Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Newt Gingrich Flashes Fangs

| Sun Jan. 8, 2012 11:56 AM EST
Newt Gingrich.

Perhaps it's lack of sleep, or perhaps he realized that his above-the-fray strategy was failing to dampen Mitt Romney's aura of inevitability in New Hampshire, but Newt Gingrich flashed his fangs early in Sunday's NBC News/Facebook debate. After Romney exceeded his allotted time, emphasizing—as he has throughout the campaign—that he is not a career politician but a businessman whose conscience called him to service, Gingrich erupted: "I realize the red light doesn't mean anything to you because you're the front-runner. But can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?"

The fact is you had a very bad re-election rating. You dropped out of office. You had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president... You were running for president while you were governor. You were gone all over the country. You were out of state consistently.

You then promptly re-entered politics. You happened to lose to McCain as you had lost to Kennedy. Now you're back running. You've been running consistently for years and years and years. So this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind, just level with the American people. You've been running for—so at least since the 1990s.

Then, after coming out strong and showing a glimpse of classic, brawling Gingrich, the former House speaker reverted to his positive, professorial pose.

Since placing fourth in Iowa in the wake of a slew of attack ads launched by a pro-Romney super-PAC, Restore Our Future, Gingrich has vowed he would not go negative. He has vowed, however, to "engage in great clarity," as he put it the other day during a town hall meeting in Salem.

But while Gingrich may be reluctant to put his pugilistic side on full display, now, thanks to Sheldon Adelson, he may be able to leave most of the body blows to his surrogates. News broke on Saturday that the casino mogul had donated $5 million to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC, Winning Our Future, run by former Gingrich aide Rick Tyler. Winning Our Future is planning to roll out a blistering, 27-minute movie eviscerating Romney's record at Bain Capital. "I'm trying to save the people of New Hampshire from being embarrassed," Tyler told NBC. "When they see this movie, and see what a predator Romney is, they're going to be embarrassed."

Near the end of the debate, moderator David Gregory raised the escalating super-PAC wars, asking Gingrich whether his complaints about Restore Our Future's Iowa ads weren't hypocritical given the movie produced by the super-PAC backing his own candidacy. "I'm consistent because I think you ought to have fact-based campaigns," Gingrich responded.

Romney defended the ads launched by Restore Our Future, which is run by former Romney campaign staffers. He added, however, "Anything wrong I'm opposed to."

Gregory pointedly asked the candidates whether they would both ask their respective super-PACs to cease the attacks. Predictably, neither Gingrich nor Romney signaled that they would call for a super-PAC detente. "I agree with him: it takes broad shoulders to run," Gingrich remarked, referring to Romney's recent comments criticizing Gingrich for "whining" about the super-PAC onslaught.

So at least they agree on something.

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Newt's Nuclear De-Escalation

| Sat Jan. 7, 2012 11:22 AM EST

When Newt Gingrich launched into his speech Friday night at Salem High School, it seemed as if his pledge to remain above the fray of negative ads and campaigning was about to fly out the window. He'd barely taken the stage when he threw a jab at his campaign trail nemesis, Mitt Romney, who earlier in the week Gingrich had called a "liar" for denying knowledge of a barrage of super-PAC attack ads that the former House speaker blames for undercutting his support in Iowa. 

"How many of you have noticed that the state line seems to have a really significant, almost mythic, impact on behavior?" he asked, referring to Massachusetts, where Romney had served as governor, to hoots from the audience. "On one side more taxes and bigger government, on the other side lower taxes and less bureaucracy… There really are very different psychological mindsets." He arrived at the point: "The only reason I raise that is that I think there's a remarkable difference between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate."

Was Newt—as some in the media had predicted—about to explode in a supernova of anti-Romney vitriol? It seemed this could be the moment.

Ahmed Wali Karzai: The Devil We Knew

| Tue Jul. 12, 2011 8:45 AM EDT

At various points over the years, US military leaders and diplomats have pondered how to get rid of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of the Afghan president and the key power broker in Kandahar province. But it was ultimately the Taliban that claimed credit for completing the job: Early reports suggest he was shot dead in his home on Tuesday morning by a bodyguard, an assassination the Taliban described as "one of our biggest achievements."

The fact that Ahmed Wali, or AWK as he was sometimes known, was considered such an impediment by both sides highlights the exceedingly complex role he played in this conflict. His death comes at a fragile stage of the war, as the Obama administration prepares to withdraw 33,000 troops by next summer in advance of a full-fledged security handover in 2014. Meanwhile, the Taliban is ever working to re-entrench itself after being beaten back by US military forces.

There was a time that military commanders viewed Ahmed Wali as such a barrier to progress in the restive south, where he officially chaired the Kandahar Provincial Council and unofficially controlled much of the region's economy, that efforts were afoot to remove him from power. (In 2010, there was even talk of taking potential "law enforcement actions" against Ahmed Wali and other "malign actors," according to a leaked State Department cable.) AWK was accused of being a key player in the opium trade and a high profile example of Afghanistan's out-of-control corruption problem. Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded proof, and while a dossier was compiled enumerating AWK's misdeeds, the evidence was apparently never compelling enough to warrant his ouster. Also complicating matters was the fact that AWK was reportedly a longtime CIA asset who helped to run a paramilitary outfit called the Kandahar Strike Force, which aided agency personnel and US Special Forces teams on raids against the Taliban. (Ahmed Wali denied being on the CIA's payroll.)

Eventually, NATO military commanders adopted a better-with-us-than-against-us attitude to the mustachioed and perpetually scruffy Kandahari leader, who, years before becoming the kingmaker of the south, had worked in the family restaurant business in the US. AWK may have been corrupt, the thinking went, but he was still an important ally in a region where we had few. It was with his cooperation last year that coalition troops conducted a sustained offensive that forced Taliban insurgents out of their strongholds and brought a measure of peace to Kandahar. 

The question now is: What comes next? Love him or loathe him, Ahmed Wali was fluent in the unique, tribal politics of the region, and he held enough clout to bring a variety of competing interests to heel. AWK reportedly controlled a variety of economic activity in Kandahar, and he played a never-quite-defined role with the security outfits that protect convoys ferrying key military supplies back and forth to Kabul and elsewhere. With AWK gone, there are no shortage of regional power brokers, mostly of ill repute and some with suspected Taliban ties, who will be eager to fill the power vacuum and fight over the fiefdom of the man known as the King of Kandahar. You know what they say about the devil we know.

RIP WTF 44

| Tue May 17, 2011 11:33 AM EDT

GOP Hill staffer Scott Graves is retiring his cheeky license plate, WTF 44, following my story yesterday identifying him as the owner of the apparently Obama-bashing Texas tags. "When I realized the meaning could be misconstrued, I ordered new plates," Graves, the legislative director for Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), told Texas' San Angelo Standard Times in a statement. It seems a bit hard to imagine that Graves was not aware, at the very least, of the meaning of WTF. In fact, he used this shorthand in the appropriate context on his Twitter feed

So, if not a political jab at the president, what did the plate mean? Graves, via Conaway's press secretary, Sam Ray, did not elaborate to the Standard Times. Nor did Ray provide an alternative explanation when I contacted him for comment. Ray did speculate, weakly, that "maybe that was his number in football" after I suggested that perhaps WTF could stand for "West Texas Football." (Hey, I watch Friday Night Lights.) In any event, Ray never got back to me on what WTF 44 "really" meant.

It seems Conaway's staffers have chosen the strategy of just playing dumb on the matter. The Standard Times Washington correspondent, Trish Choate, was accidentally cc'd on some internal correspondence related to the plates issue. She reports:



In an email addressing Ray but also sent to the Standard-Times' Washington correspondent and Graves, Chief of Staff Richard Hudson referred to "KMC"—Kenneth Michael Conaway, saying: "Give KMC a 'heads-up.' When she talks to KMC next and she asks him about it, he just needs to decline to discuss his employees' personal vehicles. Or say something like, I didn't know about the plates, but I understand he's changed them."

There is one remaining question: Now that Graves is trading in his old plates, how should he personalize his new ones?

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