Today's Papers

A Plan for All Seasons

The New York Times leads with news that the Pentagon has handed the White House a war plan containing detailed military options for attacking Iraq. The Washington Post leads with yesterday’s congressional hearings on intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. The Los Angeles Times leads with the White House’s new global strategic doctrine, which emphasizes the use of pre-emptive strikes to protect American interests.

The NYT story is a scoop: In early September, shortly before President Bush addressed the United Nations, Gen. Tommy Franks presented him with the most specific military plans yet on how to go about invading Iraq. The story looks like an official leak; it’s supported by an on-the-record interview with White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The NYT doesn’t have a lot of detail on the plans, but says that any invasion would begin with a lengthy aerial bombardment of Iraq designed to disrupt its communications infrastructure and isolate Saddam Hussein from his field commanders. One of the options presented to Bush, the NYT says, also involves the use of about 250,000 troops. The bulk of the story is given over to a behind-the-scenes account of how the plans, which Bush requested in August, came into being—including the fact that Gen. Franks had to ask for an “extension” at one point.

The WP story focuses on the congressional testimony yesterday of an FBI agent who was stymied in his attempts to investigate one of the Sept. 11 hijackers in the months before the attacks. The agent, who testified behind a screen to shield his identity, asked his superiors for permission to track down Khalid Almihdhar—who later helped hijack the plane that crashed into the Pentagon—just weeks before the attacks, but was told he had insufficient evidence to launch a criminal investigation. The CIA had been aware since January 2000 that Almihdhar and another hijacker, Nawaf Alhamzi, had connections to al-Quaida and that Almihdhar had a valid visa to enter the United States, but neither man’s name was added to a terrorism watch list until after they had entered the country. The WP says congressional investigators fault the CIA for repeatedly failing to notify the FBI and others of Almihdhar and Alhamzi’s connections to al-Quaida; CIA officials testified that they were “overwhelmed.”

The LAT says Bush’s tough new foreign policy doctrine, which he formally delivered to Congress yesterday, represents a break from the worldview of previous administrations. (The NYT broke the story of the new doctrine in yesterday’s paper, a fact that neither the LAT, nor the WP, which fronts the story, acknowledges.) The new doctrine makes clear that the Bush White House will pre-emptively and unilaterally act against perceived threats if necessary and abandons Cold War notions of deterrence and containment in favor of aggressive action. (The NYT offers a nice correction related to its story yesterday on the doctrine. A sensational quote lifted from the document— “The president has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened up since the fall of the Soviet Union”—turns out not to be a quote at all, but a paraphrased sentiment from administration officials.)

The WP off-leads with another story related to the congressional investigation into Sept. 11: Some lawmakers want Bush to tell them what he and former President Clinton knew about threats from al-Quaida. So far, Bush has refused to say exactly what he was briefed on prior to the attacks about the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden. The funny thing about the dispute is that the legislators already have all the information they want—they just want to know exactly how much of that information Bush and his predecessor were personally aware of. The White House says it can’t release records related to the president because it would deter his advisers from being candid because if their advice were to later be made public it “might be embarrassing.” The WP story notes, and the NYT fronts, the fact that the congressional hearings on intelligence failures have prompted the White House to reverse its position and endorse an independent blue-ribbon panel to investigate Sept. 11. But the White House still doesn’t want the investigation to include intelligence matters.

The NYT and LAT front the latest incursion by the Israeli Defense Forces into Yasser Arafat’s compound in response to suicide bombings on Wednesday and Thursday. The IDF has destroyed every building in the compound but the one Arafat is in. The LAT says the Israelis have even destroyed the stairwell in Arafat’s building, trapping him on one floor. The NYT says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted to expel Arafat after the bombings, but was convinced by his intelligence officials that such a move would be explosive. The paper makes clear that Arafat “appeared to have had no control over the bombings”—for which Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility—and that the Israeli actions will likely cause Palestinians to rally around Arafat, who was in recent weeks rebuked by Palestinian legislators as corrupt.

The WP’s Lisa de Moraes, in her television column, picks up a story that Matt Drudge broke yesterday: Rupert Murdoch’s cable network FX will air a reality TV series wherein viewers will, American Idol-style, select a candidate to run for president. The show was conceived by the producer of the 1993 documentary The War Room, which followed the Clinton campaign, and will involve contestants who vie for the viewers’ affections to be chosen as The American Candidate. The NYT also runs a piece on the show in its business section. It’s an interesting story, but Today’s Papers wonders why it wasn’t interesting when an almost identical show was being touted by HBO. As recently as this summer, HBO was hyping a very similar show on its Web site as an “HBO Original Series.” It’s unclear whether The American Candidate was dropped by HBO and picked up by FX, or whether it was a different show entirely (it’s gone from the HBO Web site now). But over the summer, HBO was planning a reality series based on the idea of a regular Joe (or Joanne) running for president. Today’s Papers even downloaded the application form from the HBO Web site. Not to apply or anything. Just curious. Really.