The Washington Post leads with word from U.S. intel officials that they’ve ID’d 15 cargo ships “that they believe are controlled by al-Qaida” or at least could be used by them in a pinch. The New York Times leads with the president of South Korea’s less than whole-hearted support of the U.S.’s efforts to isolate North Korea. “Pressure and isolation have never been successful with Communist countries,” said President Kim Dae Jung, who supports engagement. The Los Angeles Times top non-local story has an unnamed U.N. weapons inspector saying that they’ve found “zilch” so far in Iraq. The NYT chats with White House budget chief Mitch Daniels and headlines his estimate that a war with Iraq would cost $50 billion to $60 billion. USA Today leads with yesterday’s killing in Yemen of three American doctors. Yemen has arrested one suspect who they say is part of a Yemeni extremist Muslim group (not, supposedly, AQ). The Post’s lead doesn’t really spend much time on the shifty ships (leading TP to wonder how solid that info is). Instead, the ships are a hook to talk about the larger point that shipping is one of the world’s least regulated industries and thus open to bad guys. “After 9/11, we suddenly learned how little we understood about commercial shipping,” explained one government official. “You can’t swing a dead cat in the shipping business without hitting somebody with phony papers.” The Post’s off-lead gives the clearest sense of the administration’s strategy on North Korea: The White House wants to avoid direct talks with North Korea and instead is trying to get the big regional players—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—to be the point-men and go-betweens. Meanwhile, a piece inside the Post suggests those efforts are doomed to fail. Experts say China is key, since it has the longest border with North Korea and the most extensive trade by far. But China is petrified of the collapse of its neighbor and so, say the analysts, probably won’t play along. The WP and NYT op-ed pages both have former Clinton staffers chiming in on the crisis: In the Times, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher says that administrations are effectively incapable of dealing with two foreign crises at once. He thinks the White House should back off on Iraq and let inspections “ run their natural course.” Or as the headline puts it, “IRAQ BELONGS ON THE BACK BURNER.” Bad idea, say his former officemates, former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and Robert Gallucci, chief negotiator for the 1994 nuke agreement. Their piece is headlined, “TWO CRISES, NO BACKBURNER.” As the NYTimes emphasizes, Daniels’ war guesstimate is a bargain compared to the $100 billion to $200 billion that fired economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey guessed earlier this year, which the NYT suggests is exactly why Daniels gave the new numbers. “That wasn’t a budget estimate,” Daniels said, dissing Lindsey’s numbers. “It was more of a historical benchmark.” Of course, as the Times and Daniels himself point out, the latest figures don’t mean too much either. (Unless, of course, Daniels chatted with Saddam and agreed how long the war should last.) The lack of meat to the numbers was compounded by Daniels’ refusal (perhaps reasonable) to break them down in any way. Meanwhile, the Times adds that the Gulf War I cost $80 bil in today’s dollars and notes that Daniels didn’t explain how this one would be cheaper. Given the inevitable fuzziness of Daniels numbers, why does the Times give them such prominent play? The NYT’s John Burns has yet another remarkable dispatch from Iraq. Today he looks at the disparity between the masses of now-impoverished Iraqis and the lucky few who are making fortunes via Saddam’s regime. Burns recounts walking with his Information Ministry-supplied minder, who was always unwavering in his zeal for Saddam’s Iraq. Then they strolled to Baghdad’s chi-chi-est neighborhood, and the minder, who makes 50 bucks per month, got so disgusted he left, muttering, “It is gangster business, pure and simple.” The Post’s Dana Milbank launches into what amounts to a multi-act standup routine. In one segment, he razzes the president for taking all of one question from the press in the past 26 days. Here’s one recent failed attempt to get the prez talking:
Q: Why shouldn’t Sen. Lott resign, sir? PRESIDENT BUSH: Vamos a verles en la fiesta en la noche. Q: No comprende. PRESIDENT BUSH: I said, I’ll see you at the party tonight.
Get Today’s Papers free in your mailbox.