Today's Papers

Settin’ the Woods on Fire

The New York Times leads with U.N. chief Kofi Annan’s criticism of the U.S. for its failure to provide adequate military support to the peacekeeping process in Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone. The Washington Post leads with China and Taiwan’s request for U.S. assistance in improving relations between the two sides. The Los Angeles Times leads with the burden that rising tax rates have placed on household debt. Many families (especially lower-income ones) that borrowed aggressively in a delusively strong economy now find themselves struggling to stay ahead of their loans.

All three papers front the crisis in Sierra Leone. The NYT lead reports on Annan’s assessment of the situation in Africa and his prescription for effective U.N. policy there. The crises in Africa do not involve established states sensitive to international pressures such as trade embargoes, but rather warlords concerned more with their own power and position than the welfare of the people they claim to represent. To succeed, the U.N. requires well-equipped rapid-reaction forces to meet the warlords on their own terms. Diplomacy at a distance is no longer viable. But the U.S. refuses to deploy its own troops to the region; moreover, the secondary support the U.S. has made available, such as planes to fly in equipment, has been grossly overpriced: The U.S. would have charged the U.N. upwards of $17 million to airlift soldiers to Sierra Leone; the organization has since chartered a commercial airliner for the same operation at a cost of $6 million.

The WP fronts the disarray of peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone: West African leaders want to send in Nigerian-led troops independent of the U.N.; Western powers (except for Britain) are unwilling to send troops to the region; and, according to Annan, the U.N. peacekeepers at his disposal are poorly equipped and poorly trained. Another significant impediment to resolving the conflict has been the absence of the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, who went into hiding last Monday.

An LAT front reports that last summer’s peace agreement to end civil war in Sierra Leone was doomed from the start when it granted the Revolutionary United Front, led by Sankoh, substantial power that it used to outmaneuver the weakened government of President Tejan Kabbah while the international community refused to commit resources to the volatile region as it passively observed the situation.

The WP leads with the delicate position the U.S. will find itself in if it mediates the dispute over Taiwan’s relationship to China. It is not clear what the two sides expect of the U.S., nor how the U.S. can be of help. Regardless of the role it might play, the U.S. is sure to be wary both of jeopardizing relations with Taipei and its powerful lobby in Washington, and provoking Beijing, a nuclear power.

The WP off-leads the joint effort of pesticide makers and farmers to pass legislation that would make it less difficult for chemical manufacturers to introduce new pesticides, and more difficult for federal regulators to restrict the use of existing ones. Opponents claim that passing the legislation would dismantle protections that require “a reasonable certainty of no harm” for raw and processed food.

The WP and the LAT both front the fires in New Mexico (the NYT runs the story inside). The LAT reports that enough smoke has cleared to allow helicopters to resume water drops on the fire that grew out of a “prescribed burn” of national forest lands. The interior secretary announced that a 30-day moratorium has been placed on all such burns. The WP states that before the burn, weather experts warned of climate conditions that posed dangerous safety risks. The official who authorized the burn has been put on administrative leave but is not being held responsible for the blaze that has already scorched 32,000 acres and forced 18,000 residents into emergency shelters. The LAT brings up the question: Is the federal government responsible for damages caused by the fire?

The NYT off-leads evidence that discredits testimony of American witnesses who claimed that U.S. soldiers were ordered to kill civilians in the Korean War. According to U.S. News & World Report and to (the online version of Stars & Stripes, which covers the military), many of the witnesses were not present at the massacres they said they had seen.

The NYT fronts the eruption of fighting along the disputed border that divides Ethiopia and Eritrea. The number of dead has been estimated at between 20,00 and 70,000. Diplomats attribute the recent outbreak of fighting to Ethiopia, which is eager to end the war because of food shortages and because of the economic toll it has suffered as a result of its clashes with Eritrea.

The LAT fronts the victory of Tamil Tiger rebels over Sri Lanka’s government troops in the city of Jaffna, the rebels’ cultural capital. The government took the city in 1995 and defended it fiercely as a symbol of its commitment to win the war. But the rebels have entered Jaffna and are pressing towards the center, threatening to make refugees of many of its 500,000 civilians.

A NYT front examines how gun control legislation will factor into the presidential race. Democrats opposed to strict gun control laws have said they will vote for George W. Bush. Republicans in favor of them are crossing over to Al Gore’s camp. The question is whether the issue will be hot enough to determine the outcome of the election. Both Bush and Gore are hoping that the number of voters who cross party lines because of the issue will have a zero net effect on the race.