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

As painful as it was, I watched a bit of ABC's coverage of the arrival of President Ford's remains at the Capitol this evening. Among the guest commentators were David Gergen (that hipster--he's got his own website) and Richard Norton Smith, both the sorts of conservatives that Democrats and the media love to have around for their tempered views. Still, to hear Gergen and and Smith chatting it up with Charlie Gibson and Barbara Walters (who was vacationing in the same locale as Henry Kissinger when word came of Ford's death) about the poisonous atmosphere that existed in Washington around the time Ford took office--how there were protesters with the temerity to stand outside the White House gates and scream that Nixon be impeached, how buses were lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue as barricades, how troops were stationed around Washington to put down any insurrection, how the country was at war with itself--you get the sense that in their minds the unwashed masses were just as much to blame for the tenor of the times as the suited white guys in the inner sanctums of the White House. I had always thought that to the extent Ford had, in the oft-used phrase, restored confidence in the Presidency he had done so by elevating the conduct of those in the White House, raising the office above the shabby habits of his predecessor's men. It had not occurred to me (although it probably should have) until listening to Gergen and Smith that for many people Ford's signature service to the country was calming the waters so that the rabble quieted down and went home. It is in that sense that the pardon of Nixon helped "heal" the country (clearing the way three decades later for Smith to reminisce about the Ford children playing in Statuary Hall on Saturdays in a quaint Washington of a different era). All these years later, you can still discern a liberal from a conservative by whether she perceives the protesters or all the President's men as a greater threat to democracy.

At least two bombings Saturday in Iraq kill upwards of 50 Iraqi civilians, and December becomes the deadliest month of 2006 for U.S. troops, with 108 killed.

Looking at the photo the NYT is leading with on its homepage, I am struck by the motley bunch of executioners. Hooded to protect their identities, they look like a gang of toughs from a B movie--or, on further reflection, like the hooded terrorists who in the earlier days of our occupation were murdering hostages like Nick Berg, on camera, for maximum shock value.

I'm still sorting through the post-hanging detritus this morning, but this passage from the New York Times, which Greg highlighted over at EC, captures the entire Iraq debacle:

Before the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, Mr. Bush went to sleep here at his ranch and was not roused when the news came.

And so it goes.

An internal Japanese government document shows that Japan has recently looked into the possibility of developing a nuclear warhead, according to a Japanese media report, presumably in response to North Korea's recent nuclear test.

Update: TPM Reader MC correctly points out that the date of the government report is September 20, prior to the North Korean's nuclear test, but following this summer's missile test.

You may have seen the reports that British officials are on high alert for a possible terrorist attack on the Chunnel during the Christmas holiday. A tempting target, I'm sure, and more power to the Brits if they have obtained good intelligence and are taking action to thwart an attack. But this passage from The Guardian jumped out as an ominous sign that at least some among our friends across the pond have lost all perspective on the terrorism threat, in much the same way as we have here:

Last week Sir Ian Blair, the head of the Metropolitan Police, described 'the threat of another terrorist attempt' as 'ever present' adding that 'Christmas is a period when that might happen'.

'It is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War,' he said. 'It's a much graver threat than that posed by Irish Republican terrorism.'

Is he serious? A greater threat to civilians lives than world war or nuclear annihilation? What happened to the stiff upper lip?

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.