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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

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.

I had just about been driven to distraction by the catch-word of the moment: "surge." As in, the President's "New Way Forward" in Iraq calls for a "surge" of additional troops. How can such a ridiculous euphemism makes its way into print past so many editors in one week's time?

But Colin Powell made a good point today about what "surge" really means:

Before any decision to increase troops, "I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for. And let's be clear about something else. . . . There really are no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops."

"That's how you surge. And that surge cannot be sustained." The "active Army is about broken," Powell said. Even beyond Iraq, the Army and Marines have to "grow in size, in my military judgment," and Congress must provide significant additional funding to sustain them.


Suddenly "surge" seems worth co-opting, as a euphemism for ephemeral last gasp.

I don't want to pick on TPM Reader DP, but his email exemplifies the reader emails coming in suggesting that Sen. Harry Reid's support for a temporary increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is either a clever political move or a move that Reid has no choice but to make:

I just want to send my qualified agreement with your readers who say that, as a tactical move, Reid should be supporting this temporary increase in troops. Somehow over the last six years our national debate over matters of life and death have been reduced to stupid slogans and 2 dimensional ideas. That's the "facts on the ground" we have to deal with. Dems have to give the Commander/Decider in Chief every resource he asks for during this "last effort." Opposing it will not prevent it from happening but it will make it harder for Dems to then clearly demonstrate that victory is not going to happen.

In the fantasy world I like to live in, Dems could repeat all the intelligent and nuanced arguments that demonstrate without a doubt that the war is lost and it's time to leave and Bush would back down in the face of the country rising against him. In the real world, if Reid does anything more at this moment than say "I disagree with his tactics but will give him the resources he needs" then it will be much more difficult in three months to force real change. The political reality, as awful as it is, is that Bush had an opportunity after the elections to take a mandate for change and do whatever he wanted with it. He chose a stupid route, but what can we do about it?


There are any number of problems with this reasoning, both politically and substantively, not the least of which is the assumption that Bush will send additional troops (check), it won't work (check), and then he'll be forced to begin a large-scale withdrawal of U.S. forces (right--just like he was going to be forced to do after the Democrats took Congress and after the ISG report).

On the political side, 71% of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. Why are Democrats still looking for political cover?

Some readers have suggested that Harry Reid's openness to sending more troops to Iraq is a clever political move. I don't see it, and that circle gets harder to square when considered along with Colin Powell's remarks today:

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said today that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.

Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the administration. . . .

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Powell seemed to draw as much from his 35-year Army career, including four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as from his more recent difficult tenure as Bush's chief diplomat.

Last summer's surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad had failed, he said, and any new attempt was unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question . . . is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish . . . is it something that is really accomplishable . . . do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"


In what struck me as really odd coming from Mark Shields, he called Don Rumsfeld a tragic figure on the Newshour Friday. Not so, in any sense really. But Powell is truly a tragic figure. The great tragedy of Iraq (in the traditional meaning of the term) is that an entire generation of military men--who were hardened in the crucible of Vietnam as young officers and spent most of their careers building the all-volunteer armed services and warning against repeating the strategic mistakes embodied by that terrible conflict--in the end, at the apex of their careers, made the same mistakes they had spent their professional lives studying and warning against. The fact that their civilian leaders had sat out Vietnam (or in Rumsfeld's case was a half a generation older) only makes the tragedy more compelling.

Despite his grave mistakes as secretary of state, Powell is worth listening to on this.

Harry Reid sips the Kool-aid:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Sunday he would support a short-term increase in U.S. troop numbers in Iraq being weighed by President George W. Bush if it is part of a broader withdrawal plan.

. . .

"If it's for a surge, that is, for two or three months and it's part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I'll go along with it," Reid, who will become the majority leader when Democrats take control of the Senate next month, told ABC's "This Week" program.


And if pigs could fly, and money could grow on trees, etc.

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