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

TPM reader EH:

In all of this talk of increasing troop levels to accomplish some kind of success or unstated goal, I'm reminded of a software engineering principle called Brooks' Law: "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later." This meshes nicely with analysis of the escalation being designed to carry the war into the '08 election cycle, but I think the administration is cynical enough to push the surge just for this reason, especially since the reasons and goals of the surge have remained nebulous throughout the past weeks. Nobody knows what the goals are anymore, and nobody's asking.

Last week we tried to nail down members of the Republican leadership in Congress on where they stand on the President's soon-to-be-proposed "surge." The response? Mostly silence.

But in an interview published today, one veteran Republican congressman says he is "highly skeptical" that a surge will have any real effect on the ground. Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), who won re-election after a hard-fought campaign, was surprisingly candid in an interview with the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette:

In my opinion, it’s been a civil war. But the question of a civil war is: Is there a functioning central government that can win a civil war? … What’s not clear to me is if this government can ever be stable and that the civil war has gone from skirmishing and marginal fighting at the terrorist level and some Shiite militias to the dominant pattern. There’s no number of troops we can put on the ground to basically battle inside of a large-scale civil war without a functioning central government.

If we see that it’s developed that way, do we stay to 2008 or do we get out in 2007? At what point do you say we’ve gone across the line where there’s not a hope of stability or at least that it appears to be small?

. . .

I think it’s intriguing that the president is looking at trying to put more troops on the ground like Sen. McCain has suggested all the way along. But my impression – and I haven’t been there since spring – is that we’ve passed that point. Even doubling the number of troops on the ground won’t do it. Instead of just having potentially a few thousand people that you’re trying to stabilize who are picking at random where to hit, or even 20,000, basically at this point the whole country’s engaged. Which means an increase in troop power isn’t going to stabilize it.

. . .

It’s the beginning of the end. The question now is how fast.

. . .

What is it going to look like if we all of a sudden immediately pulled out, pulled out in six months, 12 months or 18 months? Now we’re back to what’s in the interest of the United States and our world security picture, not trying to establish a government in Iraq. … I don’t have any confidence they have a plan. So maybe our troops have to stay there till ’08 till we get a plan of what’s a withdrawal look like. So I don’t know the answer to your question, but I know what variables I’m looking for.

If they can make a compelling case that more troops on the ground would give us a chance, I’m willing to listen. But I’m highly skeptical.

. . .

In my opinion the American people have already closed the book on “are we willing to wait until they have established a free and democratic government that’s safe and secure in Iraq?” The answer is no – unless they can do it awful fast.

Souder may be something of an outlier. He was one of the few GOP members whom I recall coming out publicly for pulling troops back even before the election. But overall he is a reliable conservative from a reliably conservative state. If the President loses the Mark Souders, he's in big trouble on the Hill.

On one level, it's hard to imagine the GOP minority not coming around to support the President's surge. At the same time, these same folks just endured a withering political climate first-hand; saw some of their longtime colleagues defeated; won re-election in some cases by much narrower margins and after spending much more money than in the past; and by and large got an unpleasant earful from voters back home. They face election campaigns in two short years. The President doesn't.

Even if the GOP presents a united front in support of the surge, as I expect it will, you can bet that just below the surface will be much skepticism and caution. With Souder's remarks, the cracks in that facade are already showing.

I feel it my bounden duty this Christmas Eve morning to put up a post--any post--just so that you don't start your holiday morning with the post Josh ended with last night. It's quite a shock, especially before your first cup of coffee. So either go and get your coffee before following Josh's link, or perhaps instead you would like to read about the latest New Hampshire presidential polling. I just don't want your day to start like mine did.

Over at TPMCafe, Ivo Daalder says George Bush has taken every foreign policy problem he inherited from Bill Clinton and made it worse. Pretty much. Glenn Kessler outlines the problems facing the Administration in Iran, North Korea, and the Sudan, all places where Bush foreign policy strategies have hit brickwalls. Of course, that's not counting Iraq.

Lots of questions remain about the sudden resignation of the Saudi ambassador to Washington two weeks ago, and today's WaPo piece on the whole mess raises more questions than it answers, but it's an entertaining read:

Eighteen months ago, Prince Bandar bin Sultan ended a legendary 22-year career as the face of Saudi Arabia in the United States. Word at the time was that he was bored, preferring his palatial Aspen, Colo., lodge to Washington. As it turns out, however, Bandar has secretly visited Washington almost monthly over the past year -- and is at least as pivotal today in influencing U.S. policy as he was in his years as ambassador.

Last week, his successor, Turki, abruptly resigned from the post -- partly, sources close to the royal family said, because of Bandar's back-channel trips to meet with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Turki was kept so out of the loop that Bandar often did not inform him he was in town, much less tell him what he was doing, the sources said. Twice, the Saudi Embassy was told by an outsider that Bandar had arrived -- and the embassy sent someone to the airport to look for his private plane to confirm it, according to the source who provided the tip.

Unpaid bills. Bruised egos. Shadow diplomacy. Internal riffs in the royal family. Why, it could be the Bush White House.

Finally some real pushback on the Bush Administration's patronage hiring. Today's profile in courage is of the State Department's George Staples, as reported by Al Kamen:

The career diplomats at the State Department are celebrating a decision this week by the department's director general to overturn the assignment of an aide to Undersecretary Karen Hughes to a top job running the new Public Diplomacy Rapid Response office in Brussels.

The American Foreign Service Association two months ago protested the selection of mid-level civil servant Diane Zeleny for the job, calling it a "pre-cooked deal" done by manipulating the process and violating personnel rules. AFSA filed a grievance asking foreign service director general George Staples to "undo this assignment."

. . .

The Zeleny appointment came at a time when career diplomats were seething over jumps by several other lower-level officers with political connections into top jobs that the career folks thought should have gone to more senior officers.

It probably didn't help matters, in this case, that Zeleny, a talented civil servant -- but not a foreign service officer -- who has some experience overseas, is married to prominent neocon Reuel Marc Gerecht, an Iraq war promoter and occasional Bush adviser.

Yeah, being Gerecht's wife probably didn't help matters. By the way, she gets to stay in the post until next summer so it's not a perfect solution. But it's a step in the right direction. Not many of those these past six years.

The White House declines to condemn the anti-Muslim comments of Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and conservative commentator Dennis Prager:

White House officials said they were aware that some Democrats and Muslims were urging President Bush to admonish Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, and Dennis Prager, the conservative commentator, for suggesting that the first Muslim elected to the House had no place in Congress. “We’re aware of the situation,” said Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush, “but no judgments have been made.”

I might quibble with The Times' characterization of Goode's remarks. He didn't just suggest Muslims have no place in Congress. He said they have no place in the United States.

The Roanoke Times, on Rep. Virgil Goode's "macaca" moment: "He shouldn't apologize for his beliefs because that would just pile the sin of hypocrisy onto the heap of bigotry."

Joe Conason:

Many if not most Americans have repeatedly expressed an underlying doubt that either party can still serve the public interest. Those feelings are especially prevalent among the independent voters whose support was critical to the recent Democratic victory. To dispel such cynicism and fulfill the expectations raised by their anticorruption campaign, the new Democratic congressional leaders must quickly deliver real government accountability as well as substantial reorganization of their own institutions. While voters may understand that major changes in healthcare, education and environmental stewardship will be difficult to enact under this administration, they will not have much patience for any evasion on reform of Congress.

Whether Democrats can overcome the old habits that have often made them inarticulate and inert, however, remains to be seen. To put it kindly, the signs are mixed.