Today's Papers

Coming Down From the Mountain

The Washington Post’s lead reports that the U.S. has pulled about 400 troops out of the battle in eastern Afghanistan, but says up high that the pullout could really be more of a rotation and that “fresh American troops could soon join the fight.” Still, a U.S. military spokesperson said, “The major battle ended three or four days ago.” The paper explains that enemy fire has died down substantially. But the spokesperson added, “The battle is not over, the battle is not won.” The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the United States’ plans for a “Mideast diplomacy blitz.” The paper explains that U.S. peace envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni is heading to Israel this week, while Vice President Dick Cheney is set to travel throughout the region in order to “rally support for U.S. action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.” USA Today leads with word that President Bush is expected in a speech tomorrow to “ratchet up pressure on Iraq” and other countries seeking weapons of mass destruction. Speaking on a Sunday news program, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that Bush wants to “put the world on notice that the status quo with Saddam Hussein is unacceptable.” The New York Times leads with word that Arthur Andersen, Enron’s former auditor, is considering selling itself to another accounting firm. The paper says a deal “could come as soon as this week.” The Los Angeles Times ekes out another lead based on the paper’s revelation over the weekend that the United States is expanding the scenarios in which it might use nukes. Today the LAT explains that senior administration officials took to the airwaves defending the supposedly secret strategy. 

The plans are meant “to send a very strong signal to anyone who might try to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States,” said Rice. (Eh, does this mean that the White House purposely leaked the plans? After all, the plans were supposed to be secret. How were they going to send a signal if they stayed that way?)

The first sentence of a NYT “news analysis” about the new nukes policy reads, “The Pentagon’s new blueprint on nuclear forces has raised the question whether the Bush administration is lowering the threshold for using nuclear arms.” That’s wimpy. The nuke plan itself, at least, clearly lowers the threshold. The NYT obviously disagrees with that change of policy and should just run an editorial saying so.

In the same article, the NYT, for the second time in as many days, quotes “a nuclear weapons expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.” The paper should consider pointing out that the NRDC advocates nuclear disarmament.

The NYT has the most optimistic coverage of the operation in eastern Afghanistan, declaring the battle “effectively over.” The WSJ, meanwhile, says up high, “Defense officials said that the end of the fighting isn’t in sight.” The LAT explains, “Senior Bush administration officials gave conflicting accounts Sunday of whether the battle was winding down.”

The WP, citing Afghan commanders, adds, “The battle has mostly paused while they and their U.S. counterparts prepare a possible final offensive for the next few days.”

That’s why heavy bombings are going to continue. “If I were an al-Qaida guy, I wouldn’t go out for a pizza,” said a military spokesperson quoted in all the papers.

Everybody notes tensions between rival (but U.S.-friendly) Afghan forces. Afghan commanders from eastern Afghanistan demanded that a group of 1,000 soldiers from the north return home. The eastern Afghan forces were worried that the northern Afghans were interested in ruling the area.

The NYT mentions that one of its reporters was stopped by American and Afghan soldiers and wasn’t allowed to enter the battlefield. “Journalists are not permitted,” explained one of the soldiers (of unclear nationality). “It is the policy of the U.S. government.”

The WP reports that since Sept. 11, the United States “has secretly transported dozens” of suspected terrorists detained abroad to countries other than the United States, “bypassing extradition procedures and legal formalities.” The paper continues, “The suspects have been taken to countries, including Egypt and Jordan, whose intelligence services have close ties to the CIA and where they can be subjected to interrogation tactics—including torture and threats to families—that are illegal in the United States.” The Post’s  2,000-word article seems a bit thin on the details; it only mentions two specific cases of this type of post-Sept. 11 extra-judicial extradition, one to Egypt and one to Jordan.

Everybody notes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would soon lift the travel restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat now that Arafat has arrested all the suspects in the killing of Israel’s tourism minister. The NYT describes the move as a “critical concession,” while the WSJ calls it a “slight easing” of Sharon’s policies. 

Everybody notes that the United States has pressured Sharon to cool things down before Gen. Zinni arrives this week. 

Sharon, who yesterday said he would negotiate with Palestinians even if terror attacks continued, explained, “The first mission I see before my eyes is to reach a cease-fire, which is why I chose this way.”

Still, Sharon emphasized that Israel, too, would keep up its attacks. And the papers report that Israeli soldiers have invaded a refugee camp near Bethlehem. The WP notes, “There was no word on casualties. In recent assaults on refugee camps, Israeli forces have blocked ambulances from reaching the wounded.”

A NYT inside piece headlines: ‘RECESSION’ WON’T TARRY TO RUN WITH DEMOCRATS. Huh? The article’s first sentence explains: “The recession is fading away, and with it, perhaps, the best chance Democrats had to put Republicans on the defensive for the Congressional elections in November.” (The upshot? Tarry:v. to wait.)

The LAT profiles Dr. Nader Alemi, one of only a dozen psychiatrists in Afghanistan. Dr. Alemi opposed the Taliban. But he didn’t think they were evil, just sick. “I don’t think the Taliban needed more guns,” he explained. “But more Prozac.” The doctor says Afghans have begun to joke and laugh now that the Taliban, big downers, have left. As the reporter was interviewing Alemi, a patient came running in exclaiming, “Excuse me, excuse me, I must see Mullah Omar.” Dr. Alemi clarified: That’s the new slang for “I have to go to the bathroom.”