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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

Tony Blair: "What sustains a government at this point is self-belief."

Not much to go on, but if it's all you got . . .

What U.S. strategic interest is served by Israel's seizing of elected Palestinian officials and bombing of the offices of the Palestinian prime minister?

Others have aptly noted the disproportionate Israeli response to the capture of one of its soldiers. When measured not just against the incident that precipated the current escalation of violence but also against international norms, Israel's conduct has been disproportionate--and self-defeating. (If this report is true, then Israel's conduct is beyond disproportionate.)

But with the United States bogged down in Iraq, another important measuring stick, at least for us, is U.S. strategic interest. By that measure, Israel's actions this past week have been a disaster.

There seems to be a tendency for the United States to continue to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the old perspective, when we often served the role of a benevolent uncle who didn't hesitate to knock his nephews heads together to enforce good behavior. But thanks to our excursion into Iraq, we now have a greater stake in the region than at any time since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps since the creation of Israel. Although President Bush is loath to admit it, our heightened level of involvement may very well continue for decades to come.

Caught between warring factions and the target of insurgents, we are in a virtually untenable situation in Iraq, tactically and strategically. One of the few things that could possibly worsen the dire circumstances in Iraq is for Israel to inflame Iraqis and the region further with the sort of conduct it has exhibited this past week.

If you are one of the few people who takes seriously the President's stated strategic objective of bringing democracy to the Middle East, then you won't cheer Israeli military strikes on the fledgling institutions of a tenuous democracy (if that's not being too charitable toward the Palestinian government).

In fairness to Israel, it is not clear to anyone, including the President, what our strategic objectives in Iraq are. We can hardly expect our allies to closely coordinate their policies with ours, which, as the President himself has declared, consists of waiting around for his successor to take office so the next guy (or gal) can figure out what to do. It's a hapless situation that we've gotten ourselves into, and for that Israel is not to blame.

The Duke Cunningham investigation has generated as many spinoffs as All in the Family.

Much of the focus lately has been on the links among U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the Copeland Lowery lobbying firm, and congressional earmarks. Remember that the Duke is connected to the unfolding Lewis investigation in a number of ways, most notably through alleged briber Brent Wilkes, who was a Copeland Lowery client.

On Friday came a reminder that the Duke investigation began as a defense contracting scandal and that investigators are still pursuing the Pentagon angle. Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia filed a bill of information against Richard A. Berglund, a retired lieutenant colonel who worked for defense contractor MZM. Berglund stands accused of making illegal contributions in early 2005 to the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA).

As the Washington Post suggests, the filing of a bill of information signals that Berglund has probably worked out a plea deal with prosecutors that will include his agreement to cooperate with investigators.

Why should that worry some folks in the Pentagon? Well, remember that MZM founder Mitchell Wade has already pleaded guilty in connection with his bribing of Duke Cunningham. In fact, as alleged in Wade's plea agreement and Friday's bill of information, it was Wade who was orchestrating the illegal campaign contributions. (Katherine Harris (R-FL) was one of the recipients of those contributions; neither she nor Goode has been charged with any wrongdoing and both have denied having any knowledge of the illegal nature of the contributions.) Wade has been cooperating with investigators, apparently extensively.

So flipping Berglund doesn't get the feds any closer to Wade. They already have Wade. But Berglund, a former military officer, could help point the way into the Pentagon. He was the program manager for MZM's Martinsville, Va., facility (in Goode's district), which handled defense-related work. Stay tuned.

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