Today's Papers

War Powers, International Plan of Mystery

USA Today

, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with the House of Representatives’ sudden emergence as a potential obstacle to the Clinton administration’s Kosovo war policy. The papers report that the House voted Wednesday 249-180 to bar President Clinton from sending ground troops to Yugoslavia without congressional approval. The NYT calls this a “sharp challenge” to Clinton and the LAT says it’s a “clear slap.” The House also failed to endorse Clinton’s conduct of the air campaign, deadlocking 213-213 on an expression of support, even though the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, urged a pro-administration vote. The Washington Post fronts the House voting, but leads instead with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson’s confirmation of yesterday’s NYT scoopy lead: Chinese spy suspect Wen Ho Lee transferred nuke weapons secrets to an unclassified computer system vulnerable to outsiders. An LAT front-pager says that the FBI expects to arrest Lee within ten days.

Yesterday’s House votes came after the body’s first formal debate on the Yugoslav war since it started. The LAT observes that the combination of measures considered by the House left many lawmakers on all sides of the issue. Today’s Papers wishes the paper had followed up with some examples by name, but the point can be made in the aggregate: Congress yesterday came out against an immediate ground war, against the air campaign, against declaring war (427-2) and against withdrawal (290-139). By the way, has a declaration of war ever been defeated before? The papers don’t say.

The NYT notes that the votes have no practical effect on the White House conduct of the war, since the president has repeatedly foresworn using ground troops. And, the paper adds wryly, “he does not need the House’s moral support to continue air strikes.” The papers report that the White House spokesman’s response on the issue of ground troops was to say that if President Clinton changed his stance on their use, he would seek congressional “support” but not “approval.”

The WP points out high up in its story that the ground troop vote was really a vote to deny funds for their use. The LAT makes this point too, but near the bottom. The LAT account says that “the bill concerning ground troops was pushed through by GOP leaders as part of an effort to embarrass the administration and brand the campaign in Yugoslavia as “the Clinton-Gore war.” Maybe so, but the story provides utterly no evidence for this supposed motivation. And there are others that spring to mind, like a genuine concern that ground war will be disastrous, or that U.S. policy aims first need to be better thought out and explained. Indeed, right after the above-quoted passage, the LAT notes that Speaker Dennis Hastert expressed the latter view. But in effect, the way the story is written, it’s practically calling him a liar. Moral: News stories must not glibly attribute petty political motivations.

The Wall Street Journal passes along survey results showing trends in status symbols. Down: Being a corporate executive, being a politician. Up: Being an entrepreneur. Owning a hand-held electronic organizer, expensive cars and boats, nannies, early retirement, palatial kitchens and bathrooms. Another status symbol: “a long first marriage.” (Presumably after it’s over, you go for the organizer.)

The Post lead has Richardson opining that the breach created by Lee’s alleged computer transfer actions is not on a massive scale. The LAT quotes him saying this was “serious but it does not constitute a compromise of any strong magnitude.” But the Post not only quotes Richardson, but also another less optimistic “senior administration official”, who says that “a massive amount of very, very sensitive information was transferred from classified to nonclassified computers, and we may never know if it went anywhere else.” Richardson tells the Post that increased use of “polygraphs, a doubling of the counterintelligence budget and extensive background investigation of all scientists visiting from foreign countries and I believe we’re on the road to a very strong security and cybersecurity program.” In other words, the next time somebody tries to steal every nuclear bomb secret this country has ever had and hand them over to a foreign power, he won’t get away with it.