David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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OK, class. Today's homework assignment is reading Gen. William Odom's op-ed in the Washington Post. I've highlighted Odom's analysis in the past, and he remains possibly the most cogent observer of the Iraq disaster.

Greg Sargent has pulled up Sen. Clinton's floor speech on the Iraq War resolution from October 10, 2002. It's worth a refresher as Clinton tries to finesse her vote now.

Which brings me to another point.

Why is she trying to finesse her vote?


On the substance of it, would she really cast the same vote today knowing what we know now? I can't believe she would. Does she regret, therefore, casting that vote? She won't say that exactly, which leads one to conclude that she has political reasons for not saying so.

But what political reasons?

Again, seriously.

Here Clinton finds herself where many if not most Americans do: supported the war initially and are now dubious. So what political backlash would she suffer for traveling the same arc as a significant percentage of voters? Arguably, very little.

The backlash she is getting is from the left, which remains angry about her vote. But does holding fast to that position now deflect criticism from the left? No, just the opposite. It invites more criticism.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying this, but since I can't figure out why she would hew to this position for political reasons, I circle back to the substance of the issue. Would she cast that vote again knowing what she knows now? Maybe she would. But, again, I doubt it. She's too smart for that.

I'm left with thoroughly unsatisfying explanations; such as, she's too stubborn to admit a mistake. Thoughts?

Adam Liptak has a nice piece today based on Dick Cheney's handwritten notes from the Ford Administration:

RETURNING to the White House after the Memorial Day weekend in 1975, the young aide Dick Cheney found himself handling a First Amendment showdown. The New York Times had published an article by Seymour M. Hersh about an espionage program, and the White House chief of staff, Donald H. Rumsfeld, was demanding action.

Out came the yellow legal pad, and in his distinctively neat, deliberate hand, Mr. Cheney laid out the “problem,” “goals” while addressing it, and “options.” These last included “Start FBI investigation — with or w/o public announcement. As targets include NYT, Sy Hersh, potential gov’t sources.”

Another option was immediate grand jury indictments of the New York Times and Hersh.

The more things change . . .

Barack Obama takes a hit from, of all places, down under:

PRIME Minister John Howard has launched a broadside against US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, warning his victory could destroy Iraq and prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Mr Howard's stinging attack against the popular Democrat, who formally launched his bid for the Democratic candidacy overnight, also appears to commit Australian troops to staying in Iraq well into 2008.

Only days after saying Australia's alliance with the US was about more than his personal friendship with US President George W Bush, Mr Howard warned that an Obama victory would be a boost for the terrorists.

The man who wants to be the first black US president has pledged to withdraw US troops from Iraq by March 2008, a timetable Mr Howard believes is dangerous.

"I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Wow. What do our Aussie readers make of this?

Thanks to TPM Reader TD from Sydney for the tip.

Update: Some commentary on John Howard's remarks from Tim Dunlop:

It’s one thing to be feeling the pressure at home about his own unpopular policy on Iraq; it is quite another to let that pressure get to him to the extent that he felt it necessary to publicly smear a United States Senator, the entire party who currently control the Congress of the United States, and the American people themselves. And all this fresh off him telling us all that we couldn’t expect to withdraw troops from Iraq without suffering some consequences for the alliance. Does he seriously think this will go unremarked in Washington?

Late Update: From TPM Reader AB:

Speaking as an Australian: Howard's comments were largely for domestic consumption. He's floundering lately - the opposition ALP has a new leadership team that's making him look very very small. He's been caught out on the wrong side of a pile of issues, including climate change and the Australian David Hicks (who's still in Gitmo after 5 years, still no trial). Add to this the Iraq war, which had majority opposition from day one, and he's feeling the pressure. There's an election due later this year.

This account is a couple of days old now, but deserves at least passing mention:

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

"But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

Thanks to TPM Reader LD for the link.

(ed.note: This post was edited to reflect a revised version of the excerpted news article.)

The Administration tries to run out the clock on congressional oversight:

The Justice Department, which serves as legal counsel in court proceedings for other departments, has repeatedly gone beyond merely protecting its own actions from scrutiny. Even when Congress was in Republican hands, Justice Department officials advised other government departments on how to stonewall congressional review. These efforts now appear to be ramping up.

The Justice Department Legal Counsel's office recently held meetings with lawyers of other departments to discuss strategy for responding to congressional requests for documents and hearing appearances. In January, Senator Grassley charged at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the DOJ has started running training "events" for other offices of the executive branch, teaching them how to handle congressional inquiries and hearings. Grassley's office says they were tipped off to this by someone in the Justice Department worried about this new program.

23 1/2 months to go . . .

I don't have any sympathy for Doug Feith, but Mark Thompson at Time makes a point that bears repeating:

Feith may have been one of the Bush Administration's most fervent supporters of war with Iraq but, in truth, he was only a bit player. Indeed, he is the third bit player in the Iraq fiasco to be paying for the sins of his superiors recently. For a couple of weeks now, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been in the dock in federal court in Washington, trying desperately to keep his one-time boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, from being stained by the responsibility for Libby's chats with reporters and government officials about Valerie Plame's CIA job. Then, just yesterday, Army General George Casey was raked over the coals by Senators who didn't think his past 30 months in command of U.S. ground forces in Iraq warrants his elevation to Army chief of staff. . . .

This trio of woes seems to have a common thread: Underlings snared while trying to please their bosses. It's almost like blaming the hammer instead of the carpenter for a bent nail.

Update: Let me refine a point here. Some readers have objected to calling Feith a "bit player." I probably wouldn't have phrased it that way, but I don't think Thompson is letting Feith off the hook in any way. Nor should he be. Yes, Feith is an important figure who held a high-level position at the Pentagon. But he was merely implementing a policy that came down from the White House and the Office of the Vice President through the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Heaping scorn on Feith, who is no longer in government, is appropriate as far as it goes. Just keep in mind that the buck stops with Bush and Cheney, who not only directed the policy in the first place but remain completely unapologetic, as strikingly demonstrated by the White House's refusal to cooperate with the investigation of Feith's office by the Pentagon inspector general. In that sense, Feith is a bit player.

How goes the surge?

A month after the Bush administration announced a "surge" in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change.

Fewer than 20% of the additional Iraqi and American troops have arrived so far. And the roughly 5,000 that have arrived have yet to make a visible impact in this sprawling city of 6 million people, where thousands of paramilitary gunmen patrol the streets.

U.S. officials are trying to manage expectations both domestically and in Iraq, continually asserting that the new forces will slowly take up positions in the capital over the coming months.

But after one of the bloodiest weeks since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Iraqis are increasingly impatient. A series of high-profile attacks on both civilians and security forces killed more than 1,000 Iraqis and at least 33 U.S. troops in the first nine days of the month.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he is investigating whether he can speed the pace of the troop buildup. But a senior Pentagon official said this week that it was unlikely that U.S. troops could be sent to Baghdad any faster than planned. The five brigades going to the capital are due to arrive one per month, with the last coming in May.

From The Guardian today:

US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

So there you have it. No real surprise. Just about anyone paying any attention understands that's where things stand: Gun loaded. Safety lock still on. In the hands of an Administration with an itchy trigger finger.

A few days ago, I linked to a James Fallows' column in which he suggested that Congress take steps now to head off an Iran misadventure. Several readers emailed wondering whether Congress has the power to preempt the President from taking military action.

As it turns out, the Senate Judiciary Committee has held hearings recently on this issue. In a column of his own, John Dean summarizes the bipartisan consensus that emerged from witnesses who testified at that hearing:

What is especially significant, in my eyes, is that the conclusion that Congress does indeed have power to significantly restrict the Administration in its plans for war, transcends politics: Even experts who have worked for Republican administrations have come to this conclusion.

. . .

[T]here is no real question as to whether Congress could legally stop Bush and Cheney from going to war in Iran without coming to Congress to fully explain what they are doing and why. Congress has that power; the only question is whether it will dare to use it.

For those interested in the finer legal points, Dean provides links to the witnesses' written testimony.

You can come up with a laundry list of reasons why attacking Iran would be a disaster, and you can come up with a decent list of reasons why the Administration is presently constrained by circumstances from doing so (not enough troops and hardware, for example). But you'd be hard-pressed to come up with any good reasons for why this Administration would be constrained by either circumstances or potentially disastrous outcomes. Besides, do these clowns still deserve the benefit of the doubt?