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

This is off topic, but congratulations to Floyd Landis, who today sealed a dramatic victory in the Tour de France. I mention it only because if you haven't read about Landis' ride in Thursday's stage, you really should, regardless of whether you know anything about cycling.

In making up nearly 8 minutes on the race leader in a grueling mountain stage, the day after bonking and losing the yellow jersey, Landis turned in one of the great performances in sports history. It ranks up there with Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, Tiger Woods' 1997 Masters victory, and Bob Beamon's 1968 long jump, performances that simply defied what was believed to be possible.

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

I guess conservatives have given up on the whole "9/11 changed everything" gambit. At least until it's convenient to bring it back up again. In its place we're getting schooled on what an intractable problem the Middle East is and has been for years, it turns out: too protracted for us to fix, too ancient for us to have exacerbated. In short, nothing has changed.

Here's where you roll footage of the blindfolded American hostages in Iran in 1979 and of the Marines in 1983 sifting through the rubble of their barracks in Beirut.

Queue up a somber voiceover from David Brooks:

If you look at the jihadists, they had a victory in '79 by pushing the Soviets out of Afghanistan. They pushed the U.S. out of Lebanon. The pushed the Israelis out of Gaza and out of Lebanon. They're probably pushing the U.S. out of Iraq. They are on the march.

Iraq is part of that, but it's not the whole story. They are on the march, and they're sidelining the reasonable people in the Middle East, who may be the majority, but right now what's happening in the Middle East is the Israeli public opinion has gone to the center, for withdrawal, but Arab decision makers have gone to the extremes, to Hamas and Hezbollah.

And that's just not something -- we can't call them up and have a summit. We can't have shuttle diplomacy. We can't invite them to Camp David because they're so extreme, so we are constrained. . . . it's gloomy, but it's a long historical trend of which Iraq is an important part.

This sudden embrace of the "long view," as Brooks calls it, is of a piece with the recent claims by some neo-conservatives that there was nothing we could have done to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq given its "coarsened and brittle cultures." Or as Josh paraphrased it: sure, we had a crappy post-war plan in Iraq, but that really didn't matter one way or the other.

While it is true that you can understand little about the Middle East without understanding its history, conservatives have an obvious motive for wanting to compress the last 20-30 years of events in the Middle East. Linking the brutal events of the recent past with the brutal events of today allows them to skip over the fact that real progress toward peace and stability in the region was made in the 1990s, in part due to U.S. leadership and diplomacy. In doing so, I suppose conservatives hope to obscure what a hash they have made of the Middle East in the last 5 years.

Newt Gingrich, on the rebuilding of Iraq:

We need to fundamentally reorganize our nonmilitary bureaucracies to be effective. I mean, part of the reason you don’t have an effective Iraqi bureaucracy is the American inability at the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department to provide any level of systematic competence is, is almost zero.
Did he leave anyone out? Hmmm, let's see . . . oh, yeah. The Pentagon!

It was the Pentagon that elbowed State aside and assumed full responsibility for post-invasion Iraq, despite having failed to undertake the sort of pre-invasion planning necessary to confront the enormous task.

It was the Pentagon that made no plans to rebuild the Iraqi bureaucracy because Rumsfeld thought if you lopped off the head of the regime and replaced it with a pro-Western government, the Iraqi bureacracy would just keep on keeping on.

It was the Pentagon that disbanded the Iraqi Army, one of Iraq's stronger bureaucratic structures, despite the warnings from U.S. commanders on the ground.

And let's not forget that Gingrich was on Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board during the period in question and was one of the leading proponents of the Pentagon's approach.

Going around behind Gingrich to set the record straight could be a full-time job, but this particular blame-shifting canard needs to be confronted and knocked down hard.

For you, dear readers, I tried to watch the Sunday morning talk shows. But I must have blacked out when Newt Gingrich, on Meet the Press, said that we are now engaged in World War III and cited as evidence of that notion the terrorist wannabes arrested in Miami. I don't remember anything after that point. I know I have fallen down in the eternal battle against bamboozlement. I will only note that I had already endured Bill Kristol's unmitigated bamboozling of the Plame affair on Fox News Sunday. Surely that must count for something.

For the most part, the New York Times gets it right in its editorial today on Bush's (and Cheney's) obsession with expanding executive power:

To a disturbing degree, the horror of 9/11 became an excuse to take up this cause [of expanding executive power] behind the shield of Americans’ deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled. The nation’s image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about, while other prisons operate in secret. American agents “disappear” people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo Bay without charges or rudimentary rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.

Exactly so.

But I do want to flag one concession the NYT makes, incorrectly in my view, in the midst of its otherwise solid indictment of the Administration (emphasis added):

While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

Well, actually, quite a number of people question the White House's determination to fight terrorism. An Administration determined to fight terrorism after 9/11 would not have invaded Iraq, would have devoted considerable effort and resources to securing the nation's ports, and would have worked to minimize the effects of a terrorist attack by improving disaster preparedness, which Katrina starkly showed was not done. That's just the short list.

I don't want to make too big a deal of this because, taking the editorial as a whole, I'm not sure the NYT actually believes that Bush's determination is unquestioned. Much of the editorial's argument underlines precisely why the White House's determination to fight terrorism is questionable at best.

On the other hand, to frame the issue without challenging the White House's anti-terror credentials concedes far too much and ignores the many reasons, too numerous to document here but with which everyone is now familiar, to doubt this Administration's credibility.

A tantalizing tidbit on the Jerry Lewis-Bill Lowery front:

The investigation has even reached into Lowery's private life. One of his two ex-wives, Melinda Morrin, has been interviewed twice by the FBI about her ex-husband's dealings, her attorney said last week.

Things can't get much bleaker than when the FBI starts questioning your ex-wife--about you.

Steve Clemons offers up a different take on the broader strategic objectives behind Israel's recent actions in Gaza and Lebanon:

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel's military check points and the abduction of soldiers -- which I agree Israel must respond to -- seems to be part establishing "bona fides" by Olmert, but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah rockets reach ever deeper into Israel, Israeli air strikes for the first time target central Beirut, and the IDF re-enters northern Gaza.