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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.

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Spencer Ackerman has ongoing coverage of the Petraeus/Crocker hearings at TPMmuckraker.

Late Update: Petraeus offers his own stats on civilian deaths in Iraq--but has not yet divulged his methodology.

Later Update: So much for the spring of 2008. Looks like the surge will last into the summer of 2008.

Maybe there is a limit as to how far the White House will--or can--go to spin the situation on the ground in Iraq as positive.

On his way to the APEC conference in Australia this week, President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq. Actually, the visit was limited to the confines of a U.S. base there. Iraq is too dangerous for the President to visit anywhere where Iraqis actually live. The very fact that the visit has to be a "surprise" for security reasons evidences the violence and instability within the country. But that wasn't going to stop a gung-ho White House speechwriter from touting the President's visit itself as proof that things are getting better in Iraq.

Here is a portion of the speech President Bush was to give today at the APEC conference. This is from the "as prepared for delivery" version of the speech which is released in advance to media organizations that cover the White House (emphasis mine):

On my way to this week’s summit, I stopped in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Last year, Anbar was an al Qaida stronghold and one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. Al Qaida terrorized the province, using torture and murder to keep the local population in line. Then, Sunnis who had fought with al Qaida against Coalition troops turned on the terrorists, and began fighting with Coalition troops against al Qaida. Together, Americans and Iraqis drove al Qaida from strongholds in the region. And today, because of their sacrifice, Anbar is one of the safest places in Iraq – so safe that the President of the United States can drop in to thank the troops for their courage in the fight to protect us all.


Someone must have spotted the sheer inanity of that line and rewrote it because in the speech the President actually delivered that section is gone, replaced with a more benign account of the President's visit:

You may have heard, on my way down here I stopped in Iraq--stopped in Anbar Province. Anbar was an al Qaeda stronghold. Their leaders of al Qaeda had announced that they were going to establish a safe haven from which to launch further attacks on my nation--for starters. It was a part of Iraq that was dangerous and, the truth of the matter is, the a lot of the experts in my country had said was lost to al Qaeda.

I went there because al Qaeda has lost Anbar. The opposite happened. Anbar is a Sunni province that once had people joining al Qaeda -- they're now turning against al Qaeda. . . . And I was proud to go there.


Citing the President's brief stop in a heavily guarded U.S. encampment as proof of peace and stability in the country at large was too over the top, even for the White House.

In the upcoming issue of The New Yorker, George Packer surveys the failure of the surge:

The Petraeus-Crocker testimony is the kind of short-lived event on which the Administration has relied to shore up support for the war: the “Mission Accomplished” declaration, the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s capture, the transfer of sovereignty, the three rounds of voting, the Plan for Victory, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Every new milestone, however illusory, allows the Administration to avoid thinking ahead, to the years when the mistakes of Iraq will continue to haunt the U.S.

The media have largely followed the Administration’s myopic approach to the war, and there is likely to be intense coverage of the congressional testimony. But the inadequacy of the surge is already clear, if one honestly assesses the daily lives of Iraqis. . . .


The balance of the piece looks at the road ahead and the very difficult decisions that the U.S. is avoiding making and has been avoiding for many months. If our options before ranged from bad to worse, they now range from worse to horrible.

In his latest public statement, Osama bin Laden (or someone purporting to be him) wades pretty deep into U.S. domestic politics, according to a transcript of his remarks obtained by ABC News:

He says to the American people, "you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld…"

"You permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you -- with your full knowledge and consent -- to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then you claim to be innocent! The innocence of yours is like my innocence of the blood of your sons on the 11th -- were I to claim such a thing."

Bin Laden says President Bush's words echo "neoconservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Richard Perle."

"People of America: the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there."


Now, here's the thing. Both sides of Iraq debate may be tempted to use bin Laden's words to some perverse advantage. Bush Administration supporters (and, in fairness, no one has exploited bin Laden's statements quite like the Bush Administration) will try to extract some measure of satisfaction that if bin Laden is against us, we must be doing the right thing. Iraq War opponents might be tempted to note that bin Laden is calling out the Democrats for not stopping the war. Whatever. Bin Laden is a crazy, evil man. No one should take any pleasure in trying to exploit his rantings for their own partisan purposes. The only legitimate political point to be made is why is this guy still free to spout such noxious rhetoric six years after the September 11 attacks.

John Edwards was at NYC's Pace University today for what his campaign billed as a major policy speech on counter-terrorism. Josh got a chance to sit down with Edwards for an interview following the speech. They discussed the "War on Terror" and the road ahead in Iraq. We'll have video of some of the interview shortly.

Alas, there won't be a report from General Petraeus, at least not a written report.

Late Update
: Over at The Horse's Mouth, Greg has more on the report and the rhetorical jostling over who exactly is responsible for it, the White House or Gen. Petraeus.

Following on Sen. Barack Obama's lead, former Sen. John Edwards suggested in a speech today that as President he would not hesitate to conduct U.S. counter-terrorism operations on Pakistan soil if the Pakistani government refused to take action itself.

Yesterday, the White House announced it would nominate E. Duncan Getchell, Jr., to a seat on the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. But as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today, Getchell was not on a list of five possible nominees submitted to the White House by Virginia Sens. John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D). Instead, Getchell had appeared on an earlier list submitted to the White House by Warner and then-Sen. George Allen (R), who Webb defeated last year:

"Today, despite our good faith, bipartisan effort to accommodate the president, the recommendations that Senator Warner and I made have been ignored," Webb said last night.

"The White House talks about the spirit of bipartisanship. . . . The White House cannot expect to complain about the confirmation of federal judges when they proceed to act in this manner," Webb added.

Webb said he and Warner jointly interviewed more than a dozen attorneys, received ratings of candidates from bar groups and submitted five "outstanding" names.


Warner is not happy either, the paper reports:

Warner said in a terse statement, "I steadfastly remain committed to the recommendations stated in my joint letter with Senator Webb to the president, dated June 12, 2007, and I have so advised in a respectful, consistent manner in my consultations with the White House senior staff."


The White House and the Senate leadership worked out a deal before the summer recess that the President would not make any recess appointments provided that the Senate moved on some of the President's nominations. It's not clear whether this is one such nomination, but the irony would be rich if it were.

One other point to be made. As the Times-Dispatch notes, a third of the 4th Circuit seats are open at the moment, which has left the reliably conservative appeals court evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. So the appointment of a Federalist Society member like Getchell, if confirmed, would help sway the idealogical bent of the court back to where the GOP base would like it to be--staunchly conservative.

Fred Thompson: "we better figure out a way" to combat al Qaeda.

Perhaps before "we" run for President?

Late Update: The video, from ABC's "Good Morning America":

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