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

A clearer picture is emerging of the impotent Americans, vengeful Shiites and seething Sunnis who comprised the cast of characters surrounding Saddam's rushed execution:

[J]ust about everything in the 24 hours that began with Mr. Hussein’s being taken to his execution from his cell in an American military detention center in the postmidnight chill of Saturday had a surreal and even cinematic quality.

Part of it was that the Americans, who turned him into a pariah and drove him from power, proved to be his unlikely benefactors in the face of Iraq’s new Shiite rulers who seemed bent on turning the execution and its aftermath into a new nightmare for the Sunni minority privileged under Mr. Hussein.

. . .

Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom — and justice — of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans’ concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of “The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!” as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.

. . .

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq’s to decide.

It gets worse actually, including the part where Iraqi TV shows Saddam's tribesmen "collecting the coffin from the courtyard in front of Mr. Maliki’s office, where it sat unceremoniously in a police pickup." Go read the entire account by John Burns and Marc Santora.

After visiting Iraq, Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) comes out against a "surge":

"We need a hard-nosed assessment of what we need, not what we wish," Wilson said. "Sometimes I think our national objectives in Iraq— including by our president— are described in pretty broad terms.

"I want Iraqi people to live in a free and democratic society, but that's not our military mission there ... that's an aspiration, that's not a vital national interest for the United States."


“The most important thing right now is for the U.S. to be very clear to ourselves and the American people about our vital national interest in Iraq and this means a hard-nosed assessment. I don’t think we have that focus today. We need to modify our strategy and position.”

Wilson, who won re-election in a close race against Attorney General Patricia Madrid, was a staunch supporter of the Iraq War before her political life flashed in front of her eyes. Amazing how those who came close to losing re-election are now willing to buck the President. The prospect of defeat has a way of focusing the mind.

Incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is let off the hook by the House Ethics Committee for using his congressional staff for campaign purposes, reports The Hill:

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has "accepted responsibility" for possibly violating House rules by requiring his official staff to perform campaign-related work, according to a statement quietly released by the House ethics committee late Friday evening.

The top Republican and Democratic members on the ethics panel, Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), said in a statement that Conyers acknowledged a "lack of clarity" in communicating what was expected of his official staff and that he accepted responsibility for his actions.

"[Conyers] agreed to take a number of additional, significant steps to ensure that his office complies with all rules and standards regarding campaign and personal work by congressional staff," they stated. "We have concluded that this matter should be resolved through the issuance of this public statement."

How fitting that the most compromised Ethics Committee in recent memory brings its term to an end with a late Friday evening press release and a tap on the wrist.

That canary in the coalmine, Richard Clarke, reviews the crises ignored while Iraq consumes all the oxygen in Washington:

As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.

Clarke's list of unattended problems is here. Hint: global warming tops the list.

Michael Beschloss:

For a reminder of what a difference it made that Jerry Ford became president in August 1974, think of this: if Congress had let Nixon nominate his first choice for vice president after Spiro Agnew's resignation in disgrace, ex-Texas governor John Connally would have been the 38th president. That same month, Connally was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in a separate scandal. (He was later acquitted.) Would faith in our system have survived after we watched a president and vice president quit, only to see a new president indicted as he was sworn in?

That would have been a rather unfortunate turn of events. On the other hand, the sort of faith in the system that Beschloss is talking about is a blind faith. The system per se didn't prevent such a turn of events. Happenstance (and the greater likelihood of Ford being confirmed as vice president) ultimately led to a Ford rather than a Connally presidency. If your faith in the system is predicated on something not happening that very well could have happened, and that could happen again, then that's not faith but wishful thinking. It's the same sort of fair-weather faith that leads to the rather incoherent argument that to try a President for a violation of the law would threaten the system of laws. What Beschloss credits as faith is actually fear.

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.