Today's Papers

Syrian President Assad Dies

Everybody leads with the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad. Since 1970, the 69-year-old leader had been a standard-bearer of Arab nationalism and a leading opponent of Israel. Assad was authoritarian and often brutal, and though he opened the door to talks with Israel, he retained his hard-line position while Egypt and Jordan made peace. All three papers agree that Assad’s 34-year-old son Bashar will likely succeed his father, but the transition could be tumultuous. The Assads belong to a minority Muslim sect, and the majority Sunni Muslims may try to increase their power amid the uncertainty. The inexperienced Bashar also faces opposition from militants within his own family. Assuming he does take over, there are no clear signs that Bashar will be a radically different ruler from his father, but there is a lot the international community does not yet know about him.

All three papers front analyses of how Assad’s death will affect the Middle East peace process. The New York Times claims that prospects for Israeli-Syrian peace have been on the decline since March, when Assad told President Clinton that he would demand that Israel surrender not only the Golan Heights but also parts of the Sea of Galilee and its shore. The uncertainty that is sure to grip Syria in the coming months and possibly years will likely prevent Bashar, or whoever takes over, from making any immediate moves toward peace, and America will shift its energy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which will resume when Yasser Arafat arrives in Washington this week. The Washington Post agrees that the short- and medium-term outlook is not so good, but it suggests that once a new leader is firmly in power, he may come to associate needed economic modernization in Syria with peace and agree to compromise. The Los Angeles Times goes a step further, saying that because Bashar has a less personal attachment to the Golan Heights (his father remembered picnicking there as a boy), he may be more willing to let a part of it go. 

The LAT off-leads a story about the long-standing cold war between North and South Korea and the upcoming summit between the two nations. Most of both huge Korean armies are located within striking distance of the two-and-a-half-mile-wide DMZ that separates the two Koreas, and North Korea especially has been stepping up its military presence steadily for the last year. Most troops stationed on the South side of the DMZ, including 37,000 Americans, are not confident that the summit will end hostilities, but there are scattered signs of hope. The loudspeakers on the North Korean side are not spouting the usual six to 12 hours of propaganda nightly, possibly indicating an effort to ease tensions before the summit. In South Korea, environmentalists are starting to talk about turning the DMZ, which has not been developed, into a wildlife refuge when it is no longer needed for defense purposes.

The NYT fronts an article about the abysmal legal representation death-row inmates in Texas often get, citing the example of Ronald G. Mock, who says he has had more clients put to death than any lawyer in the country. Later this month a former client is scheduled to die, but new lawyers are seeking clemency on the grounds that Mock failed to put on any defense whatsoever, much less an adequate one. Despite eyewitness testimony and ballistic evidence that could have proved his client innocent, Mock called no witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial and declined to cross-examine the only prosecution eyewitness. Texas judges in charge of appointing attorneys for indigent defendants traditionally favored lawyers who worked quickly, but recently the system has improved somewhat. In other Texas death penalty news, the WP reports inside that the state attorney general announced that race may have been a factor in sending nine men to death row. In those cases a state psychologist told jurors that the defendants were more likely to pose a future threat because they were black or Hispanic.

The WP fronts Al Gore’s $16 billion education plan. He would spend $8 billion on raising teacher salaries at poor schools and another $8 billion on recruiting new teachers with signing bonuses and tuition credits. Gore also wants to standardize the teacher licensing procedure and require more teacher training. These initiatives would represent a huge increase in the federal role in education, which traditionally is left to localities and states. George W. Bush, who has proposed $3 billion in education spending, says the Gore proposal “flies in the face of the philosophy that I believe in.”

My Buddy and Me: The NYT reports that Linda Tripp has become good friends with a man she met in an anti-Clinton Internet chat room. After encountering each other at the Web site, Tripp and lawyer Brian Buckley exchanged e-mails, telephone calls, and a photograph before meeting in person last week. Buckley said he was overcome with emotion when he finally saw Tripp.