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

If Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep under a cedar tree in Lebanon in 1982 and awoke today, you could hardly blame him for thinking he had snoozed for only a few minutes.

Israel is still in Lebanon. Iran is America's great nemesis. Russia-U.S. relations remain tense. An imperial power (Britain/U.S.) is conducting a military campaign in a farflung locale (Falkland Islands/Iraq) in what is maybe its last gasp of imperialism. There is a gathering threat in the East (Japanese economy/North Korea). The news even includes mention of the death of a popular princess (Grace Kelly/Diana) in a car accident.

The only things missing are Survivor, Toto, and Air Supply.

When critics of the Iraq War suggested it would set back progress in the Middle East for a generation, I didn't take it to mean we would revert to a generation ago.

From Reuters:

The head of Italy's military intelligence agency was questioned by prosecutors for the first time on Saturday on suspicion of helping the CIA kidnap a terrorism suspect in Milan, judicial sources said.

The development makes Nicolo Pollari the highest ranking official connected to the Italian investigation -- which has already led to the arrests of his No. 2 and another leader of his Sismi intelligence agency earlier this month.

Ah, serendipity. Reading Spencer Ackerman's much linked to TNR piece on House Intel Chair Pete Hoekstra's outlandish claim that al Qaeda fellow travelers have infiltrated the U.S. intelligence community, I was reminded of an intriguing essay titled "Stabbed in the Back," from the June issue of Harper's.

I went looking for the piece online to re-read it, but it wasn't up yet. Then, as if on cue, Harper's posted it Friday. If you haven't read Ackerman's piece, read it first, then go take a look at "Stabbed in the Back":

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

In the final analysis, I'm skeptical of unified theories of anything, perhaps especially of history, but they can be useful tools to explain some phenomenon. If you fish, you know polarized sunglasses cut the glare on the water and let you see the fish. Similarly, the "Stabbed in the Back" hypothesis is a useful lens to filter 20th and early 21st century events and distill modern American nationalism. Especially now.


WP: "The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed the former law firm of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for records of any contacts he or members of his lobbying team had with the Bush White House."

Let's nip this whole "Bush is shifting to a more enlightened foreign policy" theme in the bud, shall we?

Time calls it "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy" in this week's cover story. A David Sanger piece in tomorrow's New York Times is headlined, "Bush's Shift: Being Patient With Foes."

The sad truth is that the Administration's foreign policy has run aground on the shoals of its own incompetence. As Kevin Drum noted last week, "the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore."

Afghanistan is reverting to the Taliban. Iraq is beyond the point of no return. North Korea is acting with impunity. Iran controls its own destiny.

Worse, for an Administration that has instinctively favored military action over diplomacy, the nation's military resources are depleted, bogged down, and largely unavailable for any further foreign adventures.

Yet we have stories emerging that suggest the current foreign policy dilemma is a deliberate course of action chosen by Bush. Time, in a mishmash of its news and style sections, calls it a "strategic makeover" led by Condi Rice.

The fact is Bush has boxed himself in, frittering away lives and treasure, and leaving himself with few options. He deserves no more credit for a policy shift than the man serving a life sentence who declares that he will henceforth be law-abiding.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan . . . a top-notch account by Christina Lamb in the London Sunday Times of the “military and developmental anarchy” in that country:

“We need to realise that we could actually fail here,” warns Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force. “Think of the psychological victory for Bin Laden and his ilk if we failed and the Taliban came back. Within months we’d suffer terror attacks in the UK. I think of my own daughters in London and the risk they would be in.”

Take a look. This is the sort of piece to which every foreign correspondent should aspire. Via Wolcott.

Some readers have written in to suggest that the Hoekstra-Bush brushup reported in today's NYT is less about legally questionable intelligence programs that have yet to be disclosed and more about a power play between different factions in the Administration, represented by the Rumsfeld's Pentagon on one side (which Hoekstra supports) and DNI/CIA on the other.

My own sense is that both are probably at play, but that post-9/11 intelligence programs that have yet to be vetted by Congress probably have greater implications than the outcome of bureaucratic powerplays.

But for an alternative view, go see emptywheel's post.

More on Lanny Davis' pro-Lieberman performance on CSPAN over at Kos, written by one of the callers to the program.

I watched just enough of the Lieberman-Lamont debate and Davis' CSPAN appearance to pick up on the Lieberman campaign's new theme that you just can't rely on Lamont because he's all over the place on a withdrawal plan for Iraq.

I don't know whether that's an accurate criticism of Lamont (I suspect it's not), but it doesn't strike me as a winning formula for Lieberman: you can't trust this guy to fix the problem I created.

If you need help getting your car out of a ditch, would you turn to the guy who just drove it in there or to the stranger who stops to help?

Update: Score one for TPM Reader AS: "That might sound logical, but that strategy worked for Bush in his reelection!"

Critically important reporting in this morning’s LA Times on what amounts to a complete collapse of U.S. efforts to establish an Iraqi civil police authority:

Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.

Some have argued, persuasively, that any effort to create a professional and effective Iraqi police force was doomed from the earliest days of the occupation when the Pentagon failed to put enough boots on the ground, especially police and civil affairs units, to secure the peace.

Not only did the insurgency step into that power vacuum but a fearful population, including, undoubtedly, members of the police forces themselves, also turned instinctively to their religious and tribal associations for protection. That doomed the chances of establishing an impartial civil authority:

A recent assessment by State Department police training contractors underscores the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endemic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government.

. . .

Police officers' loyalties seem a major problem, with dozens of accounts of insurgent infiltration and terrorist acts committed by ministry officials.

In general, this isn’t new news, although some of the particulars are. What the piece reinforces is that any U.S. withdrawal plan that is predicated on Iraqis assuming responsibility for policing is not a plan at all but an open-ended commitment.

At best such a commitment would last years. But realistically I’m not sure there is any historical precedent for an occupying power being able to salvage a situation that is as far gone as the security situation in Iraq is.

Lacking the integrity to acknowledge a disastrous outcome and the courage to change course, the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense have made the decision to punt the problem they created to the next administration.