Today's Papers

Smoke ’N’ Guns

The Los Angeles Times leads with the United Nations raid in Sierra Leone yesterday morning to extract 233 U.N. peacekeepers from a base surrounded by hostile members of the Revolutionary United Front. While admitting that the dicey operation was still in its first stages and “continuing through difficult terrain,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan dubbed the mission a success. The New York Times, which carries the story in its “International” section, leads with an international arms fair in the Ural mountains earlier this week, part of the Russian military establishment’s “major effort” to boost its flagging share in the international weapons market. The Washington Post carries the U.N. raid late in the “A” section, and goes instead with U.S. and Israeli officials’ recent talks with Congress about the possibility of securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with a Middle East aid package. While details of the proposed $15 billion package remain vague, the WP reports that the bulk of the money would fund Israeli security in the wake of a peace accord with the Palestinians. The proposal has so far been met with considerable opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress wary of foreign aid and now skeptical of the proposal’s timing. And in a telephone interview with the WP, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations called the proposal’s size “mind-boggling” and its chance for congressional approval in an election year “slim, probably even nonexistent.”

The LAT reports that the U.N. attack on the rebel stronghold of Kailahun was supported by helicopter gunships that also flew U.N. military observers and 29 sick soldiers to Freetown, 200 miles to the west. The LAT cites U.N. field personnel who claim that the rebels had suffered “serious casualties” in the heavy gunfire precipitated by the raid. The melee, according to the LAT, wounded two U.N. soldiers from India, but the WP cites another U.N. spokesman claiming, somewhat ambiguously, that “we got everyone out okay.” The LAT states that the secretary-general green-lighted the rescue only after the failure of “intensive diplomatic and political efforts at all levels,” and noted that the “increasingly threatening posture” of the surrounding rebels made the use of force “inevitable.” The raid was only the most recent in a series of conflicts between the U.N. and the RUF forces, which have brutally killed thousands in their struggle for power in the country’s bloody civil war and plagued the U.N.’s mission in the war-torn country.

According to the NYT, defense officials from dozens of nations were on hand at the arms bazaar at Nizhny Tagil, including Russia’s biggest weapons customers–India and China–as well as executives from American defense contractor General Dynamics, reportedly looking to buy a Russian missile shield for tanks. As a Russian arms manufacturer made clear, domestic dealers “don’t see much real money from the Russian army,” whose defense orders have dropped dramatically since the Soviet collapse, so exports are crucial. Russia, last year the world’s fourth-largest arms producer (behind the U.S., France, and Britain), is hoping to expand its market share from 6 percent to 10 percent. The NYT cites the deputy director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, who suspects that America’s dominance in the arms market has only strengthened the anti-American sentiments of a Russian defense establishment bred in Cold War hostility.

The NYT off-leads with the remarks of the foreman of the six-member Florida jury that yesterday handed down the largest punitive damage award in the nation’s history. The foreman claimed that the jury’s $148 billion award was brought about by their shared “sense of mission” to expose the tobacco industry’s extensive lies about the risks of its product and to punish the arrogance of an industry that wrongly thought itself “beyond reproach.” The WP, which carries the story on the second page, cites another juror’s admission that the verdict won’t change corporate America. In fact, as all the papers suggest, with the verdict’s appeal inevitable, the massive award may not even be enough to change the tobacco business.

The NYT also fronts a special report on the declining numbers of Asian and Asian-American scientists at all three national weapons laboratories–Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia–and the rising suspicions about systematic racial discrimination at the labs. The discovery follows last year’s highly publicized arrest of Los Alamos’ Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was accused of mishandling nuclear secrets but thought by many Asian-Americans to be the target of racial bias. Scholarly groups have urged Asians and Asian-Americans not to apply for positions at the labs, and the number of both Asian and Asian-American hires and postdoctoral applications has dropped precipitously over the past three years.

In its business section, the LAT chronicles Toys “R” Us’ startling economic rebound. Once saddled by its reputation for poor service and management turmoil, and beset by growing competition from giants like Wal-Mart and eToys, Toys “R” Us made its turnaround–in part–through its commitment to make its sample toys more accessible and the store experience more fun. And the Russian arms establishment, in similar peril for not dissimilar reasons, is taking notes. Next to the T-80 jumping tank, which dazzled dealers by leaping off a ramp and into the air, the belle of the weapons ball was Russia’s new T-90 tank, which displayed its laser-guided firepower as majorettes twirled batons and Russian officials toasted prospective buyers from bottles of vodka aptly adorned with an imprint of a Russian tank. A possible cause for the bazaar celebration? The NYT reports that Russia is about to announce the sale of 300 T-90s to India for an estimated $700 million.