stop by the SSIP site and send him your appreciation. Or if you're a pension fund investment manager who wanted to start managing and drawing fees off that Social Security gold mine, drop him a line and bitch about how you can't buy that new vacation house.

Give a quick read to Chris Suellentrop's piece from yesterday on Ken Pollack. Here's one of several good passages ...

Six months after The Threatening Storm's publication, however, Pollack's book reads as much like an indictment of the Bush administration's overeagerness to go to war as it does an endorsement of it. A more appropriate subtitle for the book would have been The Case for Rebuilding Afghanistan, Destroying al-Qaida, Setting Israel and Palestine on the Road to Peace, and Then, a Year or Two Down the Road After Some Diplomacy, Invading Iraq. In interviews and op-ed articles, Pollack himself still supports the war, saying that now is better than never. But it's fair to say that his book does not—or at least not Bush's path to it.
This point goes too often unmade.

At about 10:20 PM on the east coast this evening, CNN ran a sobering segment on the North Korea crisis which finally detailed what TPM has been telling you for weeks if not months.

You can't really say the administration has a bad policy on North Korea because in fact it has no policy. Why is there no policy? Because the president has not been able to break the deadlock between the (pro-engagement) State Department and the (pro-confrontation) Pentagon and Office of the Vice-President. And that has led to paralysis. Paralysis or purely reactive gestures. They can't even find their way to a well-thought-out bad policy because they're too tied up in organizational incompetence and procedural ridiculousness.

It's been this way since January 2001 and it still hasn't gotten resolved. This is why we're drifting into disaster.

You know it's really gotta be bad when even the Democrats are willing to stand up mouth some criticisms ... Sheesh.

More on the North Korea debacle in a bit.

I got a lot of emails last week responding to the second installment of TPM's interview with Ken Pollack. In particularly, there were a lot of responses to this passage ...

I've always felt that we had to go to war against Iraq sooner rather than later. But I didn't necessarily think it had to be this year. And there were always a whole bunch of things that I wanted to do to make sure that we were ready to go when we did go. But the problem that I face now is that I think we are so deep into this - we are so far down this road - that it is now or never. I think that if we don't go to war this time around I don't think we will ever go to war with Saddam Hussein until he's acquired nuclear weapons. And then he picks the time and place of going to war ... if given my preference I would prefer not to be in the position we're in. But I can't turn back time. And we're in the position we're in. And at this point in time, as messy as it may be, I think that it is now or never. And now is a much better option than never.
This captures a lot of the extreme discomfort of those like myself who think we should deal with Saddam but have started to wonder at what point the enterprise becomes so terribly botched that the cure becomes more harmful than the disease. E.J. Dionne touched on this in his Post column yesterday, as did the DLC's New Dem Daily.

My column in The Hill this week addresses the point too. As I say in the last line of the column "We’re all hostage to the Bush administration’s incompetence, whether we like it or not."

A quick note on the North Korean interception of an American spy plane over the waters near the Korean Peninsula.

Lest there be any doubt, this is an extremely serious development. It's also a fairly predictable development. You may have been noticing out of the corner of your eye those almost daily warnings out of North Korea: there's going to be a great disaster, we'll repel a US attack, the US will be devoured by flames, the world will be trampled under by a race of gigantic goblins, etc.

We are keeping the North Koreans on the back-burner. But they want to be on the front-burner. So they're continuing with a pattern of escalations and provocations until we put them there. This is simply the first time they've resorted to what can be regarded as a military provocation.

What the North Koreans want is direct talks with the US. Many of us believe that we should have done that a long time ago -- not because of the North Koreans provocations but because it is in our interests to do so, usually a sufficient cause. The combined wisdom of the administration -- on this issue a deeply-divided administration -- thinks otherwise.

Now the North Koreans are moving into really, really dangerous territory to get our attention. Let's stop for a moment to observe just how provocative but also how delicately calibrated this event seems to have been.

The North Koreans not only intercepted the US spy plane, one of the planes apparently "painted" the US plane. That is to say, it locked onto it with its weapons, as though it were preparing to fire.

As a number of news accounts have noted, if the American plane had had a fighter escort, that might well have led them to open fire on the North Koreans. Of course, the American plane did not have one, as the North Koreans well knew. Thus, they could get away with an extremely provocative action, knowing there was nothing we could do about it and that the situation would be unlikely to spin out of control.

The US now says that it will keep flying those spy planes and give them fighter escorts. Given the North Koreans' provocation that is the only possible response. However, we are moving into extremely dangerous territory here. The North Koreans are masters of brinksmanship. But as I once saw former Clinton administration official Wendy Sherman say in a TV interview, "they don't know when to stop."

What's more, the situation is not the same as it was in 1994.

Kim Il-Sung was the founder of North Korea, an extremely experienced hand and a charismatic leader. He had the more or less unquestioned support of the entire North Korean elite. None of those attributes apply to his son Kim Jong-Il. That makes North Korea much less predictable, since he and others who are controlling all this may have to prove their toughness to domestic critics.

The important point is that we need to send those planes up with fighter escorts but we cannot do so and continue to treat the situation there as something on the back burner. It's a delicate, dangerous situation which will require our full attention, and a simultaneous show of military resolution and diplomatic seriousness. One without the other could lead us toward disaster.

Colin Powell's message to the troops over at Foggy Bottom ...

Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 3, 2003

Charlotte Beers, a key and vital member of my team, is leaving us shortly for health reasons. Since she arrived in October of 2001, she has brought new energy, new ideas, and new enthusiasm to our interaction with the public in America and throughout the world. Charlotte brought incredible expertise from Madison Avenue to Foggy Bottom. At a critical and stressful time for our nation, she and her team sharpened our policy advocacy and took our values and our ideas to mass audiences in countries which hadn't heard from us in a concerted way for years. She helped us find new ways of making our case to policy makers while expanding our outreach efforts to make connections with ordinary people, particularly in Moslem nations. Her goal of reaching younger, broader, and deeper audiences will remain with us as she departs. I thank her for revitalizing our programs, and wish her good health and success in her future endeavors.

If Beers' departure is really for health reasons, we wish her the best. But it's hard to say our image "particularly in Moslem nations" is on the upswing.

Is Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers out at the State Department? Seems so.

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