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

Barack Obama takes a hit from, of all places, down under:

PRIME Minister John Howard has launched a broadside against US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, warning his victory could destroy Iraq and prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Mr Howard's stinging attack against the popular Democrat, who formally launched his bid for the Democratic candidacy overnight, also appears to commit Australian troops to staying in Iraq well into 2008.

Only days after saying Australia's alliance with the US was about more than his personal friendship with US President George W Bush, Mr Howard warned that an Obama victory would be a boost for the terrorists.

The man who wants to be the first black US president has pledged to withdraw US troops from Iraq by March 2008, a timetable Mr Howard believes is dangerous.

"I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Wow. What do our Aussie readers make of this?

Thanks to TPM Reader TD from Sydney for the tip.

Update: Some commentary on John Howard's remarks from Tim Dunlop:

It’s one thing to be feeling the pressure at home about his own unpopular policy on Iraq; it is quite another to let that pressure get to him to the extent that he felt it necessary to publicly smear a United States Senator, the entire party who currently control the Congress of the United States, and the American people themselves. And all this fresh off him telling us all that we couldn’t expect to withdraw troops from Iraq without suffering some consequences for the alliance. Does he seriously think this will go unremarked in Washington?

Late Update: From TPM Reader AB:

Speaking as an Australian: Howard's comments were largely for domestic consumption. He's floundering lately - the opposition ALP has a new leadership team that's making him look very very small. He's been caught out on the wrong side of a pile of issues, including climate change and the Australian David Hicks (who's still in Gitmo after 5 years, still no trial). Add to this the Iraq war, which had majority opposition from day one, and he's feeling the pressure. There's an election due later this year.

This account is a couple of days old now, but deserves at least passing mention:

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

"But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

Thanks to TPM Reader LD for the link.

(ed.note: This post was edited to reflect a revised version of the excerpted news article.)

The Administration tries to run out the clock on congressional oversight:

The Justice Department, which serves as legal counsel in court proceedings for other departments, has repeatedly gone beyond merely protecting its own actions from scrutiny. Even when Congress was in Republican hands, Justice Department officials advised other government departments on how to stonewall congressional review. These efforts now appear to be ramping up.

The Justice Department Legal Counsel's office recently held meetings with lawyers of other departments to discuss strategy for responding to congressional requests for documents and hearing appearances. In January, Senator Grassley charged at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the DOJ has started running training "events" for other offices of the executive branch, teaching them how to handle congressional inquiries and hearings. Grassley's office says they were tipped off to this by someone in the Justice Department worried about this new program.

23 1/2 months to go . . .

I don't have any sympathy for Doug Feith, but Mark Thompson at Time makes a point that bears repeating:

Feith may have been one of the Bush Administration's most fervent supporters of war with Iraq but, in truth, he was only a bit player. Indeed, he is the third bit player in the Iraq fiasco to be paying for the sins of his superiors recently. For a couple of weeks now, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been in the dock in federal court in Washington, trying desperately to keep his one-time boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, from being stained by the responsibility for Libby's chats with reporters and government officials about Valerie Plame's CIA job. Then, just yesterday, Army General George Casey was raked over the coals by Senators who didn't think his past 30 months in command of U.S. ground forces in Iraq warrants his elevation to Army chief of staff. . . .

This trio of woes seems to have a common thread: Underlings snared while trying to please their bosses. It's almost like blaming the hammer instead of the carpenter for a bent nail.

Update: Let me refine a point here. Some readers have objected to calling Feith a "bit player." I probably wouldn't have phrased it that way, but I don't think Thompson is letting Feith off the hook in any way. Nor should he be. Yes, Feith is an important figure who held a high-level position at the Pentagon. But he was merely implementing a policy that came down from the White House and the Office of the Vice President through the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Heaping scorn on Feith, who is no longer in government, is appropriate as far as it goes. Just keep in mind that the buck stops with Bush and Cheney, who not only directed the policy in the first place but remain completely unapologetic, as strikingly demonstrated by the White House's refusal to cooperate with the investigation of Feith's office by the Pentagon inspector general. In that sense, Feith is a bit player.

How goes the surge?

A month after the Bush administration announced a "surge" in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change.

Fewer than 20% of the additional Iraqi and American troops have arrived so far. And the roughly 5,000 that have arrived have yet to make a visible impact in this sprawling city of 6 million people, where thousands of paramilitary gunmen patrol the streets.

U.S. officials are trying to manage expectations both domestically and in Iraq, continually asserting that the new forces will slowly take up positions in the capital over the coming months.

But after one of the bloodiest weeks since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Iraqis are increasingly impatient. A series of high-profile attacks on both civilians and security forces killed more than 1,000 Iraqis and at least 33 U.S. troops in the first nine days of the month.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he is investigating whether he can speed the pace of the troop buildup. But a senior Pentagon official said this week that it was unlikely that U.S. troops could be sent to Baghdad any faster than planned. The five brigades going to the capital are due to arrive one per month, with the last coming in May.

From The Guardian today:

US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

So there you have it. No real surprise. Just about anyone paying any attention understands that's where things stand: Gun loaded. Safety lock still on. In the hands of an Administration with an itchy trigger finger.

A few days ago, I linked to a James Fallows' column in which he suggested that Congress take steps now to head off an Iran misadventure. Several readers emailed wondering whether Congress has the power to preempt the President from taking military action.

As it turns out, the Senate Judiciary Committee has held hearings recently on this issue. In a column of his own, John Dean summarizes the bipartisan consensus that emerged from witnesses who testified at that hearing:

What is especially significant, in my eyes, is that the conclusion that Congress does indeed have power to significantly restrict the Administration in its plans for war, transcends politics: Even experts who have worked for Republican administrations have come to this conclusion.

. . .

[T]here is no real question as to whether Congress could legally stop Bush and Cheney from going to war in Iran without coming to Congress to fully explain what they are doing and why. Congress has that power; the only question is whether it will dare to use it.

For those interested in the finer legal points, Dean provides links to the witnesses' written testimony.

You can come up with a laundry list of reasons why attacking Iran would be a disaster, and you can come up with a decent list of reasons why the Administration is presently constrained by circumstances from doing so (not enough troops and hardware, for example). But you'd be hard-pressed to come up with any good reasons for why this Administration would be constrained by either circumstances or potentially disastrous outcomes. Besides, do these clowns still deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Today's profile in courage:

When Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) saw reporters approaching him last week, he took off in a sprint, determined to say as little as possible about a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's troop escalation plan expected to come before the Senate today.

"You know where I stand," the senator, who is considered politically vulnerable back home, said repeatedly as he fled down stairways at the Capitol. "I'm still looking."

Pretty shabby for a senator from New Hampshire, where the state motto is "Live free or die."

"I'm still looking" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Greg Sargent flags this paragraph from today's Post

Moreover, Pelosi told her colleagues that if it appears likely that Bush wants to take the country to war against Iran, the House would take up a bill to deny him the authority to do so, according to Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

We touched on this approach a bit yesterday, linking to a James Fallows' piece in The Atlantic.

Here's the problem with Pelosi's approach. Waiting to act until war with Iran "appears likely" strikes me as politically unfeasible.

As Josh has sketched out, there are any number of ways for military confrontation with Iran to evolve, and none of them plausibly involves the President announcing his intentions in advance in an address from the Oval Office. Rather, there will be an incident (some would say, "incident") which becomes the justification or the tripwire, call it what you will, for U.S. military action.

Pelosi seems to be saying that only then will Democrats throw themselves in front of the train to keep it from leaving the station. Too late. That's politically untenable, and the train will roll right over Democrats.

Replacing several U.S. attorneys around the country was driven by political considerations from the White House, not Main Justice, the Washington Post reports.

I know it's a little disingenuous to act as if U.S. attorney appointments are not usually political. They always are. But usually the appointments are driven by local partisan considerations in the district in question, closely overseen by the state's senator(s) who is from the same party as the President.

Removing sitting U.S. attorneys to deepen the GOP's bench for future judgeships, appointments, elections, etc., may be unprecedented. Paul Kiel has more.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) regrets voting for the Iraq War resolution in 2002:

The resolution was a resolution that authorized the president to take that action if he deemed it necessary. Had I been more true to myself and the principles I believed in at the time, I would have openly opposed the whole adventure vocally and aggressively. I had a tough time reconciling doing that against the duties of majority leader in the House. I would have served myself and my party and my country better, though, had I done so.

I think that's farther than Sen. Clinton has been willing to go.