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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.

Articles by David

How an incapacitated attorney general spends his time:

For the moment, Gonzales' days will be spent in much the same way they have been for most of the spring: preparing to defend himself before Congress. With the May 10 hearing before Conyers' committee fast approaching, the attorney general is certain to face new questions from members of Congress armed with information gleaned from testimony by McNulty, Moschella, Comey and possibly Goodling. As if that wasn't enough, Gonzales must also prepare for a May 9 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, in which he'll be asked detailed questions about his management of the rest of the 110,000-person department.

Don't be fooled by the subdued tone and subtle nuance of David Sanger's front page article in this morning's New York Times on the "New Way Forward" in Iraq. It is a milestone in the Bush Administration's public spin of the war, marking the first official acknowledgment that the surge and all the attendant fuss were nothing more than an elaborate stop-gap intended to buy time so that the colossal failure of the President's foreign policy can be pawned off on the next president:

The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.


If you've been a regular reader of TPM, you know this is nothing new. We've been saying it in one form or another since late last year, when it became clear that Bush would reject the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group in favor of a policy that can charitably be called more of the same. Here is Josh, for example, writing in January:

[T]he most appropriate name for what the president is planning is neither 'surge' nor even 'escalation' but rather 'punt' -- a strategically meaningless increase in troops meant to allow the president to avoid dealing with the failure of his policy and lay the ground work for getting the next president to take the blame for his epochal screw-up.


For all of 2007, Administration defenders--an ever-dwindling number--have loudly and repeatedly called for opponents of the surge to give the so-called new strategy a chance. Even Republicans who have long supported the President began hedging their bets when the surge was announced. Fine, they said, we'll give you one last shot--but this is it. Minority Leader John Boehner told CNN on January 24 that we would know whether the surge was working in 60-90 days. Hmmm, in other words, we would know by now.

But the Administration has employed several sleights of hand (no surprise there) which are designed to allow it to buy more time. The biggest charade has been the deployment schedule, which has phased in the "surge" over a period of five months. The full contingent of troops won't be on the streets of Baghdad until May. So the surge is really more of a ripple.

The deployment schedule is largely a product of an overextended military. The only way, short of a draft, to increase the number of troops on the ground is to juggle the schedule through a combination of extended and accelerated deployments so that units' time in Iraq overlap. But the Administration will argue, come May, that the new strategy is only then fully implementational. We will be told that we have to give the new strategy a chance to work once all of its components are in place. The period from January to May when we thought we were watching the surge for signs of success was merely prelude, we will be told.

Folks like Boehner will be asked about the deadlines they publicly imposed for success and will explain, with barely concealed impatience, that the clock shouldn't begin running until all the troops are in place. So instead of 60-90 days from January, we should measure from May, which buys them at least until August. Well, September actually. That is when the Pentagon is scheduled to do a "comprehensive review" of the surge for signs of success.

In order to make sure there are sufficient "signs of success" by September to justify pressing ahead, the Administration is leaning on Prime Minister Maliki, upon whose fragile shoulders our entire mission in Iraq now rests, to produce "outputs":

Mr. Bush was careful when he announced his new strategy in January to avoid public estimates of how quickly Mr. Maliki might take steps toward political reconciliation. Even now, White House officials are being careful not to describe with any precision the mix of benchmarks they expect Mr. Maliki to deliver.

By the time Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus complete a comprehensive assessment of progress in September, three months after the troop increase has been fully in place, American officials are hoping that some of the pieces of crucial legislation will have passed.

But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates found himself pressing Mr. Maliki last week to keep Parliament from taking a two-month summer break. If lawmakers remain in Baghdad, said one senior American official who did not want to be identified because he was discussing internal White House deliberations, “we’ll have some outputs then.”

He added, “That’s different from having outcomes,” drawing a distinction between a sign of activity and a sign of success, which could take considerably longer.


Bush is seeking "outputs" as a means of ensuring eventual "outcomes" that will, he hopes, in the end, lead to "signs of success." It's not exactly Churchillian: We will fight for every output and we will never surrender! In the meantime, Bush will be content with any "sign of activity." And as we've seen before from Bush, in the morbid spectacle he made of Terri Schiavo, any sign of activity, no matter how remote, justifies not pulling the plug.

The somber, measured tone of Sanger's piece in the The Times, without a hint of irony in it, conveys that we are all supposed to just play along with what everyone--from congressional Republicans to Petraeus to the poor grunts on the streets of Baghdad--knows to be a huge charade.

TPM Reader MD gamed out the Administration's strategy way back in December:

It hit me the other day that what the surge is going to accomplish for Bush and Cheney is to take them through these next two years. By the time they can claim to have the extra troops in Baghdad it's gonna be May or June. They'll be there a few months till everyone has to admit that it isn't working . . . then it will be the end of 2007 and the argument will be about whether we should remove some of the surge troops. That will take a few months, at least, and we'll be in the throes of a presidential election. Bush won't want to do anything too "political" at that point, of course, so he'll happily leave it to the new prez to make shitcakes out of shit. And Bush and Cheney will spin it for all it's worth for the rest of their lives...
We're right on schedule.

Another thread to follow in the U.S. attorney scandal:

The U.S. attorney position in Alaska opened Jan. 23, 2006, when Timothy Burgess left to become a U.S. district judge. His first assistant, Deborah Smith, was named acting U.S. attorney that day. U.S. attorneys are typically nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. Traditionally, Alaska’s two U.S. senators send the names of one or more Alaskans to the White House for consideration. Sen. Murkowski said her clear choice was Smith, a career prosecutor who started out in the federal prosecutor’s office in Anchorage in 1982 and worked in Boston and Washington.

Sen. Stevens wouldn’t reveal his choices.

After submitting Smith’s name, Murkowski said in a telephone interview, her legislative director periodically called the White House during the first part of 2006 to check the status of the nomination.

“We’d get these vague, 'Oh, we’re still working on it, still working on it,’ ” Murkowski said. “So it gets to the point where you’re thinking, 'Wait a minute, this has been a heck of a long time. What is happening?’ And so the response to my inquiry is, 'We still haven’t, there’s some issues,’ and ultimately what we got back was, 'The picks were not acceptable by the White House,’ and yet no explanation as to why they’re not acceptable.”

When she was in Alaska for the August 2006 recess, Murkowski’s Blackberry vibrated with a message. It was her chief aide in Alaska, Mary Hughes, citing a media report that Nelson Cohen had been named interim U.S. attorney.

“You just think, 'It can’t be, wait.’ There was no consulting, no process, no nothing. That’s where I was certainly caught blindsided,” Murkowski said.

Stevens, himself a former federal prosecutor in Alaska, was enraged. “I am just furious at the way the attorney general handled this,” he said at the time.

In an interview at his office in the Federal Building last week, Cohen said he was unaware of all the political forces that resulted in his appointment. But he knew his boss, [Mary Beth] Buchanan, was well-connected, and it was she who told him about the opening in Alaska.


Mary Beth Buchanan is the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh and preceded Michael Battle as head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. She is on the list of folks that Rep. John Conyers is seeking to interview as part of his committee's ongoing investigation.

So here's a question for Conyers' crew to ask: Why was Cohen's appointment so important to the White House that it bypassed both of Alaska's Republican senators?

Not surprisingly, the flow of congressional campaign contributions has dramatically shifted since the mid-term elections, with the majority Democrats now on par with Republicans.

With apologies to my wife, I would not object if Sheryl Crow touched me. Yet another difference between me and Karl Rove.

Earth Day prompted me to pull some of Wendell Berry's essays off the shelf, something I don't do nearly as often as I should. Each time I revisit Berry, I am struck anew by his gift for cloaking radical thought in supple prose, making beauty out of vehemence. It has been almost twenty years since I first stumbled across his writings. I was barely out of my teens, and I desperately wanted some day to be able to think and write as well as Berry. So it was with a bit of a shock that I realized that the essays I was perusing this morning, from the early 1970s, were written when Berry was roughly my age now. Another youthful ambition dashed.

Though most people would associate him with the environmental movement, it is an oversimplification to call Berry an environmentalist. The scope of his writings is far broader than mere environmentalism, and he has always harbored the kind of old-fashioned rural independence that made my grandfathers deeply skeptical of any fad or movement, regardless of how much it might otherwise comport with their own personal views.

Here is a sampling of Berry, from his essay "Discipline and Hope":

The most destructive of ideas is that extraordinary times justify extraordinary measures. This is the ultimate relativism, and we are hearing it from all sides. The young, the poor, the colored races, the Constitution, the nation, traditional values, sexual morality, religious faith, Western civilization, the economy, the environment, the world are all now threatened with destruction--so the arguments run--therefore let us deal with our enemies by whatever means are handiest and most direct; in view of our high aims history will justify and forgive. Thus the violent have always rationalized their violence.

But as wiser men have always known, all times are extraordinary in precisely this sense. In the condition of mortality all things are always threatened with destruction.


Berry is timeless. But for the antiquated phrasing "colored races," this could have been written today, instead of 35 years ago.

It's all about Karl Rove:

Publicly, the White House was standing by its A.G. One White House adviser (who asked not to be ID'ed talking about sensitive issues) said the support reflected Bush's own view that a Gonzales resignation would embolden the Dems to go after other targets—like Karl Rove. "This is about Bush saying, 'Screw you'," said the adviser, conceding that a Gonzales resignation might still be inevitable. The trick, said the adviser, would be to find a graceful exit strategy for Bush's old friend.


An insolent president trying to govern by tricks. Nixon lives.

And to think that for the better part of five years Bush was heralded as a man of unbending principle. The mind reels.

Doesn't sound like Rich Little's routine went over all that well tonight.

Late update: Forget about Little, Atrios says, and watch Letterman's special Top 10 list.

To be taken with a grain of salt: "Friends of Al Gore have secretly started assembling a campaign team in preparation for the former American vice-president to make a fresh bid for the White House."

Baghdad, through the eyes of U.S. commander David Petraeus:

On Friday night at dusk, Petraeus boarded a helicopter to look for scenes of normalcy and progress from above the maelstrom of the capital.

"On a bad day, I actually fly Baghdad just to reassure myself that life still goes on," he said, leaning back and propping his legs on the seat in front of him.

The aircraft banked right and Petraeus caught sight of a patch of relative calm. "He's actually watering the grass!" Petraeus said with a laugh, peering down at a man tending a soccer field, with children playing nearby.

Seconds later, the aircraft pivoted again, exposing boarded-up shops on a deserted, trash-strewn street. A bit farther, along the Tigris River, a hulking pile of twisted steel came into view -- the remains of the Sarafiya bridge, blown up April 12 amid a series of spectacular and deadly suicide bombings.

"That's a setback," Petraeus said, his voice lower. "That breaks your heart."

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