Today's Papers

Golf War Syndrome

The fate of the three Army soldiers in Serbian hands leads all around. USA Today and the Washington Post go high with pictures of the men in captivity. The New York Times runs those pictures lower. The NYT and WP and Los Angeles Times leads juxtapose the soldiers’ story with the day’s biggest tactical news: the destruction of a bridge over the Danube. The NYT adds mention of an air attack on a column of Serbian troops. The Times says that according to NATO officials, these new war actions indicate that the shock of the soldiers’ capture will not distract NATO from its strategic goals. The paper’s top front features a picture of the neatly bisected sunken bridge, which, it says, was the work of a squadron of F-15s. The Wall Street Journal says it was missiles. The LAT front features a photo of a crowd of Albanian Kosovars forced to board a train for the Macedonian border. The train looks to be of World War II vintage, as does the whole scene.

USAT’s main headline–“US: DON’T HARM GIs”–and a similar one at the LAT sum up the main U.S. government reaction to the news that the Serbs will today put the three captured soldiers on trial. The papers report that President Clinton yesterday warned Slobodan Milosevic that the U.S. “takes care of its own.” The GIs (World War II slang, short for “government issue”) were part of a lightly equipped scout force stationed in Macedonia along the border with Yugoslavia. The big issue about their capture, the coverage explains, is which country they were in when they came under attack. USAT’s front section “cover story” strongly suggests the scouts were illegally grabbed from Macedonia, by casting doubt on the idea that the scouts had stumbled into Yugoslavia. Men in their unit the paper interviews say they were excellent navigators and very familiar with the terrain. But the paper’s lead goes a bit the other way, noting that by late Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman referred to the three as “prisoners of war,” a phrase that implies a lawful capture. The WP and NYT note a similar shift in description.

The WSJ continues to mine military sources for unique Pentagon backstage news. Today’s effort, by reporters Carla Anne Robbins, Thomas E. Ricks, and David Rogers, describes two power struggles: 1) NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark believes he’s already gotten permission to bomb key military targets in downtown Belgrade, but several (unnamed) smaller NATO members warn that such raids could produce extensive civilian casualties and hence a backlash; 2) Clark wants the Pentagon to fork over more attack helicopters and long-range artillery units. But the Pentagon, the paper reports, is wary of putting troops on the ground anywhere near Kosovo.

Although the papers report that a week-plus of airstrikes is beginning to degrade the Serbian military, particularly by affecting the supply and distribution of fuel, the WP reports a sign that Milosevic is not expecting the war to be over any time too soon: he has sent his son, daughters, and grandchildren to a villa on Crete. (Hmmm…how about a trade for the Army guys?) On the other hand, the NYT quotes a Pentagon higher-up saying that by expelling so many Albanians and destroying their guerrilla army, Milosevic has already “basically got every objective he wanted.”

WP columnist Charles Krauthammer writes, “On Monday, as ‘genocide’ was going on in Kosovo (so said the State Department), Bill Clinton played golf. The stresses of war, no doubt.” This sort of sniping, which has dogged presidents of both parties the past two decades, is ridiculously unfair. Is the idea that presidents can never take any time off, as long as there are any serious problems in the world–that is, never? And if this rule made sense wouldn’t it apply to columnists too?

USAT reports that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, appears to have broken one of the Court’s unwritten rules. Since 1801, majority opinions have not included the word “I,” but Breyer broke out the personal pronoun in a little noticed March 23rd ruling. Can personal pronouns on the front page of the NYT be far behind? (Today’s Papers promises that Today’s Papers will never use them.) USAT notes that the usage could have been a leftover from a law clerk’s memo.

What with Kosovo and all, it’s good to see that at least one United States Senator has not lost sight of the really big issues. Al Kamen of the WP passes along this tidbit from a recent letter over the signature of Sen. Ted Stevens: “[O]ne of the most difficult issues we will face is whether or not members of Congress deserve and should receive a modest increase in salary.”