Today's Papers

B-2 Or Not B-2?

Everybody leads with that case-against-Iraq speech President Clinton gave at the Pentagon yesterday. Speaking to an auditorium full of military and civilian Defense employees, and from a platform he shared with his Secretary of Defense and his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Clinton justified possible airstrikes with an implicit reference to the failures of appeasement in the period just before World War II. “Force can never be the first answer,” said Clinton. “But sometimes, it’s the only answer.”

In its piece on the speech, USA Today mentions that the Secretary-General of the U.N., Kofi Annan, is going to Baghdad to try for a peaceful resolution. The Washington Post makes it clear that if Annan’s mission fails to produce Iraqi compliance, an air bombardment is a “virtual certainty.” The administration’s old line was, says the paper, “weeks not months,” but its new one is “days not weeks.”

Both the WP and the New York Times note that Clinton has defined down his military objective–now we are after, not totally ridding Iraq of mass destruction weapons, but seriously diminishing their threat. However, Clinton did not, notes the Times, explain at what point he would consider the Iraqi threat seriously diminished.

The Times’ James Bennet obviously got to somebody present at the military briefing Clinton attended just before speaking. His report reveals that the briefing ran 45 minutes and centered on the details of a military strike. Clinton mostly listened and made no new decisions. But he did ask about the potential casualties in a strike, both among Iraqi civilians and American pilots. He also asked about Iraq’s ability to use chemical and biological weapons in a confrontation.

Both the WP and the NYT mention President Clinton’s dismissal of Saddam’s desire to exempt certain “presidential” sites from weapons inspection. One such site, Clinton explained, is 40,000 acres, whereas the White House grounds take up but 18. The Times includes this quote of the president’s: “We’re not talking about a few rooms here with delicate personal matters involved.” In the age of Lewinsky, you don’t have to be Freud to find that an interesting choice of words for what goes on in the White House.

The Los Angeles Times wisely puts at the top of its lead the simplest, most forceful argument Clinton made, one that both USAT and WP omitted and the NYT postponed until the last paragraphs of its story: His “guarantee” that if Hussein isn’t stopped now, he will someday use his biochemical weapons.

The USAT, WP, and LAT fronts all report President Clinton’s lawyers asked the judge in the Paula Jones case to dismiss her suit for lack of substance. The WP runs the text of Clinton’s legal motion in the matter, which includes an argument that strikes the lay person as bizarrely permissive: Even on the assumption that then-Gov. Clinton undertook the actions towards Paula Jones in the Excelsior Hotel room that Jones alleges, that would not constitute “hostile environment sexual harassment” because Jones went to the room voluntarily, the episode only lasted at most 20 minutes, there was no violence or explicit threats and she was able to leave when she decided to.

The NYT front marshals the factors behind that ski lift disaster in Italy two weeks ago: on his first flight in the area, the Marine Corps pilot did not have maps showing the ski lift, was violating orders to fly 1,000 above the ground and was off-course. All this beneath a headline that is simply extraordinary in this age of lawyers restraining editors restraining reporters: “HOW WAYWARD US PILOT KILLED 20 ON SKI LIFT.”

“I know it’s not the most traditional way to balance the budget, but it just might work.” According to the Wall Street Journal “Tax Report,” some 3,000 taxpayers recently received notices from the IRS informing them that they each owed the agency $300,000,000.

At the Pentagon, real-world combat requirements come first–except when they don’t. A WP front-page piece reveals that even though the B2 stealth bomber is the most expensive aircraft ever built ($2 billion a copy), and could drop large numbers of “bunker buster” bombs on Iraq without ever setting foot on skittish Arab runways, it’s not likely to see action over Iraq. The Pentagon corridor explanation teased out by the WP is that if it were to fail it would be a colossal embarrassment for the Air Force, while if it were to succeed it might siphon money away from newer hot Air Force aircraft programs.