Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In response to yesterday's post on books about the Ottoman empire, a number of readers wrote in to recommend Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire by Lord Kinross. I've read the Kinross book and 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 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. But if you're hunting around for a full-length single-volume history of Ottoman Turkey that'd probably be your best bet, though I still think the slender Itzokowitz book mentioned in the post below is a tour de force and the best place to start.

Here is a very good piece by Anne Applebaum in Slate about Turkey and the prospect of the Turks leading a peace-keeping force in Afghanistan. The piece is really a paean to Turkish secularism -- or rather Kemalism, Turkey's state ideology, originated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state.

Talking Points is an ardent Turkophile, for a number of reasons, several of which are touched upon in Applebaum's piece. I hope to be talking more about this. But for the moment let me just mention a few of what I've found to be some of the better books on the topic.

Though I've read many, I still haven't read a really good full-length, single-volume history of Ottoman Turkey -- that is, before the fall of the Sultanate and the end of the empire after World War I. Many of the ones I've read either treat the topic with a fanciful exoticism or just end up rattling off Sultans in a less than edifying or satisfying way.

But let me recommend one truly excellent book on the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Empire and 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. Another good read is Andrew Mango's recent biography of Ataturk, entitled, appropriately enough Ataturk.

Hopefully, more on this soon.

Happily, we seem to be on the brink of an intelligent and fruitful debate about military tribunals and the war on terrorism. Mainly because the debate has not shaken out along conventional ideological lines. Not only is there no conventional right vs. left split. We're also not seeing the sometimes familiar extremes-against -the-middle breakdown.

Let's take one example of the pro-tribunal argument.

Andrew Sullivan makes the increasingly-convetional but quite apt point that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda terrorists don't deserve to be tried in civilian courts because they are not 'criminals' in the common sense of the word; they're soldiers at war with us.

But this complicates the question as much as it clarifies it, because 'war' also involves a slew of protections. When you beat another country at war, you don't try their leaders and soldiers for murder. War-killing is different from murder and it is, in some sense, permissible.

Now obviously the sort of violence Al Qaeda has used against the United States is so totally beyond the laws of war that you can make a pretty straightforward argument that bin Laden, et.al. are war-criminals. But then we've got a precedent for how we deal with war criminals too. And at least during this century it hasn't been with military tribunals.

The problem here, I think, is a much broader one than military tribunals. It's a meta-question that we'll likely be dealing with for decades to come, and one that's being ignored. That is, the world-wide rise of non-state actors and organizations and how they interact with states.

This isn't meant as cheekiness or to diminish the seriousness of the situation. But what is Al Qaeda, really, but the world's first terrorist NGO? None of our existing institutions or metaphors equips us for dealing with an outfit like Al Qaeda. And every effort to shoehorn it into one or the other of the existing ones is bound to produce an awkward fit.

With events on the ground in Afghanistan today, it's hard to figure that Osama bin Laden is going to be heading to the studio any time soon to cut another video. But if he does, here's my take (in the New York Post) about why we should let him talk just as much as he wants.

Well, that's odd. In today's New York Times, Judith Miller reports that "reversing a course set two decades ago, [the Bush administration] has decided that the world's remaining stocks of smallpox should be retained until scientists develop new vaccines and treatments for the disease."

As I noted yesterday, my new article in The New Republic addresses this question -- specifically, Tommy Thompson's new bioterrorism czar's strident opposition to precisely this policy and his repeated denials that new vaccines or treatments can or need be developed.

The quickly-assembled Times article characterizes the change of policy like this:

A succession of administrations have endorsed the goal of destroying the virus, which was eradicated as a disease in the 1970's. But some American scientists and Pentagon officials have argued for retaining smallpox stocks, and in 1999 President Bill Clinton declared that they should be maintained, at least temporarily, while more research was conducted.

The Clinton administration privately assured other nations that it would support a move to kill off smallpox in 2002 when the issue was considered by the World Health Organization, which has long advocated destruction of the virus ...

"The issue was straightforward," said a senior official. "Are we going to do what we can to be prepared for what is one of the most consequential threats we face, or are we going to engage in feel-good measures that mask the real danger?"

From my understanding, this significantly misstates the situation. The Clinton administration actually made this decision in 1999. They may not have enunciated the plan with the same self-serving badass-ery as the Bush folks. But no one whom I've ever spoken to believes the decision made in 1999 was meant to be anything but permanent. In fact, if you look back at Miller's own articles in the Times from April 22nd, April 23rd, and May 22nd 1999 I think it pretty much bears me out.

The World Health Organization still planned, and still plans, to revisit the issue in 2002. But that's the WHO, not the US government. This is at best a more definitive statement of a key policy change Bill Clinton made in 1999.

Be that as it may, the Miller article only underscores a pretty basic question: If the Bush administration believes that smallpox should not be destroyed, that keeping the stocks will make possible the development of new medicines and vaccines, and that all of this is critical to national security, how is it that its new chief of bioterrorism preparedness at HHS adamantly believes that each of these propositions is misguided and false?

Note to White House press corps: TPM is giving you a gimme question for Ari.

I was walking out of a friend's office today and toward the elevator when I looked up and saw a sign that read "Ein Communications."

And I'm thinking Ein Communications, Ein Communications ... Marina Ein!!! Wait a second! Didn't I almost end her career a few months ago when she was working as Gary Condit's spokeswoman and I exposed her inexplicable decision to call Chandra Levy a woman with "a history of one night stands"? DOUBLE WAIT A SECOND!! Didn't she almost end my career when she accused me of lying about it!! ... Ok, wait. Deep breaths, deep breaths ...

Well, you can imagine it was a pretty fraught moment. But look, I'm over that. And, as I told Bill O'Reilly at the time, I'm not going to say she lied. Let's just say she knowingly, premeditatedly, and repeatedly made statements she knew to be false.

Anyway, here's the deal, though. It turns out these things are karmic. Because no sooner do I get home than I see this: Gary Condit has received a grand jury subpoena for "undisclosed documents" relating to the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

Maybe he just couldn't take being out of the limelight? I'll tell you: one of the funny things I've heard is that just after 9/11 when one of the staples of late night comedy shows became jokes like 'haven't heard much about Gary Condit lately' etc., his lackeys and flacks were actually calling up Leno and Letterman and trying to jawbone the writers into laying off. Always a sure fire way to deal with comedians.

Ahhh ... those were the days.

Now that we seem to be moving into the post-Taliban phase of the war on terrorism, let's consider five key questions we'll now be facing.

1. Will we be able to ensure, devise (pick your verb) a post-Taliban Afghan government which preserves a modicum of human rights, is at least more democratic than the last one, does not support terror, AND is not inimical to the geopolitical interests of Pakistan?

2. If Osama bin Laden is captured, taken alive, what should the United States do with him? What sort of trial or punishment best fits both the interests of justice and the broader aims of the war on terrorism.

(See this morning's night owl TPM post on this question.)

3. If the situation in Afghanistan continues on in what appears to be its current course, how much and in what way will the United States bring the war against Al Qaeda to Southeast Asia? To countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines?

This is a very tricky question.

4. Will the Iraqoholics in the administration be able to push successfully for taking the war to Iraq? Or will the Powell-ites try to leverage the image of rapid victory (if that's what it turns out to be) to reshape the geopolitics of the Mideast through aggressive diplomacy?

5. Will White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith open a rainmaking, odd-couple DC public relations firm once Ari gets fired for being a risible hack?

Don't laugh. That kinda *$#& happens in DC all the time!

A couple days ago I mentioned I was following up my piece on anthrax with a piece on smallpox. Well, hey, you shouldn't have doubted me! Just released in the new issue of The New Republic is my article on why Donald A. Henderson, Tommy Thompson's new bioterrorism czar at HHS, maybe ain't all he's cracked up to be.

Henderson is justly acclaimed for directing the World Health Organization's successful smallpox eradication program in the 1960s and 1970s. But, as I explain in the article, he's spent the better part of the last decade lobbying for the destruction of the last lab stocks of the smallpox virus -- something which most experts think would have prevented the development of drugs which might save your life in the event of a bioterrorist smallpox attack.

For all the details, see the article, which is out today.

I'll also have a short ... well, what I can only think to call a short humor piece on terrorism experts coming out in the new issue of Talk, which I imagine will be out soon.

Talking Points Memo: piquant commentary, overclass humor, cutting edge epidemiology.

Who loves ya, baby?

Bill Safire is a man so prone to bouts of interpretive and polemical wackiness that you're well advised to take a deep breath and count to ten before deciding that you agree with something he's written. But he's also got a rich, redeeming streak of the more genuine, thoughtful variety of civil libertarianism. And this column seems like a choice example of that latter quality.

Safire takes aim squarely at President Bush's recent order authorizing military tribunals to try foreign terrorists.

What's on target about Safire's critique, I think, is his emphasis on necessity. Like him, I think a lot of the recent anti-terrorist moves have been troubling but, under the circumstances, warranted. Roving wiretaps, the effective dragnet we've seen used against many resident aliens with even tenuous links to radical Islamic groups. Not great, maybe. But under the circumstances, they're not causing me a lot of lost sleep. Quite the contrary actually.

When the issue is preventing catastrophic attacks on American civilians there are many things I'd be willing to countenance. On this count, I generally follow Lincoln's reasoning when he defended suspending habeas corpus by asking rhetorically: "shall all the laws go unenforced except this one?"

Again, though, the question is one of necessity. It's not the extremity of the innovation but what pressing need it's meant to answer. In this case, it's not clear to me what necessary functions these military courts can accomplish that civilian courts cannot. And, by definition almost, offenders who are in custody are not clear and present threats to innocent Americans. This is, after all, after they're caught.

Some of the constrictions of civil liberties we've seen recently seem warranted as the only possible way to defend ourselves against imminent threats. Others seem to grow from a discomfort with due process or a penchant for authoritarian measures. I think this order falls into the latter category.

P.S. Coming soon, how Talking Points can take such a high horse on military tribunals when he himself recently called for government-sponsored assassinations of Al Qaeda operatives who played a part in the September 11th attacks.

Wow! I mean, let's start with the following caveats: this remains a fluid situation, our allies are better than our enemies but rough players themselves, and our fundamental goal -- rolling up Al Qaeda -- remains to be accomplished. But having said that, it's hard to overstate the magnitude of our success in the last week. Not just in terms of achieving our objectives - or going a long way toward doing so - but also in the marriage of military force and diplomatic skill.

The president managed to be aggressive and resolute without giving in to the seductions of the Iraqoholics in his own administration. George W. Bush was on the line for this. And if it continues to go as well as it has in the last week, he - though I doubt his party - will certainly reap all sorts of credit.

The White House's domestic agenda has been pretty much downhill since 9/11. But, as far as the foreign equation goes, I'm more than happy to give credit where credit is due.

One of the more interesting reports I've heard (heard but can't confirm in any way) is that the Taliban retreat from Mazar-e Sharif really was a strategic retreat. That is to say, an intentional, considered move meant to strengthen their position, not a hasty necessity required by imminent defeat. But as students of military science well know, a strategic retreat is one of the most difficult maneuvers to pull off. Because they can easily turn into a routs, as this one clearly seems to have done.

It wasn't just western pundits who had underestimated the sort of beating the United States had inflicted on the Taliban. The Taliban themselves didn't quite seem to realize the extent of it either. It only became clear when they had to try to execute a coordinated maneuver. Then things began to fall apart.