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

Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid (D-NV), following Friday's Oval Office meeting with the President on Iraq: "I just didn't feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically. He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes."

More here, including the President's now standard fallback position when challenged: "I am the commander in chief." I doubt that is the sort of management technique he was taught at Harvard Business School. It's more like something Steve Carell's character in The Office would come up with.

Via Muckraker, here's a snippet of a Congressional Quarterly interview with incoming House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX):

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new intel committee chairman.

Is there anything more self-serving than Don Rumsfeld saying his worst day as defense secretary was when he learned of the Abu Ghraib abuses? (And which day was that exactly?) Worse than the attacks on 9/11, which killed nearly 3,000 people, a day on which a jetliner crashed into the Pentagon while Rumsfeld was in his office there?

No secretary of defense would subordinate the worst attack on the U.S. homeland in modern times to what Rumsfeld himself has called isolated incidents of abuse by low-level soldiers. That is, unless that secretary of defense was legally or morally culpable for that abuse, or as I'm sure is the case here, he is convinced that Abu Ghraib will be the symbol of his legacy and of the great failure that the Iraq adventure has become.

In either case, it says all you need to know about Rumsfeld that he doesn't consider 9/11 his worst day as secretary of defense.

If, like me, you're still following the mob angle to the Jack Abramoff scandal, then you'll enjoy the latest installment from the Palm Beach Post:

Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis was killed gangland-style nearly six years ago, but he may have been instrumental this week in helping a man get a reduction in his prison sentence in a high-profile slaying at a suburban Boca Raton deli.

Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp reduced the sentence of Ralph Liotta from 15 to 12 years this week after hearing testimony that the man Liotta killed, John "J.J." Gurino, may have been Boulis' hit man. That was further proof of how dangerous Gurino was, and why Liotta was justifiably afraid of him, Liotto's attorney, Doug Duncan, argued.

. . .

Boulis, 51, was ambushed by a gunman in Fort Lauderdale in February 2001 as he sat in his BMW. In 2000 he sold SunCruz to Washington, D.C. attorney Adam Kidan and imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Boulis then sued Kidan and his partners in a dispute over the sale.

Does anyone know if Jack has sold the movie rights to his story?

October 7, 2006:

Republican Rep. John Shimkus demanded Friday that two of Congress's leading Democrats apologize for what he said were accusations that he tried to cover up the Capitol Hill pages' scandal involving former GOP Rep. Mark Foley.

In interviews with news media outlets in his south central Illinois congressional district, Shimkus lashed out at a fellow Illinoisan, Sen. Dick Durbin, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"People, like Senator Durbin and Nancy Pelosi, who are using this for partisan gain, they ought to be ashamed of themselves," Shimkus said on WJPF-AM radio in Herrin.

According to the House Ethics Committee report released today:

After Foley resigned, Shimkus told another Republican member of the Page Board _ Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia _ why he never informed the Democratic member of the board, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, about Foley.

Shimkus said, 'Dale's a nice guy, but he's a Democrat, and I was afraid it would be blown out of proportion."

Iraq strategy and the problem of psychological entrapment:

[Wesleyan University psychologist Scott] Plous sees the U.S. dilemma about what military course to take in Iraq as a perfect example of psychological entrapment -- on a national scale.

"What is remarkable is that the war in Iraq is a kind of super trap that has all these elements," Plous said. "Some weeks things look better, and then they look worse and then there is a setback. What we need is to take a step back and ask, 'If we were faced with the choice today without sunk costs, what decision would we make?' "

Michael Isikoff reports that there are videotapes of the interrogation of Jose Padilla.

Update: A more prosaic videotape has also emerged, of a shackled Padilla going to the dentist for a root canal.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley today promised "significant changes" to U.S. Iraq policy, but the Wall Street Journal reports in tomorrow's edition that senior White House officials say that the ouster of Don Rumsfeld was "misinterpreted as a sign that a significant shift is coming."

So there you have it. Significant changes but no significant shifts.

It's been almost a month now since the announcement of Rumsfeld's resignation. Most of that time has been occupied with a tragicomic guessing game about what our Iraq policy will be heading into 2007. What will the Iraq Study Group recommend? Will the President heed its recommendations? What is Robert Gates' thinking on Iraq? Will we make a last big push or moonwalk out?

The President and his top aides have been divorced from the reality of Iraq since even before the invasion, but I have a growing sense that our entire political system is similarly disconnected from the scope of the problem.

Most of the public discourse on Iraq is a peculiar blend of small-bore tactical discussions (20,000 more troops? 30,000?) and political odds-making (how will John McCain's call for more troops play in 2008?). In alarmingly low supply is serious discussion about the broader strategic objectives of U.S. policy. Absent such discussion, tactical decisions become random short-term fixes (at best), and domestic political support will never coalesce for the long slog still ahead.