Today's Papers

Steeling for a Trade War

 The Washington Post (at least its early edition) leads with the violence in the Middle East. Five Israelis and about 10 Palestinians were killed yesterday. Also, a previously unknown Jewish terrorist group claimed responsibility for planting a bomb at a Palestinian junior high school, which slightly injured at least a dozen students. The New York Times leads with the Middle East as well, but emphasizes that Syria expressed its support for Saudi Arabia’s peace proposal. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that the United States “repositioned aircraft and as many as 1,800 American soldiers” to support the battle in eastern Afghanistan. The paper says “repositioning” the troops doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be sent to the frontlines as reinforcements. Instead, the Journal says that the soldiers are being sent to “reinforce” the Bagram airbase near Kabul, which just happens to serve as a staging area for the current operation. (According to early-morning wire reports, “hundreds of reinforcements” are now being sent into the battle.) The Los Angeles Times leads with California’s Republican primary for governor, in which newcomer Bill Simon Jr. beat former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Simon was aided by California Gov. Grey Davis, a Democrat, who spent $10 million attacking Riordan, the candidate Davis perceived as the greater threat to his potential re-election. USA Today leads with two federal air marshals’ claims that on a flight a few weeks ago an American Airlines employee interfered with their work. According to various witnesses, the employee outed the supposedly undercover air marshals and refused to let them sit in first class, near the cockpit.

USAT doesn’t suggest that the air marshal snubbing was anything more than an isolated incident. So this is lead news?

The Israelis killed yesterday were murdered in various terrorist attacks, including a suicide bombing and a sniper attack. The LAT says that three of the Palestinians killed were targeted because they were allegedly leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The paper adds,  “The well-organized, well-armed Al Aqsa Brigade, affiliated with Arafat, has assumed the lead in Palestinian fighting.”

Using a particularly vacuous cliché that’s been popping up recently, the Post, paraphrasing Egyptian President Mubarak, says, “The conflict could spin out of control.” It hasn’t already? 

The Post’s subhead declares: “Bush Shows No Sign of Intervening.”

Everybody reports that coalition forces seem to be gaining ground in eastern Afghanistan. “I think the biggest thing that has changed, not to be flip, is that we’ve killed a lot of [al-Qaida] people,” explained a Pentagon spokesperson.

Citing Pentagon officials, the Post says there was “considerably less hostile fire” yesterday.

The NYT takes a slightly less optimistic angle, saying American troops faced “withering fire,” but still were “reported in some places to have pushed to within a few hundred feet” of the enemy’s bunkers and caves. In fact, the papers all mention that the Pentagon says U.S. soldiers overran one cave complex.

USAT puts the overall operation in context, calling it America’s “biggest light-infantry battle since the Vietnam War.”

Everybody mentions that the United States is in sending five additional attack helicopters. The NYT, in the 23rd paragraph of one of its articles, offers one possible reason for that, “All of the Apache [attack helicopters] flying during the first day of battle were hit by fire from the ground, although none were lost in action.”

“I don’t think we knew what we were getting into this time, but I think we’re beginning to adjust,” one American officer told a press pool.

The papers spend a good deal of space recounting what’s now known about yesterday’s firefight in which six Americans were killed: A U.S. helicopter, on a mission to rescue a U.S. soldier who had fallen out of another chopper, came under heavy fire and crash-landed. For the next 12 hours, throughout the night, the U.S. troops who had been aboard the chopper took heavy fire and casualties. In addition to the six killed, 11 of the soldiers were injured. Only four weren’t hit.

A USAT news article about that battle appears to have been penned by Stephen Ambrose: “When the history of the war is written, the traumatic battle in the mountains around the Shah-e-Kot Valley will be remembered as a testament to heroism: a bloodied, outnumbered band of U.S. servicemen held off a determined al-Qaeda force on frigid, rocky terrain at least 8,000 feet above sea level.”

The LAT mentions a Pentagon spokesman’s contention that coalition troops caught a large al-Qaida force out in the open. “We body-slammed them, and killed hundreds of those guys,” he said.

The NYT reports that e-mail messages intercepted by the United States indicate that al-Qaida is trying to regroup just over the border in Pakistan.

The NYT fronts Pakistan’s decision, at least for now, not to extradite the suspects in the kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. The story’s 18th paragraph mentions, “In recent days, it has become clear that American officials are not inclined to push Pakistan on the timing” of the extraditions.

As the WSJ reports, “President Bush, putting domestic political concerns ahead of free-trade economics, extended life support for the beleaguered U.S. steel industry for a few more years.” The papers all point out that the move will make some of our allies quite unhappy.

The Journal,continuing with its blunt talk, reports that Bush exempted Turkey from the tariffs. It explains that the move was consistent with “Bush’s handling of non-war international issues: He rewarded certain key U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism, while slamming countries that administration officials figure they can afford to anger.”