Today's Papers

Settlement Deception

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timesall lead with the story of Palestinian gunmen disguised as Israeli soldiers sneaking into the West bank Israeli settlement of Adora, on the Sabbath. In the ensuing rampage, four settlers were killed, including an older woman and a young girl, and at least seven injured.

The Palestinian gunmen entered through a hole they cut in the settlement’s protective fence and started shooting around 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. “At the first sound of gunfire, men who had been praying in a synagogue raced home to grab their weapons and shot back at the attackers,” the Post writes. But in the interim the gunmen roamed through the settlement, banging on doors and claiming to be Israeli soldiers, then shooting their way through the houses. In the initial confusion, at least one settler ran up to the disguised gunmen to tell them of the attack.

Shaul Mofaz, the IDF’s chief of staff and Sharon’s top military adviser, “toured the scene of this morning’s attack, including the blood-soaked second-floor bedroom” where a 45-year-old woman was shot lying in bed, writes the Post, and “the Mickey Mouse pillowcase pierced with a ragged bullet hole,” where a 5-year-old girl was shot, point-blank, in the head, reports the Times. All the papers suggest an upcoming Israeli response, but the Times is most direct, writing that “the attack was almost certain to prompt the Israeli government to consider dispatching more ground forces to this area.”

The LAT ends its Mideast story on a “bright note,” reporting that “Israeli and Palestinian negotiators said they would meet today to discuss a possible resolution to the Bethlehem standoff” at the Church of the Nativity. A chief Palestinian negotiator told the LAT that Arafat “is eager to resolve the Bethlehem situation peacefully. [The negotiator] did not elaborate.”

The NYT appears to have had a precooked story—which naturally appears today on A1—on how Israeli settlers have fared in the last few weeks. “The settlers appear, for the moment, to have the upper hand,” the Times writes; this is followed by a summary of the Adora attacks in late-breaking brackets. The article digs into the unique nature of the settlement conflicts, noting the common Palestinian contention that “settlers … are fair game for resistance fighters, under international law.” And the article reports on the work of a well-known pro-peace, anti-settlement organization: “With aerial photography, Peace Now has tracked the steady growth of settlements. In the last year, it says, it has spotted 34 new outposts in the West Bank—often just a couple of mobile homes, standing by the gash of a new road. The outposts are often strategically placed to claim a hilltop, to frame a major road or to hem in a Palestinian village.”

A front page item by NYT’s Thom Shanker and David Sanger announces that the Bush administration is “contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops” as part of its widely reported designs to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “Other than troops from Britain, no significant contribution of allied forces is anticipated.” (That should give the editorialists at the Guardian something to play with.) This overwhelming force strategy was adopted “after concluding that a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed and that a proxy battle using local forces there would be insufficient.” In other words, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Afghanistan anymore. But said attack will “probably be delayed until early next year,” for reasons that include “avoiding summer combat in bulky chemical suits, preparing for a global oil price shock, and waiting until there is progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Plus, the CNN graphics department needs a heads up.

The Post fronts the news of Donald Rumsfeld’s second visit to Kabul—in the context of a report on the gathering storm of chaos and violence in the country. Hamid Karzai’s brand-new Western-blessed government is facing a serious challenge from one Bacha Khan, a regional warlord who was rebuffed in his attempt to obtain the governorship of the Paktia province under the Karzai regime. Khan’s snipers have a group of rival “policemen” holed up in a “police station” in Khost, a city so “lawless” that “Karzai’s appointed governor, Hakim Tanaiwal, has not yet dared come to Khost from Kabul.” In the last 72 hours, there have been mortar attacks on Khan’s forces in Gardez, in what appears to be a pre-emptive strike by Karzai or his allies, and on the Kabul airport, though the article doesn’t explicitly blame Khan (the airport “was hit”; enough said, apparently). During his visit, Rumsfeld stayed, rather gymnastically, on message, “offering little in the way of new promises to help the Afghan government” but talking up “the U.S. commitment to help train a national army” and warning of “a possible spring offensive from regrouping followers of bin Laden.”

Next door, a NYT article casts a skeptical eye on the achievements of Pervez Musharraf’s “highly publicized” crackdown on Pakistani militants: “The magazine formerly called Jaish-i-Muhammad, or Soldiers of Muhammad, now goes by al-Islah, or Reform. Weekly Jihad, or Holy War, is now published as Ghazwa, or Battle, a rhetorical scaling back matched by the militant group that publishes it, Lashkar-i-Taiba, or Army of the Righteous, which now goes by Jamaat-ad Dawa, the Party of Preachers, since being listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.” Of the “2,000 militants [rounded-up] in the days following Musharraf’s Jan. 12 national address on terrorism … so far, no charges [have] been brought against [any of them], and three-quarters of those rounded up have been released.”

Both the Times and the Post front articles related to the Catholic Church child abuse scandal. The Post profiles the “Vatican’s Man of the Hour,” Theodore McCarrick, who just happens to be the archbishop of Washington’s archdiocese. “A former university president who speaks five languages,” he “has given the scandal-battered institution what it so badly needs: an attractive public face.” He was one of the few archbishops to devise and implement a stringent child abuse policy before the scandal broke. He is also, reading between the lines, the only American cardinal who speaks to, much less respects, the press. (“I believe in the ultimate goodness of people, including the press,” he tells the Post.) Of course, a cooperative source is not always the same as an informed source. “A few hours after he told journalists that the U.S. cardinals had agreed on a ‘one strike you’re out’ policy toward priests who abuse children,” the Post writes, “the cardinals issued a final communiqué that did not go that far.”

Meanwhile, the Times fronts an article suggesting that the scandal could prove “a turning point” for the church (in a direction, presumably, other than the obvious nose-dive), the reason being that it might spur some long-overdue challenges to the church hierarchy. One Catholic tells the Times, “A lot of folks are saying: ‘This is it. This is the moment when we can actually change things—that this is so bad that they have to do something.’” Another lifelong Catholic makes the same point, on a more personal note: “I personally feel like a jerk … I spent a lot of time taking flak for this very uncool position in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, of saying you feel the church hierarchy has a role to play. And then to have them turn out to be duplicitous weasels—well, you bet I’m mad.”

In the NYT book review, Anthony Lewis reviews the recently released and much anticipated third volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, dealing with Johnson’s years in the Senate. “I was there,” writes Lewis, who was a Times congressional correspondent during Johnson’s Senate years, “[I] followed the course of the legislation closely, but I did not know the half of it.” The Master of the Senate “reads like a Trollope novel, but not even Trollope explored the ambitions and the gullibilities of men as deliciously as Robert Caro does.”

The Post’s Dana Milbank profiles the new Karen Hughes: 30-year-old Dan Bartlett, “the most senior White House official of his age since George Stephanopoulos.” A nail-biter, so to speak, for Washington’s ambitious age-watching careerists. Young Bartlett leads a team of media pros “whose task it is to buff and polish” Bush’s image—and who are listed by name and age. His success is explained by numerous factors. He’s unnaturally lucky: He started interning for Karl Rove’s consulting firm while an undergraduate at the University of Texas. He’s also, apparently, preternaturally mature: “It shocked everyone when you found out his age,” one colleague tells the Post. And he’s naturally Bushy; that is, he’s “a younger version of the president,” in appearance, demeanor, and even in the fact that “they both were apprehended in college for stealing holiday decorations.”