Today's Papers

Let’s Fake a Deal?

The papers read the fine print on the Kosovo deal–or conjecture what the fine print will look like when it is written. And it may be written soon: The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times leads announce that Serb and NATO military honchos will meet today to draft a schedule by which the Yugoslavs will withdraw from Kosovo and NATO will cease bombing. NATO continues to strike, note all the papers, but its leadership speculated that the airstrikes may stop as early as Sunday.

But is NATO attending a funeral for a patient who’s still breathing? The WP points out cognitive dissonance between the two sides: The Serbs are anticipating another negotiating session, while NATO expects merely to dictate the specifics of the pullout to the Serbs. “We’re going down there with a map, stick pins in it and say, ‘Take these routes, don’t get off them, move quickly, do not stop to collect $200,’ ” the LAT quotes a NATO official.

Another potential complication in resolving the crisis: A New York Times front-pager relates that the KLA is already chafing at the terms of the incipient agreement between NATO and the Yugoslavs. While NATO has promised Yugoslavia it will disband the rebels, it has only made a few vague suggestions of how to do so (one idea: train the guerilla fighters as police officers). But the KLA sees itself as “the emerging political and military power in a liberated Kosovo” and the central advocate of Kosovar independence. The rebel group’s membership has ballooned from 2,000 to 17,000 in the past year, and may champion an independence movement among Kosovars.

The WP fronts a sober tally of the war’s economic toll on Serbia. It will take $50 billion to $150 billion to mend the devastation caused by NATO bombardment, and this year’s GDP has already declined by 30 percent. As the NYT also mentions, various Western countries have vowed that they won’t provide any reconstruction aid so long as Milosevic is still in power. One think tank estimates that without this aid, it would take 45 years for Serbia to rebuild itself. In the meantime, Serbians get by through cash infusions from wealthy relatives abroad.

Yesterday, a rash of editorials conceded that the president’s insistent reliance on air power had been correct all along. Today a Times front-pager reports that Republicans are accusing President Clinton of flubbing the operation, by failing to nail Milosevic or to prevent the mass deportation of Kosovars. Sen. Mitch McConnell asked if Milosevic’s continued reign is “a good outcome, given the fact that we have labeled him a modern day Hitler and he has been indicted in the Hague?” But this spin doesn’t seem to be penetrating very far; both the Times and the WP declare Gore the lucky beneficiary of the diplomatic success, because his campaign won’t be tinged with a controversial ground-troops debate.

A WP front-pager describes how Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has effectively refused to confirm any of the current 42 nominees for federal judgeships until the president agrees to nominate one of the senator’s picks, a conservative civil servant from Utah named Ted Stewart. Hatch is demanding payback for his previously generosity to Clinton nominees, but Stewart’s weak environmental record is anathema to Gore. The entire federal bench only has 843 seats, and the national docket is lagging because of the lack of judges available to preside over cases.

All papers carry the news that President Clinton, bypassing the normal congressional channels, has appointed the country’s first openly gay ambassador. James C. Hormel was nominated as ambassador to Luxemborg in 1997, but his confirmation was held up by religious conservatives. Trent Lott’s aides described the appointment as “a slap in the face” for Catholics, and accused Hormel of consorting with drag queens attired in nun costumes.

Finally, a WP profile of Strobe Talbott includes the following poetic detail about his recent sessions with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and Finnish president Ahtisaari. During their confabs, the diplomats always sat around an empty chair, so as to remind themselves “that they needed to take into account what … Slobodan Milosevic would think of their proposals.” Today’s Papers wonder what other clever mnemonic tricks top negotiators employ to remember the existence of their adversaries.