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

Reed Hundt compares the number of Iraqi deaths since the U.S. invasion to the casualty figures in our own Civil War.

At the risk of being mocked for my naivete, let me say that I was under the impression that U.S. air strikes in Iraq had dwindled to only very occasional, discreet sorties months if not years ago. Fighting an insurgency with air strikes is like performing heart surgery with a chain saw. Apparently, though, that's exactly what we are doing.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, hinted at ongoing air strikes this week when he told a group of military reporters that in a war with North Korea the United States would be hampered by the fact that so many guidance and intelligence assets are in use in the Middle East. As reported by the LA Times:

Pace said a conflict with North Korea, which both he and President Bush have said is highly unlikely, would rely heavily on the Navy and Air Force because of the significant deployment of land forces in Iraq. In addition, such an attack would not be "as clean as we would like," he said, because guidance systems used to aim bombs were in use in the Middle East.

"You wouldn't have the precision in combat going to a second theater of war that you would if you were only going to the first theater of war," Pace told a group of military reporters. "You end up dropping more bombs potentially to get the job done, and it would mean more brute force."

Although Pace did not name specific guidance and intelligence systems, Air Force officers have said they do not have surveillance aircraft such as Global Hawk and Predator reconnaissance drones available for East Asia because of their heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unmanned aircraft are used to spy on enemy territory.

Such recon assets are not used solely for air strikes; they support ground forces, too. But the report last week in the Lancet on the estimated number of Iraqi casualties (an astonishing 655,000 souls) also suggests ongoing aerial bombardment. Crooked Timber crunches the numbers (h/t to Ygelsias):

One number that is striking, but hasn’t attracted a lot of attention is the estimated death rate from air strikes, 13 per cent of the total or between 50,000 and 100,000 people. Around half the estimated deaths in the last year of the survey, from June 2005 to June 2006. That’s at least 25,000 deaths, or more than 70 per day.

Yet reports of such deaths are very rare. If you relied on media reports you could easily conclude that total deaths from air strikes would only be a few thousand for the entire war. . . .

The best source turns out to be the US Air Force Command itself. For October and November 2005, the US Air Force recorded 120 or more air strikes, and this number was on an increasing trend. Most of the strikes appear to be in or near urban areas, and the recorded examples include Hellfire missiles fired by Predators, an F-16 firing a thousand 20mm cannon rounds and an F-15 reported to have fired three GBU-38s, the new satellite-guided 500-pound bomb designed for support of ground troops in close combat. . . .

This sort of reliance on air strikes to combat the insurgency (which is becoming supplanted by sectarian violence, which our forces may or may not be in a position to distinguish) is a classic example of tactics divorced from strategy.

My own sense for some time has been that our inability to secure the peace--largely the result of our inadequate force size--has been the biggest obstacle to a political solution in Iraq. Obviously, many other factors come into play, and even achieving security, especially at this late date, does not ensure that a political solution is achieved. But persistent violence, and protecting oneself from it, has a way of trumping all other consideration for a civilian populace. If what we are doing in Iraq militarily still involves heavy use of air strikes, then we are a major source and cause of that violence to an even greater extent than I had imagined, and in a random and indiscriminate way which undermines anything we try to accomplish in Iraq politically.

In-depth profile of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in today's Lexington Herald-Leader, a taste of what we have to look forward to if the GOP retains control of the Senate and if, as expected, McConnell becomes the new majority leader:

In the early 1970s, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr., a young and intense Republican lawyer, strode into the political science class he taught at the University of Louisville.

He didn't introduce himself to his students. He went straight to the chalkboard and scribbled.

"I am going to teach you the three things you need to build a political party," he said, and backed away to reveal the words: "Money, money, money."

. . .

"He's completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else," said Marshall Whitman, who watched McConnell as an aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and as a Christian Coalition lobbyist.

. . .

Some senators shy away from fund-raising duties because of ethical concerns. Top donors tell senators what they want from upcoming votes, and top donors get special treatment, said retired Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. Their calls to Senate offices are returned first, Simpson said, and their wishes are a priority when action is taken.

"I didn't enjoy it at all," Simpson said. "I just felt uncomfortable."

Yet McConnell never blinks, Simpson said.

"When he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds," Simpson said. "He obviously loved it."

Not a flattering profile.

Didn't President Bush, in a much ballyhoed press conference in September, declare that the CIA's secret prisoners were being transferred to Gitmo for trial by military tribunals? That is what he said, right?

So what's this about?

A suspected al Qaeda leader, accused of being involved in September 11 and planning the 2004 Madrid train bombings, has been imprisoned in a secret U.S. jail for the past year, Spain's El Pais newspaper reported on Sunday.

Mustafa Setmarian, 48, a Syrian with Spanish citizenship, was captured in Pakistan in October 2005 and is held in a prison operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistani and European security service officials told El Pais.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Spain declined to comment on the report.

Setmarian's 2005 capture was reported in May of this year after the United States put a $5 million bounty on the head of the alleged founder of al Qaeda's Spanish network.

A photograph of the red-haired Setmarian has been removed from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Intelligence's most-wanted Web page.

Not that making it to Gitmo guarantees any sort of due process, as this NYT piece today makes clear:

Mr. Ginco, a college student living in the United Arab Emirates, had gone to Afghanistan in 2000 after running away from his strict Muslim father. He was soon imprisoned by the Taliban, and tortured by operatives of Al Qaeda until, he said, he falsely confessed to being a spy for Israel and the United States.

But rather than help Mr. Ginco return home, American soldiers detained him again. Nearly five years later, he remains in the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — in part, it appears, on the strength of a propaganda videotape made by his torturers.


We've been beaten up pretty good around here at TPM for what some perceive as our insufficient levels of enthusiasm for Ned Lamont and of loathing for Joe Lieberman.

I won't speak for Josh, but my second biggest dread about the November election (the biggest being the GOP retaining both chambers) is that control of the Senate comes down to Lieberman--and he defects to the GOP.

Now you may think that's because legions of Lamontites--and several personal friends--will have my neck if that happens. And it's true that I don't relish the I told you so's. But the prospect of Joe Lieberman continuing to play a central role in our national politics after what he has said and done in this campaign fills me with a worse dread than simply having been wrong about Joe staying with the Dems.

Here's Joe's latest weasel:

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a lifelong Democrat and student of politics, blanked when asked if America would be better off with his party regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

A Democratic victory would immeasurably boost the influence of two Connecticut friends, U.S. Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro and John B. Larson, and provide a counterbalance to the Republican Senate and White House.

"Uh, I haven't thought about that enough to give an answer," Lieberman said, as though Democrats' strong prospects for recapturing the House hadn't been the fall's top political story.

He was similarly elusive about the race for governor. Is he voting for John DeStefano Jr., a Democrat and mayor of the city where Lieberman has lived since the 1960s?

"I'm, uh, I'm having," he stammered, then laughed and said his decision would remain private.

Joe, Joe, Joe . . . more here.

The LA Times interviews former White House political director and current GOP national chairman Ken Mehlman on his role in the Abramoff scandal:

"I was a gateway," Mehlman said in an interview. "It was my job to talk to political supporters, to hear their requests, and hand them on to policymakers."

Mehlman said he had known Abramoff since the mid-1990s and would listen to his requests along with those of other influential Republicans.

"I know Jack," Mehlman said. "I certainly recall that if he and others wanted to meet I would have met with them, as I would have met with lots of people."

Contrast that with Mehlman's "Jack who?" defense earlier this year in Vanity Fair: "Abramoff is someone who we don't know a lot about. We know what we read in the paper."

Remember the good old days when someone like Mehlman could get busted for such a baldfaced lie and there would be serious adverse consequences, personally and politically?

Bob J. Perry strikes again. The GOP stalwart and financier of 527 groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and the Economic Freedom Fund this year has donated $2 million to a 527 group called Americans for Honesty on Issues, according to a recently filed FEC report.

According to the New York Times:

The leader of Americans for Honesty on Issues is Sue Walden, a close ally of Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who left Congress amid questions on ethics and fund-raising. Ms. Walden has also raised money for President Bush and served as an adviser to Kenneth L. Lay, the former chief executive of Enron who died in July.

The group has already spent almost $1.5 million in attack ads on Democratic candidates. MyDD has the rundown on which districts Americans for Honesty on Issues has targeted.

Update: FEC reports this past week show that Bob Perry has also contributed $1 million to the Free Enterprise Fund, which has begun running TV ads against Ned Lamont in Connecticut.

GOP grumblings about the White House not being prepared for a loss in November:

"They aren't even planning for if they lose," says a GOP insider who informally counsels the West Wing. If Democrats win control of the House, as many analysts expect, Republicans predict that Bush's final two years in office will be marked by multiple congressional investigations and gridlock.

"The Bush White House has had no relationship with Congress," said a Bush ally. "Beyond the Democrats, wait till they see how the Republicans–the ones that survive–treat them if they lose next month."

A Democratic victory of any kind will be a rude welcome back to the reality-based world for Bush. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Rep. Chris "that ain't torture, it's sex" Shays (R-CT) has suddenly found his moral compass, blasting his own party's campaign committee for distributing a flyer claiming his opponent wants to have coffee with the Taliban.