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

TPM Reader DB reports in:

I would like to refer to the note about Saddam’s changing image in the Arab world. I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for 8 years. The other night I was taking a little run into Dubai for a bad burrito (for some strange reason the cooks in Dubai do appalling things to Mexican food) and a beer. My taxi driver, Amjed, a Pakistani who has been driving taxi in Sharjah and Dubai for 25 years, was unusually quiet on this trip. Finally, after we got going on the freeway, he asked me,

“So, Saddam gone, eh?”

“Yes,” I answered. “He is dead. He was a bad man. But it won’t change the troubles in Iraq.”

“He was bad man,” Amjed agreed. “You see?”

“No. I didn’t see it.”

“I see on television. He was brave.”

“I heard that.”

“He was bad man. In end, he was brave. He was not afraid. In end he was brave man. Was good.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. We drove on in silence. When we got to the bar, I thanked him, tipped him, walked in, and ordered a cold pint of Stella.


In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”

I would hate to let John Negroponte's departure as Director of National Intelligence go by without reminiscing about the job's long hours and positively dreary surroundings, as recounted last March by Jeff Stein at CQ:

On many a workday lunchtime, the nominal boss of U.S. intelligence, John D. Negroponte, can be found at a private club in downtown Washington, getting a massage, taking a swim, and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and a perusal of the daily papers in the club’s library.

“He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday,” gripes a senior counterterrorism official, noting that the former ambassador has a security detail sitting outside all that time in chase cars. Others say they’ve seen the Director of National Intelligence at the University Club, a 100-year-old mansion-like redoubt of dark oak panels and high ceilings a few blocks from the White House, only “several” times a week.

. . .

But there seems to be a new, relaxed John Negroponte. And some close observers think they know why.

He’s figured out the job. Which is to say, he really doesn’t have much control over the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

So why not hang at the University Club?

Negroponte spokesman Carl Kroft takes serious issue with that portrayal.

“He’s the hardest working person in U.S. intelligence,” Kroft said. “He’s hard at work from the early hours of the morning to late every night. The job never ends.”

Negroponte's new digs in Foggy Bottom will be much closer to the University Club than were DNI's temporary offices out at Bolling Air Force Base.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) turns the Golden Rule on its head: "What we really expect out of the Democrats is for them to treat us as they would like to have been treated."

Given Boehner's perma-tan, maybe we can call this the Bronzed Rule.

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.