Everybody leads with chief inspector Hans Blix’s surprisingly harsh Iraq report. He praised Iraq for letting inspectors roam around, but added: “It is not enough to open one’s doors. Inspections are not a process of catch as catch can.” He then slammed Saddam for not coming clean and explaining what’s happened to a long list of chemical and biological weapons that have gone AWOL since inspectors left in 1998: “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it.”
Blix did not explicitly ask for more time. But Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the nuke inspectors in Iraq, did. He said that inspectors so far have come across “no prohibited nuclear activities,” and given “a few more months” will (supposedly) be able to verify that Iraq has no such program.
The New York Times quotes at length from Blix’s status report and gives a good sense of just how damning it is: Blix said there were “strong indications” that Iraq has made more anthrax than it declared. He also said there’s solid evidence that Iraq is developing missiles that have longer ranges than is permitted (though only by a few miles). USA Today runs a helpful chart detailing the assorted omissions.
The papers note that the U.S. acquiesced to a German proposal telling inspectors to file another report on Feb. 14. That doesn’t change the timing much, since, as the papers have been reporting, the military won’t be ready to go in until the end of February or early March.
The NYT’s lead editorial calls the report “mixed” and said ElBaradei’s and Blix’s conclusions “argue strongly for giving the inspectors more time.” The Los Angeles Times agrees. And so does Gulf War I star Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who’s profiled in the Washington Post. Editorials in the Postand Wall Street Journal think the U.S. should invade ASAP.
In a Bob Woodward special, the Post reports that the White House says that it has “compelling” and “unambiguous” evidence of Iraq’s efforts to conceal no-no weapons systems. Woodward says the White House might show its cards next week and hints at what they have: “In one recent example of what officials described as Iraqi obstruction, Iraqi officials issued a warning that U.N. inspectors were planning a visit and directed those at the site to conceal specific prohibited weapons. In another, an Iraqi official directed scientists and others involved in research or production of chemical and biological weapons to conceal their files and papers from the inspectors.”
According to early morning wire reports—caught by the LAT—U.S. troops in Afghanistan are fighting about 100 rebels loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fundamentalist warlord who has allied himself with al-Qaida. A U.S. military spokesman called it the “largest concentration” of enemy forces since last year’s Operation Anaconda. At least 18 rebels have been killed; there haven’t been any American casualties reported yet. (CNN suggests the battle is already over.)
With the State of the Union coming tonight, both USAT and the NYT’s Paul Krugman check in on the promises Bush made in last year’s speech. One that hasn’t worked out: “Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-lived.”
A front-page piece in the LAT says that the Forest Service has proposed opening Giant Sequoia National Monument to limited logging. Former President Clinton had designated the area, home to the world’s biggest trees, off-limits. Officials said the logging is needed to manage fire risk. Environmentalists said that’s hooey, and the paper suggests they’re right.
The LAT, which has had a number of good, non-spokesmen-generated stories lately, says that the FBI’s much-touted computer upgrade is doing about as well as North Korea’s economy. As you might recall, soon after 9/11, some papers noticed that the FBI’s computer system was essentially nonexistent, which obviously led to less-than-ideal information flow. The upgrade was going to bring the FBI at least into the late 1990s, but it’s now over budget and, of course, behind schedule. The LAT, paraphrasing an inspector general’s report, calls the program “a case study in how not to manage an information revolution.”
The NYT fronts, and others reefer, CBS’s announcement that 60Minutes auteur Don Hewitt, who has overseen the show since its creation in 1776, has agreed to step down next year.
The Post’s “White House Notebook,” written by Dana Milbank, decides to note a bit of hypocrisy in the administration: The piece points out that spokesman Ari Fleischer is deeply opposed to unattributed quotes from “administration sources.” Last year, for instance, when an unnamed official was quoted as saying the White House might support a coup in Venezuela, Fleischer retorted, “The person obviously doesn’t have enough confidence in what he said to say it on the record.” Milbank then recounts an episode recently in which a reporter asked Fleischer about the president’s poll numbers. Happy to discuss that, said Fleischer, so long as it’s “on background.” Not that that’s a new thing, of course. As Milbank recounts in a teaching moment: “More often than not, the anonymous ‘senior administration officials’ in stories are the same spokesmen and spin doctors—Fleischer among them—who normally speak on the record. … Generally, the unnamed officials are speaking with the knowledge of their colleagues, to float a trial balloon or to convey an informal message or nuance.”