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 came late in the final day of hearings yesterday so you may have missed it. Gen. Petraeus was asked by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to rank the enemies the U.S. is fighting in Iraq. Petraeus ran through the list of threats, then, as an afterthought, said, "There are certainly still some Sunni insurgents out there."

You don't say?

As Spencer Ackerman notes, the non-al-Qaeda Sunni insurgents have accounted for most of the U.S. military casualties in Iraq. There likely has been some reduction in Sunni insurgent violence against U.S. troops in Anbar this year, and in fact the U.S. strategy of joining with the Anbar Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq is probably part of the reason Petraeus is downplayng the Sunni insurgency at the moment.

But whatever the short-term exigency, this has been a conflict marked by our inability, unwillingness, or ideological aversion toward accurately identifying our enemies. Even the use of the blanket term "enemy" is misleading in a conflict with multiple competing interests, where alliances come and go, and in which the enemy of thy enemy is not necessarily thy friend.

There's a convincing argument to be made that the U.S. effort in Iraq was doomed from the start, but the strategic and tactical miscalculations arising from the misidentification, to put it charitably, of the competing groups there crippled whatever chance there was of the U.S. effort succeeding.

In today's New York Observer, an interview with the noted counterinsurgency expert Bard E. O’Neill reminded me how this myopic view of the Sunni insurgency has been paralyzing us since shortly after the U.S. invasion, if not even earlier, during pre-invasion planning:

What’s most striking, Bard says, is how his students in his counterinsurgency and terrorism classes at Washington’s National War College, freshly returned from Iraq, testified to the paucity of strategic thinking on the ground.

“This was a Special Forces colonel, a really sharp guy, he’s a guy who knew all this stuff on counterinsurgency. He said to me, ‘Let me give you a specific example: I’m on the tarmac at an airbase in Iraq, and up walks [then Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz. He says, “How’s everything going, Colonel?” And I say, “This is a pretty tenacious insurgency, Mr. Wolfowitz.” And Wolfowitz looks back and says, “This is not an insurgency.”’”

At which point, Mr. O’Neill relates, his student “rolled his eyes, and said, ‘What can you say to someone like that?’”

Over at TPMCafe's Table for One, Charlie Savage has a very interesting post on the strategy behind the Bush Administration's selection of Supreme Court nominees. He argues, pretty persuasively, that nominees were vetted more for their adherence to a philosophy of expansive presidential power than for their positions on the social issues that dominate the Supreme Court confirmation process.

The federal criminal investigation of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) apparently continues, and although Stevens has yet to be charged, his name is popping up in two corruption-related trials this week in Alaska.

Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker appeared this morning at the National Press Club and gave out a little more information on what methodology is used by the U.S. military to calculate "ethno-sectarian" violence but no illumination on the broader question of how Iraqi civilian casualties are tabulated. We're still trying to run that information to ground.

The former chief of staff to jailed congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) gets rewarded for his cooperation in the Jack Abramoff investigation: no jail time, two years of probation, and a $2,000 fine.

Clarence Thomas will be on 60 Minutes later this month, according to Legal Times. No word on who is conducting the interview.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), speaking to anti-war activists (via The Hill):

“You folks should go after the Democrats. . . . I’d hate to lose the majority, but I’m telling you, if we don’t stand up to our responsibility, maybe that’s the lesson to be learned.”

Conservative super-lawyer Ted Olson is the front-runner to be President Bush's pick for attorney general. Senate Dems are less than thrilled, but if last week's 4th Circuit nominee is any indication (oh, and the last 6 1/2 years), the White House will not be offering a consensus-building nominee. We already know that Senate Democrats are threatening to slow down the nomination until they get responses from the Department of Justice and White House to some of their oversight requests, but will Senate Dems fight this nomination on its merits?