Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Here's an interesting article in the Post on the doubts the Pentagon has about the Northern Alliance and the apparent necessity -- at least if you listen to military analysts -- of some major introduction of American ground troops if we're to have any success in Afghanistan.

The argument, essentially, is that the Northern Alliance either isn't trustworthy or isn't up to the task. (Here's an interesting contrary take from Slate.)

One thing that sort of jumps out about this article is that a good many of the experts quoted or noted are Pakistanis; and obviously the Pakistanis have their own reasons for not wanting us to adopt a strategy which is heavily reliant on the Northern Alliance.

This article in the Times quotes fewer Pakistani military sources and isn't quite so negative on the Northern Alliance. But this surprisingly editorializing sentence ("The Northern Alliance ... has proved far more energetic in complaining about the nature of the American bombing than in planning or executing an offensive.") pretty well sums up the author's viewpoint.

Let me add one more detail here. I had a long talk today with a former American intelligence officer with long experience in Central Asia -- let's call him Mr.Y. Based largely on his insights and arguments I think I'd revise some of my very negative appraisal of the conduct of the war in Afghanistan to date. The reasons are fairly straightforward. He thinks the Taliban will crack as their military equipment breaks down and their supplies of money are cut-off. And he thinks the Pakistani regime is probably less wobbly than we imagine. So, all things considered, why sacrifice more young American men and women if we can do most of it from the air? That's his take at least.

And for what it's worth, he thinks the Saudis are getting a bum rap and that the Northern Alliance is nothing to write home about.

Following up on our earlier post about anthrax susceptibility, this NPR report has some important information from an American study of the accidental release of anthrax in the former Soviet Union in 1979. According to the study, those who came down with inhalation anthrax were all "middle-aged or older," had "occupational lung damage," and were "all heavy smokers."

Again, this seems like information we might want people to know.

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader PB for sending along the link.

Isn't this a little indecent? Gray Davis announces that there's a credible threat against some California bridges. Then the Justice Department says Davis' information isn't as credible as the information that led to the Ashcroft announcement earlier in the week.

(Credible? You call that credible? I'll show you credible, buddy!!!)

Can't everyone get on the same team here? Is this like a credibility gap? Do we need a credibility rating system?

The Times gives Davis a bit more of a break, quoting the FBI to the effect that the threat was more 'specific' than the Ashcroft threat, and noting the fact that Davis said he had the information from "several sources, including the F.B.I."

But what does that last line mean exactly? He also got tipped off by the Golden State's own spy agency? What's the deal here?

Just reading over the transcript of Davis' announcement, I see the governor says: "The best preparation is to let the terrorists know: We know what you're up to. We're ready. It's not going to succeed ... We don't want any damage. We don't want any bloodshed. Our goal is to be prepared."

Translation: We're not lookin' for any trouble. We don't wanna have to bust anybody up. We don't wanna have to be kickin' any ass, my terrorist friends. So just chill, okay?

Who's Davis' speechwriter?

You might say that the greatest compliment one writer can pay to another is to get pissed at him for taking an idea that he too had had and actually getting off his butt and writing it. (I'm not sure that sentence worked exactly. But if you read it a few times I'm sure you'll get the idea.) The only thing worse is if he does it well. Which brings me to this column by Jake Weisberg in Slate today.

Weisberg takes on the rapidly congealing but utterly fatuous cliche that the 1990s were a decade of daydreams and indulgence from which we were so rudely, but in some respects thankfully, awakened by the traumas of September 11th. That was a decade of silliness; this will be a decade of seriousness.

We should almost expect some favored popular writer to write a new version of Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday -- a classic, and well-worth-your-while book about the Roaring Twenties written just after the market crash and beginning of the Great Depression.

I'd run through the argument but Weisberg covers all the right bases.

And as long as we're talking about there being no level of profundity that banality, nostalgia, and triviality can't conquer, I assume you've heard how President Bush thinks the war on terrorism offers a chance for his generation to prove it has the mettle and determination of the 'greatest generation.' But I ask you, isn't this just another version of the same baby-boomer self-obsession and myopia?

Could there be something to this age tie-in for coming down with inhalational anthrax? It's no surprise that the elderly would be more susceptible to an opportunistic disease than those who are young and fit. But as I noted in last night's post, the age spread of those who've got skin and and inhalation anthrax is striking (all but one of the former were under 50, all but one of the latter over 50.)

I'm now told that studies of the accidental release of weaponized anthrax in the Soviet Union in 1979 showed the victims tended to be people who were older, were smokers, or had some previous lung impairment. This CDC report on that outbreak notes that none of those who came down with the disease were children -- though researchers were unable to determine whether this was due to differences in resistance or simply the pattern of who had been exposed.

Yes, the numbers are far too small to prove anything. But they do make you wonder.

Since the doctors and epidemiologists don't seem to have a clear grasp of what's going with the still-developing anthrax scare, perhaps there's not so much harm in amateurs putting forward theories. Whether that's the case, or not, I must confess that I'm increasingly struck by the age spread between the cases of inhalation and cutaneous anthrax, which I noted in the last post.

As you'll note, from the numbers I referenced previously, all but one of the victims of inhalation anthrax was over 50. Actually, all but one were 55 and over. The exception was 47.

All but one of the cases of skin anthrax were under 50. The one exception was 51.

Of course I know we're dealing with extraordinarily small samples here. Far too few to reveal a true statistical significance. But it's hard for me at least to figure that this is mere coincidence. Could age be a key determinant of which you get, in addition to numbers of spores?

Put this down under the heading of 'he's not a doctor, and he shouldn't even be playing one on the web'... But having said that, the following is meant in all seriousness.

Consider the list of people who've come down with inhalation anthrax. Do you notice a pattern? They're all on the old side. This page in the Washington Post identifies ten cases of inhalation anthrax, and gives ages for eight of them.

The ages are 61, 63, 55, 47, 73, 59, 57, 56. (The first four have died; the second have either recovered or are still sick) Granted, 47 is hardly old. But when you consider that these were mainly in workplaces where you're not going to have a lot of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it's a pretty striking pattern.

Compare to the ages of those who've gotten skin anthrax: 51, 38, 1, 27, 30, 35.

Doesn't it sort of sound like maybe there are a number of other people who've also breathed in a bunch of spores but had younger and better immune systems and were able to fight it off?

This Daily News article on John McCain describes how the Arizona Senator is reverting to his accustomed role as thorn in the side of the Bush administration, taking aim both at the administration's military strategy in Afghanistan and also their evolving post-9/11 domestic policy.

What's just as interesting though is what's implicit in the article: President Bush's seeming insistence on undermining the potential long-term political benefits of the war on terrorism with unthinking obedience to the DeLay-Armey crew in the House -- particularly on stuff like airport security.

No matter what pundits might say, a successful war on terrorism won't come close to guaranteeing President Bush reelection. But how he uses his political capital could. If Bush sidled a bit toward the middle and got some triangulation points by picking a few fights with the mullahs in the House, he'd have a decent shot at commanding the center of American politics and convincing a decent portion of the electorate that he's a different kind of Republican.

Lucky for the Dems, he shows no signs of doing that.

More on this to follow.

Just a few brief observations. In case you missed them, this Sunday's New York Times and Washington Post both had really good pieces on the broad question of political Islamic militancy.

In the Post, a former CIA analyst, Stanley Bedlington, examines Osama bin Laden principally as a maker of myths about himself. A lot of the stuff in the article jibes with things I've heard from other folks in the CIA, particularly those with experience in Afghan War in the 1980s. In any case, Bedlington weaves a lot of good information together in an incisive and probative essay.

In the Times, Joe Lelyveld talks to Muslims in Gaza, Cairo and Hamburg (Mohamed Atta's old stomping grounds) trying to find out what makes young men (and not so young men) turn into suicide bombers. Perhaps not surprisingly it's in Hamburg where the author finds the really frightening people, where radical Islam brushes up against the underbelly of the West, and where Islamic militancy becomes a language of discontent for the nihilism and ennui of the slums.

An interesting companion to the Lelyveld piece is this article, also from Sunday's Times, about the aborted attack on the US Embassy in Paris.

Also of note, the one year anniversary of Talking Points Memo is hurtling toward us at a dizzying pace. This font of online wisdom and wisecracks will turn one year old on November 13th. Various festivities will be announced shortly.

Don't miss this article on the new counter-terrorism crew by Ryan Lizza in the current issue of The New Republic.