Today's Papers

Ready. Set. Vote.

The Washington Post and USA Today lead with word from a NASA review board investigating the disaster to the space shuttle Columbia. Officials on the panel say that superheated air was able to find its way into the shuttle. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with President Bush’s tough talk at a naval base in Florida, as administration officials prepare to introduce a new resolution to the U.N. Security Council sometime after Hans Blix delivers his inspection report today. 

The papers run Bush’s comments throwing down the gauntlet to the U.N. “The decision is this for the United Nations,” Bush said. “When you say something does it mean anything?”

As for the U.S. resolution to be put before at the U.N., the papers are split on when it will be introduced, and more important, on what the U.S. will be asking of the Security Council. USAT and the LAT say the U.S. wants authorization to start a military strike against Iraq. When will the resolution be introduced? USAT says “as soon as today” while the LAT cites U.S. officials as saying “next week at the earliest.” Meanwhile, the NYT and the WSJ both say the Bush administration will back off its demands for military authorization in favor of a resolution stating that Iraq hasn’t disarmed ( NYT) or that Iraq is in “material breach” ( WSJ). This way, the WSJ says, the U.S. won’t risk having the U.N. explicitly veto the military option, while at the same time it will allow war-reluctant governments to vote against Iraq once again.

The timing will depend on whether France raises enough support for increased inspections, and on what Hans Blix has to say in his report. On the latter point, the WP, in an article that it off-leads, says that the report will be a “mixed criticism” of Iraq, saying the nation has not been totally recalcitrant with inspectors while still pointing out troubling failures to cooperate. 

In an interesting WP editorial today, the paper examines foreign governments that want U.N. cooperation and multilateralism with respect to Iraq, but that also look for more unilateral steps from the U.S. in regard to North Korea. “The consistency in these apparently paradoxical positions is not hard to find,” the paper writes. “Both represent the easy way out of confronting a dictator.”

Meanwhile, the WP reports that the U.S. is considering moving troops away from the North-South Korea border and says that a reduction in the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula is even possible. Yesterday, the LAT questioned what would happen if North Korea decided to invade the south while the U.S. was at war with Iraq. The U.S. would have to rely largely on South Korea’s forces, as well as its own troops, the paper said then.

The latest from NASA is that plasma, the superheated gas that surrounds a shuttle as it attempts re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, got inside the shuttle. Most NASA officials say they aren’t sure how it happened yet, but the NYT goes strong with NASA spokesperson James Hartsfield’s comment that investigators are looking into a possible breach—a “hole,” says the paper—in the shuttle’s aluminum siding on its left wing, in its fuselage, or in the seal of the wheel wells. This, says the paper, all but eliminates an earlier theory that a damaged tile caused heat to be conducted through the aluminum. USAT, by contrast, seems a little more skeptical. The paper conjectures that heat alone couldn’t cause Columbia’s destruction, but nonetheless says in its second paragraph that “temperature hikes shown by sensors in the left wing mean that superheated air burned or seeped through the shuttle’s aluminum skin,” which pretty much echoes the conduction theory NASA has abandoned.

USAT also mentions the e-mail that NASA safety engineer Robert Daugherty wrote two days before the breakup, warning that heat could burst the tires inside the spacecraft’s wheel compartment. The paper quotes the head of the investigation board as saying the e-mail is “one of the many, many interesting leads that we have.” The paper doesn’t mention that only the day before some people high up at NASA were saying the e-mail would play no critical role in the investigation and that Mr. Daugherty was just “what-iffing.”

The NYT says inside that some senior congressmen are pushing the White House to take over the Columbia investigation, citing concerns about the NASA panel’s independence.

The LAT fronts a story detailing tensions between the White House and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. The paper says that after Greenspan cautiously criticized some aspects of Bush’s economic plan in congressional testimony this week (including the president’s proposed dividend tax cut), a spokeswoman for the White House told reporters, “The president simply has a different view on the importance of helping those who are out of work.” The paper also says that the Bush administration, by stressing the importance of the tax cuts, may be indicating displeasure at Greenspan’s unwillingness to use monetary policy to pump up the economy. The paper ends by suggesting the greatest days of the “Maestro” may be behind him.

The papers go inside with a ruling by a Belgian court that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could be tried for war crimes once he leaves office. Israeli officials are outraged, say the papers, and they have recalled their ambassador from Brussels.

The “Axis of Evil” Ain’t All Evil. A story inside the LAT says that the Bush administration “now distinguishes between Iran and the other countries that President Bush lumped together last year in an ‘axis of evil’ ” The U.S. has gotten cooperation from Iran on terrorism, and U.S. officials recognize the presence of democracy and the gradual evolution of “liberal thought” in the country. The story also says that Iran announced on Sunday that it plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and to mine uranium; that it’s working with Russia to build a nuclear reactor; and that Washington believes there are al-Qaida cells within the country. But, as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage says, “There’s already a good bit of liberal thought. It’s relatively liberal—not the way you or I would describe it, but liberal thought already exists.”