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

It caught our ears when Gen. Petraeus testified that the U.S. military never gives weapons to Sunni tribal groups in Iraq. But that may be literally true, as the military actually gives the tribes money with which they are free to buy weapons.

In his testimony today, Gen Petraeus was asked about a Washington Post story over the weekend that reported on a "schism" between Petraeus and his immediate superior, CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon. The Post quoted a senior civilian official as saying about the relationship between Petraeus and Fallon, "Bad relations? That's the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that's one way of looking at it."

In response to questioning today, Petraeus denied that there was any disagreement among top military officials about his recommendation on how to proceed in Iraq, saying he had the support of both Fallon and Joint Chiefs. Take a look at the exchange.

Given the usual difficulties of sorting through internal Pentagon politics, we may have to stash this one away for the historians to unpack later. But something tells me there is more here than what Petraeus is letting on.

Sen. Larry Craig was so harried by potential press coverage of rumors that he was gay that, in a "state of intense anxiety," he caved in and pleaded guilty to charges of which he believed himself to be innocent.

Got that?

He was so fearful of being wrongly outed as a gay man that he wrongly pleaded guilty to charges arising from seeking gay sex in a public restroom.

We have the latest documents filed in the case, as Craig attempts to withdraw his guilty plea.

For ease of comparison, here are all three of the charts on Iraqi civilian deaths that we've been writing about today. The first chart was presented by Gen. Petraeus in his opening statement this afternoon to the House Armed Services Committee. The other two charts we created at TPMmuckraker, based on numbers compiled by the AP and Iraq Body Count, respectively.

Petraeus' numbers:

The AP's numbers:

The IBC's numbers:

We are still waiting to hear about the methodology employed by Petraeus in arriving at his numbers on civilian casualties, a methodology that he says was signed off on by two unidentified U.S. intelligence agencies. Earlier today, Spencer Ackerman provided an in-depth explanation of the AP and IBC numbers.

We have the full text of Gen. Petraeus' prepared testimony posted.

Late Update: Ambassador Crocker's full statement is here.

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.