Today's Papers

Today’s Capers

Yesterday’s NATO strikes against Yugoslavia–primarily against Serbian air defense assets–lead all around. The USA Today and Los Angeles Times headlines mention the bottom-line reason given by President Clinton in his two addresses to the nation yesterday: morality. But apparently, morality means defense from above but not below–the papers report that Clinton stated he doesn’t intend to put U.S. troops into Kosovo to fight a war. The papers don’t linger over the intelligibility of this distinction nor about what makes Kosovo more morally compelling than say, Rwanda. The Wall Street Journal mentions a fact that impugns the deterrent power of the from-the-air-only approach: the Clinton administration has used it four times in the past ten months.

The New York Times runs the best thumbnail explanation of how the Kosovo situation, if unchecked, could have repercussions across Europe: “…Albania and Macedonia could be drawn into a larger war or even break up if the Serbs are not prevented from an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Even beyond that, it is feared that Turkey and Greece, two NATO members, might take opposite sides.”

The reaction of other nations was primarily positive, with the signal exception of Boris Yeltsin, who, the papers report, despite a lengthy phone conversation with Clinton, denounced the raids and recalled his military envoy to NATO. A Washington Post inside story reports that Austria, not a member of NATO, said it would seal off its airspace to warplanes attacking Yugoslavia, because the military operation lacked a UN mandate. The LAT finds some NATO uneasiness, serving up this quote from one diplomat: “We Europeans are worried about a Saddam Hussein scenario, where we bomb and we bomb, and nothing happens. Then we will have an Iraq in the heart of Europe.” The papers also report that, in the time-honored fashion, after the attack started, U.S. domestic political opposition virtually disappeared. Tuesday’s 58-41 Senate pro-air-campaign-vote was followed Wednesday by the House’s 424-1 vote in support of the U.S. forces involved, a vote that came after bombs had already exploded.

USAT scores something of a coup, for the first time ever putting a reporter on an Air Force plane launching cruise missiles in combat. The resulting front section “cover story” by Steven Komarow is full of good details: the group of B-52s that started the air strikes included a decoy plane with no missiles (although the story should have explained the point of this) and several times on the way to their launch point, the planes were questioned by civilian air traffic controllers. There’s also the no-duh “code word” for the beginning of the attack: “Rock and Roll.”

The papers are more than a little credulous about the participation in the raids of two B-2 stealth bombers, the first combat use ever of the $2-billion-a-copy planes. Nobody seems to notice that there could be anything but a straightforward military motivation here–oh, like B-2 and Air Force budget justification. The LAT’s stenography is all-too-typical: “Military experts said the use of the bomber on the first day of the campaign was significant. Unlike cruise missiles, which carry relatively light warheads, the B-2 can carry 2,000-pound bombs capable of penetrating underground facilities.” To write this is not to notice that the warheads on the cruise missiles launched by the B-52s are also 2,000 pounds.

The papers all run reports of Microsoft’s offer to settle its antitrust lawsuit with the government. The WSJ says the company has offered to alter the contracts it reaches with personal-computer makers and Internet service providers to avoid requiring the exclusive or near-exclusive distribution of MS products. The paper also says the odds that this will be accepted are “slim.”

The WP fronts, and the NYT stuffs, word from England that Britain’s highest court ruled that Augusto Pinochet is not immune from prosecution for human rights abuses merely because he’s an ex-head of state. While the ex-Chilean dictator will for the time being remain under house arrest in a London manse, the decision makes it possible, explains the Post, that he could be tried in any of the 112 nations that have signed the international treaty making torture a crime. The tricky part is that Britain didn’t sign the treaty until 1988 and Pinochet relinquished power in 1990, which the court ruled, means only those two years of his activities could be used to establish his criminal liability.

Following front-page coverage in the NYT last week, the WP reports on the mushrooming protests in New York against Mayor Giuliani’s handling of that controversial police shooting of an unarmed African immigrant. The paper’s story, run inside, notes that celebrity arrestees are quickly multiplying, and the NYPD didn’t help itself when its chief took a break from the scandal to jet off to the Oscars on a corporate junket. The story notes that the chief did suggest NYC cops apologize to citizens they stop but don’t end up arresting. Why isn’t that a department policy?