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

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley today promised "significant changes" to U.S. Iraq policy, but the Wall Street Journal reports in tomorrow's edition that senior White House officials say that the ouster of Don Rumsfeld was "misinterpreted as a sign that a significant shift is coming."

So there you have it. Significant changes but no significant shifts.

It's been almost a month now since the announcement of Rumsfeld's resignation. Most of that time has been occupied with a tragicomic guessing game about what our Iraq policy will be heading into 2007. What will the Iraq Study Group recommend? Will the President heed its recommendations? What is Robert Gates' thinking on Iraq? Will we make a last big push or moonwalk out?

The President and his top aides have been divorced from the reality of Iraq since even before the invasion, but I have a growing sense that our entire political system is similarly disconnected from the scope of the problem.

Most of the public discourse on Iraq is a peculiar blend of small-bore tactical discussions (20,000 more troops? 30,000?) and political odds-making (how will John McCain's call for more troops play in 2008?). In alarmingly low supply is serious discussion about the broader strategic objectives of U.S. policy. Absent such discussion, tactical decisions become random short-term fixes (at best), and domestic political support will never coalesce for the long slog still ahead.

Is the U.S. already taking sides in Iraq?

The overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim military force at the forefront of U.S. and Iraqi plans to secure one of the nation's most fractious provinces is accused of arresting hundreds of Sunni men on little or no evidence, threatening to rape a suspect's wife to coerce a confession, and intimidating its commander's critics, according to interviews with Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Read the whole piece and then ask yourself what "significant changes" to U.S. Iraq policy promised today by Stephen Hadley could possibly put the genie of sectarian violence back in the bottle.

The Guardian:

The Iraqi government is in danger of being brought down by the wholesale smuggling of the nation's oil and other forms of corruption that together represent a "second insurgency", according to a senior US official. Stuart Bowen, who has been in charge of auditing Iraq's faltering reconstruction since 2004, said corruption had reached such levels that it threatened the survival of the state.

David Carr, on the media's increasing use of the term "civil war" to describe the situation in Iraq:

On closer inspection, what seems like a bold, transgressive step by the media is considerably less. It is not a coincidence that some members of the mainstream media were only willing to attempt to redefine the terms of the current debate after a massive electoral setback to the current administration.

. . .

The willingness to use “civil war” now is less a brave declaration than a wet, sensitive finger in the wind because mainstream media is much more likely to follow, than lead, political debate.

Carr's own paper, the New York Times, isn't quite there yet. Editor Bill Keller still has a moistened digit held out testing the air currents:

“I bristle at the way a low-grade semantic argument has become — at least among the partisan cud-chewers — a substitute for serious discussion of what’s happening in Iraq and what to do about it. . . . maybe this argument is a symptom of intellectual fatigue in the punditocracy. Don’t get me wrong, obviously I believe words matter. We try to choose them carefully. Sometimes our choices cause offense.”

Meanwhile, Kofi Annan says it's a civil war, and worse than Lebanon was at its most chaotic.

Wait just one doggone minute. All you people are so worked up about the Republican-controlled lame-duck Congress punting all of this year's spending bills to the next Congress. Lookee here. Republicans are people, too. They've been under a lot of strain and pressure:

"There is a lot of battle fatigue among members, probably on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), usually a reliable conservative firebrand. "Contrary to popular belief, members of Congress are human beings. They have a certain shelf life and a certain amount of energy to be drawn on. We're tired."

As the President would say, "This is hard work!"

So little if anything will get done in this final session of the 109th Congress. Don't worry though. The GOP is going to try to suck it up and gut it out. In the House they have scheduled a vote on a bill to require require abortion providers to inform patients that abortion may cause pain to the fetus.

Now about the time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Here's what Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, a top commander on the ground in Iraq said Friday in a Pentagon press briefing:

I think we have to keep this in perspective. We spent about 10 years in Bosnia-Herzegovina setting the stage for those elements to be successful. We need to allow the Iraqis the same time to get their security forces on the ground, to get their government working, and then have a gradual withdrawal of American security forces, but continue to partner with them over the long term.

10 years?

How are things going in New Orleans? Not so good.

Citing the status of the rebuilding of the levee system, the largest commercial insurer in Louisiana, St. Paul Travelers, has announced it will cancel all commercial property insurance policies it has underwritten in the New Orleans area next year as existing policies come up for renewal.

What does this mean? For a region struggling to resurrect its economic base, it's a huge impediment to commerce.

"This is sending a shock wave through the business community," said Mark Drennen, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc., a public-private partnership that seeks to promote economic development in the area. "If one company has come to that conclusion, you would anticipate that others would come to that conclusion. Without insurance, we have a calamity. We cannot exist as a business community without insurance."

It'd be nice to hear the White House press corps asking how the Bush Administration's much touted rebuilding effort in New Orleans is going if the insurance companies don't trust the Army Corps' newly reconstructed levees, the centerpiece of the President's plan to help New Orleans recover.

Andrew Sullivan, addressing his former comrades-at-arms, on Iraq:

It's over, guys. Your beloved Bush administration botched this so badly it's irrecoverable. You enabled them. You never fully took them on when it would have counted - and you trashed those of us who did. You knew this before the 2004 election and still cynically played the anti-Kerry card for all it was worth, telling yourselves you could sway Rummy after the election. Well, you couldn't and you didn't. Your policy was sabotaged by a defense secretary who never believed in it and by a president too weak and out-of-it to rein him in. Get over yourselves and recognize that this dream has died. And we have to fight the nightmare we now face rather than pretend your dream is still even on life-support. That's the patriotic responsibility at this point. And no, I'm not impugning your patriotism. I'm asking you to place it before your shattered dreams.