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

Sore winner watch? GOP Rep. Jim Walsh won re-election, but is "disappointed" in the voters of his hometown.

Democrat Christine Jennings has filed an official contest of the election results in Florida's 13th Congressional District.

What did the President know specifically about U.S. torture practices and when did he know it?

Democrats in Congress want to know; and, in an interview with Spiegel Online that was largely eclipsed by the frenetic last days of the midterm election campaigns, reporter and author Ron Suskind said the President knew more and knew it earlier than you might think:

The president understands more about the mistakes than he lets on. He knows what the most-skilled interrogators know too. He gets briefed, and he was deeply involved in this process from the beginning. The president loves to talk to operators.

This is a President who I suspect has a hard time with the concept of plausible deniability.

Our three options for Iraq, in Pentagon-speak: "Go Big," "Go Long," and "Go Home."

Late Update: Regular TPM Reader MB registers a complaint of mock-outrage: "How you could post a link to that WaPo article without letting loyal readers know that our defense officials are likening potential war strategies to the dance moves of a boy touching, blanket dangling, plastic surgery disaster is truly beyond me."

Fair enough. Here's the sentence from the WaPo story: "That combination plan, which one defense official called "Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long," could backfire if Iraqis suspect it is really a way for the United States to moonwalk out of Iraq -- that is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson's trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward."

There are embittered insiders, and then there is Henry Kissinger, who told the BBC today:

“If you mean, by ‘military victory,’ an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible.”

The emphasis is mine. I am not inclined to read this as Kissinger turning on the Administration, so much as it is him once again stating his view that the American people are insufficiently steady and resolved to see war through to victory. If the public would just buck up and if the Democrats had not prevailed in the midterm elections, Kissinger implies, then military victory in Iraq would still be possible.

It is a point, of course, that Kissinger has spent more than thirty years trying to make about Vietnam. What better way to drive that point home than by making Iraq a historical parallel.

An old man chasing ghosts.

Human Rights Watch: The trial of Saddam Hussein was so flawed that its verdict is unsound.

A number of readers have emailed with their outrage over the comments on torture by TPM Reader CH. So let me clarify a couple of things.

As I said, CH was just one of several readers who had emailed to suggest I was living in a bubble. Pointing to the School of the Americas and the dirty wars in Latin America, they noted that U.S.-sanctioned torture has been going on for far longer than I was willing to acknowledge. You might call those the "where have you been?" crowd.

Somewhat related is that most of those same readers stopped short of offering an explanation for how their view that torture has been an accepted part of U.S. policy for a long time affects the way in which we move forward in addressing the abuses committed in the war on terror. What intrigued me about CH's comments was his suggestion that we were in a bubble formed of our own naivete back then and are eager to return to that bubble now, but that it's the bubble itself that may contribute to these misguided policies on our behalf.

It was not my intent to set CH up as an easy strawman to be knocked about.

As for my own view on the difference between then and now, for the most part I subscribe to this take on it, from TPM Reader EK:

What we had before: An official policy against torture, and some shaky evidence that the policy was a lie.

What we have now: An official policy supporting torture, and plenty of evidence of wrongdoing.

Morally, both situations are reprehensible. But in politics, just like in law enforcement, you can't do much with vague rumors and unproven suspicions. So even though the United States has been doing shameful things for a long time, the new situation is materially different. We've gone from a nation which claimed to uphold the Geneva Conventions, and only violated them in secret, to a nation which has openly rejected the Geneva Conventions, and which has been caught on camera.

I'm sure we'll return to this topic as congressional oversight (I hope) begins to peel back the layers. But for now my thanks especially to the service women and men who emailed their experiences.

A recurring theme to the emails I have been receiving in response to today's posts on torture is that Americans, myself included, are naive to think that the U.S. has not engaged in torture, directly and indirectly, for decades prior to the Bush Administration.

This email from TPM Reader CH, a former interrogator himself, probably best captures that point of view:

We can talk all day about what training the military receives on Geneva Conventions, but at the heart of the matter is how people get around them. That is, in my experience, any set of rules that are established have loopholes and it ends up being the job of some to find those loopholes so that we can exploit them and still retain a level of plausible deniability as to whether or not certain actions are illegal. . . .

It's not as if the US has never had a major role in the darkest circles of military actions knowing full well that these violations would be viewed as a violation of something idealists hold up as an example of 'human dignity', like the Geneva Conventions. In fact, I would argue that we've played in these circles all along and anyone thinking otherwise is only fooling themselves. Abu Ghraib and other events were not anomalies as much as they were unintended glimpses (due to private contractor mistakes) into these darker circles that were then broadcast to the world giving Americans and others a look at what 'we' do.

Essentially, this is a microcosm for what has arguably been going on for decades and for what the Bush Administration has used more 'openly' than their predecessors...but only 'openly' because people are finally coming around to the realism that often governs our geopolitical actions and are being exposed one way or another to certain dark truths. We may not like these truths, and we can act to change them if we want. However, so long as people continue to cite things like the Geneva Conventions and argue in ways that pretend as if we live in an ideal world and that 'we' are virtuous actors in said world, well, we are only going to help in perpetuating the bubble that so many of 'us' have been living in for so long. . . .

Americans are not trained to operate within that world and while naive idealists who want to hold Geneva up as something that is not ambiguous or even out-dated are trying to do good by holding people accountable for their morally ambiguous and/or illegal actions...they are only reinforcing the bubble as we know it. The bubble, with Bush's Administration, has been burst. Why do we want to crawl back inside?