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

Let's lighten the mood this morning. We should know soon whether Jack Murtha or Steny Hoyer is the next majority leader, but let's not forget how far we've come just to get to this point. Check out this reminder.

Here's really the key part of The Guardian story:

"You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it," a former senior administration official said. "He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall."

The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said. "The Iraq Study Group buys time for the president to have one last go. If the Democrats are smart, they'll play along, and I think they will. But forget about bipartisanship. It's all about who's going to be in best shape to win the White House.

The official added: "Bush has said 'no' to withdrawal, so what else do you have? The Baker report will be a set of ideas, more realistic than in the past, that can be used as political tools. What they're going to say is: lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more resources in, do it."

The President is still in denial, with Kissinger whispering in his ear. Are we really going through this again, three decades later?

Here are the four points of the President's "victory strategy," according to The Guardian:

· Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq

· Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

· Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others

· Increased resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces

You might call it a four-word strategy: More of the same.

The Guardian:

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

Mr Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the US and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said.

Although the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point "victory strategy" developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr Baker and the vice-president Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.

A last big push. Just what the electorate ordered.

Rep. John Murtha was on Hardball tonight and said his comment to Blue Dog Democrats that ethics reform is "total crap" was misconstrued in press reports. More here.

In the Daily Digest this morning I touched on the growing expectations that the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, in combination with the installation of Bob Gates at the Pentagon, will save the day in Iraq.

It has become the consensus view, crosses party lines, and seems to be based in part on the assumption that anything is better than the current Iraq policy and its chief implementer, Don Rumsfeld.

But there are some other assumptions--some faulty, some overly optimistic--inflating those expectations:

(1) That the ISG recommendations will be substantive, well-founded, and more than mere political cover for a change of strategy yet to be unveiled. Perhaps they will be prudent recommendations, but I don't know why anyone would assume that yet.

(2) That the Administration will first embrace and then effectively implement the ISG recommendations. This assumption seems wildly at odds with this Administration's track record in both respects. Today's Washington Post reports that the Administration is doing its own policy review parallel to the ISG's, which does not suggest any kind of warm embrace:

The two reviews are not competitive, administration officials said, although the White House wants to complete the process before mid-December, about the time the Iraq Study Group's final report is expected.

The White House's decision changes the dynamics of what happens next to U.S. policy deliberations. The administration will have its own working document as well as recommendations from an independent bipartisan commission to consider as it struggles to prevent further deterioration in Iraq.

I'm also not willing to buy all the pop psychology about the prodigal Bush 43 finally returning to the orbit of Bush 41, chastened by his experience in the international arena.

(3) That Bob Gates is going to make a dramatic difference over the next two years. First, I remember the last time we were promised wisdom, experience, and a steady hand from a member of Bush 41's old team. That was Dick Cheney. Second, the options available to the U.S. for proceeding in the Middle East range from very bad to horrendous. Neither Gates nor anyone else is going to be able to clean up this mess in the next two years.

(4) That things can't get any worse. Things can always get worse. We could see Turkey and Iran militarily staking claims to parts of Iraqi territory. We could have terrorist brigades from Iraq running missions into Saudi Arabia and Jordan to destabilze the regimes there. Iran could assert itself militarily in the Gulf. The Middle East is Murphy's Law squared.

(5) That the sooner we start implementing the ISG recommendations, the sooner our troops come home and the more American lives will be saved. First, see (1) through (4) above. Second, I still have a hard time envisioning a Republican Administration bringing home all the troops in short order and leaving oil-rich Iraq in chaos in the midst of a vital oil-producing region. We may very well witness a spike in the number of American troop casualities in the process of trying to extricate ourselves or in the process of trying to prevent a larger regional conflict.

If the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem, then we may be at that first step. Our long national denial may be over. But admitting you have a problem doesn't in and of itself solve the problem. And right now Iraq is a problem begging for solutions.

From Washington Wire:

After calling for bipartisanship, President Bush surprised Senate Democrats late Tuesday by renominating a controversial list of judges – some of whom may be unacceptable even to a few Republican senators. “It’s an unfortunate signal,” said one senior Democratic Senate aide.

The likelihood of action is remote on any of the nominees before the Dec. 15 scheduled adjournment of the lame-duck session. The White House action is viewed largely as an effort to appease the party’s conservative base.

Empty gestures intended to placate an angry base. Another reminder of what a weakened White House looks like.

Good thing the voters have spoken loud and clear about corruption and graft in Washington. That way the President can't help but hear the message:

President Bush on Tuesday renominated the chairman of the agency that directs U.S. overseas broadcasts even though the nomination has been stalled in the Senate amid allegations of misconduct.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson was nominated again as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and for a term on the board expiring Aug. 13, 2007. . . .

A report by the State Department's inspector general, released Aug. 29, said Tomlinson misused government funds for two years as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Tomlinson disputed the allegations in the report.

Message returned. Undelivered.