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

In following the political debate over the Iraq debacle, it helps to take a step back from time to time and to re-focus on Iraq from a strategic vantage point. Our President isn't able to do that, and for the most part neither is the media nor the Congress. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) has repeatedly pointed out, the President's surge is not a new strategy but a new tactic. All the goings-on in Congress over which resolution best expresses disapproval of the surge miss the larger picture. Even congressional defunding of the surge is tinkering at the tactical level.

So go read the written testimony of Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.) given last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the .pdf if here). It is, as you would expect, a sobering read. But rather than a thundering denunciation of the President and his Administration, it is a quiet--though blistering--indictment of our political and military establishment that makes most of the debate about the war and how to move forward from here seem like self-serving, short-sighted exercises in chest-thumping by one side and throat-clearing by the other:

Several critics of the administration show an appreciation of the requirement to regain our allies and others' support, but they do not recognize that withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is the sine qua non for achieving their cooperation. It will be forthcoming once that withdrawal begins and looks irreversible. They will then realize that they can no longer sit on the sidelines. The aftermath will be worse for them than for the United States, and they know that without US participation and leadership, they alone cannot restore regional stability. Until we understand this critical point, we cannot design a strategy that can achieve what we can legitimately call a victory.

Any new strategy that does realistically promise to achieve regional stability at a cost we can prudently bear, and does not regain the confidence and support of our allies, is doomed to failure. To date, I have seen no awareness that any political leader in this country has gone beyond tactical proposals to offer a different strategic approach to limiting the damage in a war that is turning out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history.

When the political debate over Iraq is viewed at the strategic level, it becomes much clearer. Silly diversions are revealed for what they are, like the demands from the President and Vice President that opponents of the surge present their own tactical plans for "success" or the defense secretary's claim that the debate itself emboldens the "enemy." (Gates has candidly said that four wars are currently underway in Iraq, so which enemy is emboldened? All of them?)

The Democrats in Congress want to "send a message" with a resolution opposing the surge. That's fine, as far as it goes. But as Odom's testimony makes clear (go read the whole thing), the President has committed strategic errors of monumental proportions. Getting bogged down in a debate with the President over tactics, lets him off the hook for the most egregious of his sins, which are strategic, and makes it more difficult to chart a way out of this strategic disaster.

Late Update: Here's a link to the video of the hearing that included Odom's testimony.

McClatchy has more on the recent string of U.S. attorney appointments that have gone to Bush loyalists--a total of nine, by their count.

Andrew Sullivan, on JFK:

It's worth acknowledging that, whatever his rhetoric, Kennedy wasn't so good at transparency either. And, if anything, he was more reckless in foreign policy than his rich-kid, daddy's boy successor, George W. Bush.

JFK was more reckless in foreign policy than GWB? What is Sullivan talking about? I really don't know.

Yes, the Bay of Pigs was a disaster, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was surely a dangerous confrontation. But can anyone imagine George W., in the same position, agreeing to remove missiles from Turkey? I can hear him saying, "Bring it on!" The possible consequences then--imminent nuclear annihilation--were far more grave than what we face today; giving Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you can say it takes less effort to be deemed reckless under a looming nuclear threat. But even the most negative reviews of JFK's foreign policy place it squarely in the mainstream of American post-WWII anti-communism.

Unquestionably, Kennedy deserves significant blame for starting us down the long path to ignominy in Indochina. But, as more than one observer lately has pointed out, the strategic importance of the Middle East today dwarfs that of Southeast Asia in the 1960s, making the regional upheaval, disarray, and instability caused by our Iraq adventure much more of a direct threat to U.S. national interests than the misadventure in Vietnam. Nor am I sure Kennedy's Vietnam policy is fairly called reckless. Misguided, perhaps. But not reckless.

So I'm at a loss as to how anyone could judge JFK to be more reckless in foreign policy than GWB. What am I missing?

Remember the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that the Bush Administration managed to push off completing until after the election? Well, the Administration has slow-rolled completion of the NIE past the introduction of the surge and the State of the Union address, according to Ken Silverstein at Harper's:

The situation came to a head last week, during a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This committee expected to be briefed on the long-awaited NIE by an official from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which coordinates NIEs by gathering input from all of the nation's various intelligence agencies. But the NIC official turned up empty-handed and told the committee that the intelligence community hadn't been able to complete the NIE because of the many demands placed upon it by the Bush Administration to help prepare the new military strategy on Iraq. He then said that not all of the relevant agencies had offered input into the NIE process, and thus it had proven impossible to put together a finished product.

Why, yes, of course. They were too busy rolling out what they're calling a new Iraq policy to prepare the NIE which should inform creation of that new policy. That tells you everything you need to know about the surge.

From TPM Reader TB:

I think you may have touched on this before, but I'd like to reiterate the single biggest mental block that currently makes me think I will not cast my vote for Clinton. It makes my stomach hurt to think that in twenty or thirty years I could look back at a list of presidents that includes "Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton." This country is far too great to have to rely on two families for so much presidential leadership. Think about it: a two-term Hillary would be TWENTY-EIGHT years of Bush and Clinton. It's petty, but like I said it's a mental block, and I'm just not sure how I can get over it.

I wouldn't call it a petty concern.

Whoa . . . Steve Clemons calls out presidential candidate Bill Richardson on, um, well, as Clemons phrases it, the "blurring of public responsibilities and 'what should be' private behavior." Man, that didn't take long. Richardson just announced his candidacy today.

To their credit, corporations do not appear to be heeding Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Stimson's suggestion that they boycott law firms representing Guantanamo detainees:

Instead of Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, DaimlerChrysler, and Pfizer dumping their outside counsel in a fit of political protest, firms have largely gotten support from corporate America and from within their partnership ranks.

“Pro bono service and the rule of law are great traditions in the American legal profession, and we at GE have no intention of — and strongly disagree with the suggestion of in any way — discriminating against law firms that represent us on the basis of the pro bono, charitable, or public service that the lawyers in those firms choose to engage in,” Brackett Denniston, senior vice president and general counsel at General Electric, said in a statement. Jenner & Block and Covington, two firms involved in representing detainees, have done legal work for GE.

GE’s not alone in its position.

“I intend to continue to use the firms that regularly represent us. The fact that they engage in pro bono work or work for other clients that I don’t necessarily agree with doesn’t affect my decision,” says William Barr, general counsel of Verizon Communications and former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Debevoise & Plimpton and WilmerHale have both represented Verizon and are active in representing detainees.

Stimson has apologized, sort of. He remains on the job.

You may recall the President announcing, during his primetime address on Iraq, the creation of a bipartisan working group to coordinate between the White House and Congress on the war on terrorism:

Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman and other key members of Congress, we will form a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror. This group will meet regularly with me and my administration; it will help strengthen our relationship with Congress.

Nice touch there, using Lieberman as a wedge.

But Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have refused to be drawn into the Bush-Lieberman dog and pony show, sending a letter to the President yesterday declining the invitation:

We believe that Congress already has bipartisan structures in place, like the committee system and other Congressional working groups such as the Senate’s National Security Working Group, that could produce the result you described in your speech.

We look forward to working with you within these existing structures, in a bipartisan and fully consultative way, to make progress on efforts against terrorism and other important matters.

A weak and unpopular President and his token Democrat.

A staggering 68 percent of Americans are opposed to the surge, according to the latest Newsweek poll.

Democrats add calcium to diet; spines stiffen. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV):

Mr. Rockefeller was biting in his criticism of how President Bush has dealt with the threat of Islamic radicalism since the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he believed that the campaign against international terrorism was “still a mystery” to the president.

“I don’t think he understands the world,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “I don’t think he’s particularly curious about the world. I don’t think he reads like he says he does.”

He added, “Every time he’s read something he tells you about it, I think.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

Intensifying a war of words over a U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused President George W. Bush on Friday of playing politics with soldiers' lives, a charge the White House called "poisonous."

"The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources," Pelosi, head of the Democratic-led House, told ABC's "Good Morning America. "That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way."