Today's Papers

Missile Defense: Zero Impact?

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with news that the Bush administration says it will soon be deploying a rudimentary missile-defense system in Alaska and California. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide news box leads with word that the U.S. is ready to declare that Iraq is in violation of a “material breach” for failure to disclose its weapons of mass destruction. USA Today leads with military intelligence on one way that Iraq has begun preparing its western region airbases for an American attack.

By committing to a specific deployment date for the first time, President Bush will try to live up to his pledge to have a missile-defense system in the field by the end of his first term. There will be six land-based interceptors deployed in Alaska in 2004 (10 more coming the following year) and four deployed in Southern California. The latter locale takes the papers by surprise since up until now no one had mentioned the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as a possible site. All the papers invoke the growing threat from North Korea. All the papers with the exception of the WSJ also note the controversy about whether or not the system really works, mentioning that in a flight test last week the system failed. (Here’s a Slate article arguing why missile defense won’t work.)

The papers may want to check their math with the Pentagon to determine the missile-defense system’s actual cost. The Department of Defense says that Congress needs to appropriate an additional $1.5 billion over the next two years for this $8 billion investment, which the LAT and NYT translates as meaning the military will need $1.5 billion on top of the $8 billion it usually gets for missile defense. The WP, however, says the project’s cost was previously projected at $16 billion ($8 billion “investment” over $8 billion “budget”?), with the $1.5 billion coming on top of that. Even more confusing is the WSJ, which says that the military plans to increase spending by $3 billionover two years, from $8 billion in 2003 to $9.5 billion in 2004 and 2005, which would certainly make sense, but only if the budget increase is $1.5 billion-per-year, which it doesn’t look to be.

Although the NYT and WSJ report that the U.S. will declare Iraq guilty of a “material breach” of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, neither paper expects the U.S. to declare war on Iraq right away. In fact, the WSJ adds a valuable tidbit: Although almost everyone advising President Bush agrees on this course of action, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t, arguing that the “material breach” term should only be used when the U.S. is ready to declare war. For now, it appears, French and Russian allies want chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to say the words, not President Bush.

USAT cites defense and intelligence officials who say that Iraq is “placing obstacles on the runways of their key bases,” so that U.S. military aircraft can’t easily land on them, but the paper waits six paragraphs before revealing what these decidedly low-tech “obstacles” are: parked trucks and concrete barriers dragged from the highway. The paper says that the Iraqis could move the obstacles aside quickly if they need to, implicitly implying that Americans could do the same by saying that U.S. planners will have to use the more time-consuming helicopter or ground-attack approach. USAT: Meet the Harrier jet, which can take off and land vertically, and is already being used around Iraq. (The paper might also take note that Rumsfeld has lobbied hard over the years for the controversial V-22 Osprey.)

The WP says that the Pentagon’s plan is to have a “fast-moving ground attack,” with “follow-on” troops being flown in later, in the belief that they’ll overwhelm Saddam’s troops quickly. Speed ambitions, in fact, may be an issue of concern. So hints commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, speaking in a rare “on-the-record” interview. Jones said earlier in the week that he didn’t share the “optimism” of others concerning the operation’s ease. Asked by the WP to whose optimism he was referring, Jones denies it was the Pentagon—just “folks around town”—before deflecting his view on the chief of the U.S. Army. “The Army really is conservative on this,” he says. The WP mentions as an aside that Jones will be leaving his post to become commander of U.S. forces in Europe next month.

Doubts that Sen. Trent Lott will retain his Senate majority leader post grow, as most of the papers headline backhanded deference to Lott’s “fight.” “LOTT VOWS FIGHT TO RETAIN HIS POST AS SENATOR LEADER,” the NYT heds in a story that basically adds up the same as the WSJ’s header: “LOTT’S ROLE SEEMS TENUOUS AS WHITE HOUSE STAYS QUIET.” According to the WSJ, the strain is getting to Lott’s wife, Patricia, and Lott is a “political realist” who could announce his resignation by Christmas.

The papers all front news that a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that the best defense against hypertension, or high blood pressure, are diuretics, which can cost about $25 a year, and not the alternatives, marketed by pharmaceutical companies, that cost 10 to 20 times as much. Once used by a majority of hypertension sufferers, diuretics have been slipping in popularity ever since the 1950s. It is estimated that hypertension affects 50 million Americans. The study says that wider use of diuretics would save patients and health-care insurers more than $1 billion a year.