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

Not everyone at Southern Methodist University is happy at the prospect of hosting the George W. Bush presidential library. Administrators, faculty and staff of SMU's School of Theology, interestingly enough, are apparently leading the opposition to the $500 million project.

The Nation has a piece out by Michael Tisserand, questioning whether the Democrats will make Hurricane Katrina recovery and the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority:

For New Orleans, the most dangerous outcome of the midterms would be if voters receive the message that Katrina was a terrible thing, a Republican blunder, but it's now over. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mental health infrastructure in New Orleans remains shattered, depression is a local epidemic and the suicide rate has officially tripled. Incredibly, some residents of public housing are still unable to enter their own homes, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to demolish more than 5,000 public housing units. Unchecked insurance costs are preventing others from selling, buying or repairing property. Federal dollars are flowing to corporate bailouts and disaster profiteers, not to affected citizens, revealed an August analysis by CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organization that previously investigated profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

. . .

More than anything, Democrats must set themselves apart by keeping their promises to Katrina survivors. At an August press conference in New Orleans, party leaders pledged that the first 100 hours of the new Congress would include bills to assist New Orleans by streamlining insurance, creating more affordable housing options and restoring the coast. But Pelosi's recently released "New Direction for America" didn't include one mention of post-Katrina needs. Such omissions offer cold comfort to New Orleanians who wonder if some leaders have stopped thinking of their home as an American city at all.

Michael, an old friend and colleague of mine, was the editor of Gambit Weekly, the alternative paper in New Orleans, until Katrina struck and the levees failed, forcing him and his family to relocate to Chicago.

Well, here we go. Reports this week, including from today's New York Times, indicate that the President will escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq by deploying additional troops. CBS News last evening reported that plans already call for a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division to deploy to Kuwait after the holidays. Incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to approve the move after being sworn in Monday.

I get the sense that everyone in the country except the President and Vice President is caught back on their heels at the moment. Here are just a few of the misconceptions that seem to be floating around since the election:

Myth: The results of the election will force the President to reevalute his Iraq strategy.

Reality: The election defeat has forced the White House to go through the motions of reevaluating its Iraq policy; hence, the President's listening tour. Politically, he had no choice but to make a lavish effort to look responsive to the election results. Substantively, however, everything about this Administration suggests it will do what it wants to do regardless. The last few weeks reinforce that impression. If the White House can blow off the bipartisan elder statesmen of the Iraq Study Group, it can certainly ignore Democrats, the press, and the people.

Myth: Following the reevaluation of its Iraq policy, the White House will announce its proposed New Way Forward, whereupon there will be a vigorous national debate.

Reality: The White House is not going to wait for the Democratic Congress or for an extended national debate before it proceeds. There are some indications that the reason for delaying the President's announcement of "The New Way Forward" is so that he can announce a fait accompli. (Andy Card, who famously noted about the 2002 run-up to the Iraq invasion that you don't roll out a marketing campaign in August, might also say the same thing about launching one during the Christmas holidays.) I wouldn't be surprised to see new deployment orders already issued by the time Democrats officially take over Congress in the first week of January, the President's way of grabbing his crotch and saying, Debate this.

Myth: Rumsfeld's exit and Gates' entrance signal a new direction from the White House.

Reality: The relief and excitement that greeted Gates' nomination seemed all out of proportion then and even more so now. Gates caught official Washington, and many Democrats, on the rebound. If Rumsfeld was the bad boyfriend, then Gates swept everyone off their feet simply by being soft-spoken and listening. So instead of using the hearings on the Gates' nomination as the starting point for a debate on Iraq policy, it became a bipartisan lovefest. The myth that the ISG report would somehow save the day has already been exploded. The adults are not in charge; Cheney still is. I would expect that Cheney and Rumsfield conspired in the last few weeks of Rumsfeld's tenure to start the ball rolling on the New Way Forward with the intention of constraining Gates' options.

Myth: The prospect of Democratic oversight will sober up the Administration and force it to rein itself in.

Reality: The White House is going to try to outflank Congress with speed and agility. Troop deployments are a perfect example. Deploy the troops, then ask Congress for the funding. Are Democrats going to support the troops already there, or pull the rug out from under them?

Myth: Congessional hearings will build public support for withdrawal from Iraq.

Reality: It is difficult to imagine public sentiment against the war being any higher than it is right now. In this week's NBC/WSJ poll, 71 percent of respondents disapproved of the President's handling of Iraq. As soon as congressional hearings begin, the President is likely to get some bump in the polls because it allows him to cast the debate in familiar political terms. The President versus congressional Democrats is a much better matchup for the White House than the President versus the reality of his disastrous policies. Congressional hearings are also messy, boring, and diffuse--an important part of good governance, but not especially effective at rallying public support one way or another, at least in the short-term.

So while quite a few Americans and an abundance of commentators heralded the midterm elections and the ISG report as the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq, I am afraid Americans will shake off their New Year's hangovers and discover a new and deeper American commitment in Iraq, one which won't easily be reversed for the remainder of the Bush presidency.

The AP has undertaken tracking down former detainees from Guantanamo to determine what happened to them after their releases to foreign countries:

The Pentagon called them "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth," sweeping them up after Sept. 11 and hauling them in chains to a U.S. military prison in southeastern Cuba.

Since then, hundreds of the men have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to other countries, many of them for "continued detention."

And then set free.

Decisions by more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Europe and South Asia to release the former detainees raise questions about whether they were really as dangerous as the United States claimed, or whether some of America's staunchest allies have set terrorists and militants free.

Of the 245 former detainees the AP was able to locate, 205 were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at Guantanamo.

Of those who were never charged with a crime or were acquitted, how many were subjected to the President's "aggressive interrogation techniques"? That is, how many innocent detainees were tortured? (Not that torture would be justified for "guilty" detainees, but the psychological scarring of being tortured must be worse for those who are innocent in the first place.)

Late Update: This news comes as the military tightens the restrictions on those still detained at Guantanamo, according to the New York Times.

More troops to Iraq? The idea is gaining favor, reports the Los Angeles Times:

As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

But as TPM Reader AH remarks, "double down" is the wrong phrase:

Since the Pentagon has decided to discuss its new strategy in gambling parlance, it should at least use the proper terminology. Today's LA Times article says that a Pentagon official has referred to the option of sending more troops in to Iraq as a "double down" strategy. The reference is to a bet in blackjack when, based on the cards that have been dealt, the player seeks to maximize a payoff that is more likely to occur in that hand, given the probabilities. The double down is a calculated bet, made from a position of strength when the odds are favorable to the bettor.

In Iraq, we are certainly not in a situation where the odds are favorable to winning. Our bet is not a double down. Let's call it what it is: double or nothing. This is is more like the gambler who has been on a bad losing streak deciding to empty the savings account and put all of his chips on red, hoping that the roulette wheel will spin his way and bring him back close to even. Double or nothing is a desperation play. It is an ill-advised way to gamble, with chips or human lives, and such a strategy inevitably leads to another appropriate gambling term. Gambler's ruin: winding up completely broke.

The New York Times today gives us what I think is the first good read of what Vice President Cheney's trip to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago was all about: King Abdullah told Cheney that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, the Kingdom might have to give financial backing to Iraq's Sunni minority in the civil war against the Shiite majority. But I think CNN captures the flavor of the exchange, quoting a senior U.S. official as saying that the King "read the riot act" to Cheney. That sounds about right.

Democrats' decision to forgo earmarks this year is making for strange bedfellows:

Surprisingly, some Republican conservatives agree with the do-nothing approach, because Democrats have decided to rule out any 'earmarks,' otherwise known as 'pork' for local areas and special interests, while the continuing resolution is in effect.

These earmarks became a huge political issue in the midterm elections as Democrats pointed to expensive GOP-sponsored projects, such as a 'bridge to nowhere' in a remote area of Alaska, as a sign that pork had gotten out of control.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the Senate's most conservative members, said in a statement that 'my hat is off to Reid and the Democrats for making this decision. By agreeing to do a yearlong spending resolution for 2007, we will effectively take a time-out on pork-barrel spending.'

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the Republican Study Committee's Budget and Spending Task Force, said that 'it is somewhat refreshing' that Democratic leaders have adopted a strategy that for weeks has been favored by conservative Republicans.