Today's Papers

Desert Storm Warnings

USA Today

and the New York Times lead with a federal judge’s ruling that the line-item veto is unconstitutional. The Washington Post leads with the Russian defense minister’s face-to-face rebuke of the U.S. Defense Secretary over Iraq. The top national story at the Los Angeles Times is the unhappiness among many congressional Republicans about Newt Gingrich’s decision to handle the Lewinsky scandal by saying nothing critical of President Clinton.

According to the WP lead, in their Moscow meeting, Igor Sergeyev forcefully lectured William Cohen right in front of reporters about how America was being too tough on Iraq, and warned that future U.S.-Russian relations may be affected. The paper reports that Cohen kept his cool. Also, the Post reports that Cohen asked Sergeyev about yesterday’s allegations in the WP about a 1995 agreement by Russia to sell Iraq equipment that could be used to develop biological weapons. The Russians issued a carefully worded denial.

The Post portrays the recent diplomacy undertaken by Russia in connection with the Iraq flare-up as providing it with a chance to take on a global role it hasn’t had since the Soviet collapse. And indeed, Cohen left the meeting with the latest Russian proposal for softening U.N. weapons inspections of Iraq. Russian-U.S. tensions over Iraq also get front-page space at USAT, the LAT and the WSJ.

The NYT describes the line-item veto veto as “a major blow” (random choice of words?) to President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders. The decision sets the stage, says the paper, for a ruling on the matter by the Supreme Court.

The Times reports that although the LIV is often defended as a tool for fiscal restraint, even the Clinton administration attributes to it only $1M in direct deficit reduction.

The USAT front section “cover story” does a very able job of covering the geopolitical and especially military nuances facing any U.S. move against Iraq. The paper points out that, of course, this time there isn’t nearly the amount of international support for military action. And it’s suggested that the current goal of thwarting Saddam’s ability to wage chemical and biological warfare is far more nebulous than 1991’s objective of throwing Saddam out of Kuwait.

But on the other hand, says the paper, U.S. smart bombs have gotten smarter–they’re now less likely to be distracted by smoke or bad weather– and there will be a lot more of them now. And now almost every plane in the gathering U.S. air arsenal can launch them.

This story has a surprising, even disconcerting amount of order of battle information (“The six F-117 Stealth fighters stationed nearby in Kuwait.”). Also, the piece makes the point that still seven years after Desert Storm, there is no ideal bomb in the inventory that can reliably destroy bio-chemical weapons plants while keeping poisons from getting into the atmosphere, which means that true precision will be needed to avoid large numbers of civilian casualties. Another obstacle noted is that it is impossible to destroy all the computer disks holding “cookbooks” for making chemical and biological weapons.

A couple of questions about the story however: The paper says that the B-2 stealth bomber is a “stealth design like the F-117” stealth fighter, just much bigger. But actually, the former employs smooth curves to bend radar waves while the latter uses flat, jagged edges to scatter them. And USAT says that the only U.S. jet capable of dropping a 5,000 lb. “bunker-busting bomb” is missing from the roster being formed over there. But doesn’t explain why. The NYT front-page piece, by ex-Marine Gen. Bernard Trainor, on the U.S. military plan, says that the 5,000 pounders will be used.

According to the Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire,” Clinton advisor Bruce Lindsey had a phone conversation last summer with.Linda Tripp. His purpose: to find out more about Kathleen Willey’s allegations of sexual harassment by Clinton.

“Today’s Papers” appreciates all its sharp-eyed grammarian readers and will press on irregardless of its occasional missteps.

The NYT features a sprawling op-ed by Tom Clancy called “Know the Answers Before Going to War.” In it, Clancy states that we don’t seem to have the answers to very many of the questions relevant to attacking Iraq’s chemical and biological warfare capabilities. This is interesting, because in Clancy’s novels the U.S. invariably has all the answers, and its weapons perform as required. So maybe the questions he proliferates here (here, unlike in his books, he questions the notion of a “surgical” strike, and here he wonders, “Who has told us that it is OK to kill women and children?”) are signs of a long-deferred maturity. But more likely is that this is anti-Clinton blather from a conservative Republican. After all, in this piece the car-home-and-fire salesman turned global strategist describes the Gulf War as if it were a model of Clausewitzian clarity concerning ultimate goals and acceptable means, forgetting in the process that at the end of that war, the Bush/Powell/Schwarzkopf axis internally disagreed about war issues that had never been articulated for the American people: Should the U.S. destroy the Iraqi military, invade Baghdad, or topple Hussein even after Iraq was repulsed from Kuwait? Because of that history, the American people have now given such matters much more thought.