Today's Papers

War Without Words

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the Taliban’s refusal to produce Osama Bin Laden. The regime’s ambassador to Pakistan said that without evidence of Bin Laden’s guilt, the Taliban will not comply with President Bush’s ultimatum, even if that means war. The New York Times lead also includes this information but emphasizes instead Bush’s plan to strike Afghanistan before the details of his plan to destroy “every terrorist group of global reach” are entirely worked out.

“No discussion and no negotiations,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says in the LAT lead, echoing sentiments expressed by the president the night before.  “It will then be a showdown of might,” says the Taliban ambassador in the Post. The Taliban “will never surrender to evil and might.”

On the face of it, the impending showdown in Afghanistan looks decidedly one-sided. The WP describes the Taliban’s military as “battle-hardened combatants with antiquated equipment.” There are no more than 45,000 of them and they’re using tanks and aircraft left over from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. (It’s been widely reported that the U.S. provided arms to extremist Islamic guerrillas during that occupation, but the Post article makes no mention of it.) But the Taliban’s “guerrilla tactics and mastery of the rough Afghan terrain could pose a challenge to U.S. ground forces,” according to unnamed analysts. Meanwhile, “ordinary Afghans” are fleeing the country, or at least moving away from likely targets. Aid shipments have been disrupted since the attacks and U.N. officials have warned of an “impending humanitarian crisis.”

The Post fronts a seemingly important story that gets no play in the other papers: Saudi Arabia is “resisting” U.S. plans to use a recently completed, ultramodern command center on a Saudi base for the war on terrorism. Alternative sites may have to be considered and that could delay the military campaign by several weeks, says the Post. A Saudi refusal would also be a blow to Bush’s coalition-building dreams, and it might indicate to the rest of the Arab world that cooperation with the United States remains entirely optional.

Back to the NYT lead: Evidence of Bin Laden’s guilt does apparently exist, but the U.S. will not talk about it. The comparison is made to Kennedy’s decision to release photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962. There will be no such disclosure this time, for strategic reasons, according to Ari Fleischer. “They would like nothing better than to hide where they are hiding and have the United States reveal what we know and how we know it,” he says.

The papers have Pakistan on their fronts, from a variety of angles. The NYT goes with Bush showing appreciation for Pakistan’s cooperation in the terrorist hunt.  The U.S. will lift economic sanctions against India and Pakistan–sanctions first imposed in 1998 after the two countries began testing nuclear weapons. An aid package is also being considered for Pakistan. The LAT says that while there were protests in support of Bin Laden on the streets of Pakistan, turnout was somewhat less than expected. That’s good news for President Musharraf, who’s doing to his best to hold onto popular support while still appeasing the U.S.

The NYT and WP front (and the LAT stuffs) Wall Street’s worst week since the Depression. $1.4 trillion disappeared–“easily 10 times the estimated property damage caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” according to the Post. The Dow dropped 1,379.70, or 14.3 percent. A news analysis inside the NYT asks, “Will fundamental attitudes about investments and about the American economy be changed by this disaster and what follows?” The piece is optimistic for our future, quoting Stanley Shopkorn, who says that what people didn’t know in the mid-’70s–that stocks eventually bounce back–is now conventional wisdom.

The NYT fronts the $15 billion airlines bailout approved by Congress and soon to be signed by the president. The bill also establishes a compensation fund for the victims, which is meant to protect the airlines from liability claims. Victims and their families may still sue either United or American–or they can save themselves the time and effort by accepting money from the fund instead. Labor union officials were quick to point out that “not a dime” of the bailout money goes to laid-off workers. Northwest Airlines announced on Friday that it would cut 10,000 jobs, approximately one-fifth of its workforce.

Finally, the LAT off-leads a list of terrorist attacks that have taken place since Sept. 11, showing that “most of the world’s terror is local” and beyond the reach of the president’s campaign. A suicide bombing in Turkey is described, as well as an assault on civilians by a paramilitary squad in Colombia. The article comes in response to that “every terrorist group of global reach” line from Thursday’s speech. Last year, the State Department counted 138 “significant terrorist incidents” in 29 countries, committed by 43 armed groups.