Today's Papers

Rum and Coax

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s blunt warning yesterday to the United Nations and NATO: Support the war in Iraq or lose credibility. Speaking before an international security conference in Munich, Rumsfeld said the U.N. already is on “a path of ridicule” and cautioned that the reticence of some European nations to remove Saddam Hussein from power is making NATO increasingly irrelevant. The Los Angeles Times off-leads Rumsfeld’s remarks and devotes its top story to the results of a poll the paper conducted that finds respondents “overwhelmingly convinced” by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s case against Saddam. Fifty-five percent of those polled after Powell’s speech said they would support military action led by the U.S. and its allies, while support is slightly higher—62 percent—for a war also endorsed by the U.N..

Rumsfeld’s remarks in Munich incited much tension among delegates at the usually staid event, the papers note. Among other things, Rumsfeld trashed the U.N. for recently appointing Iraq to head up a panel on weapons disarmament and for selecting Libya to chair its human rights commission. “That these acts of irresponsibility could happen now, at this moment in history, is breathtaking,” Rumsfeld said.

France and Germany, too, came under fire for their opposition to the war, with Rumsfeld noting the two countries could face “diplomatic isolation” should their position on military action in Iraq remain unchanged. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose speech immediately followed Rumsfeld’s, appeared “taken aback” at U.S. criticism, the WP notes, and struck back with an emotional plea that war should be avoided. “I am not convinced,” Fischer said. “That is my problem.”

Both the NYT and LATreport that France and Germany yesterday began floating a plan aimed at disarming Iraq without military action. The LAT has the most details on the plan, which it says could be unveiled as soon as Thursday. The proposal calls for thousands of U.N. peacekeepers and weapons inspectors to be deployed to Iraq to work on disarmament, while U.S. troops would be posted in neighboring countries to keep the pressure on Saddam. The proposal’s key goal, it seems, is to take control of the situation away from Washington, the LAT notes. The NYT describes the initial reaction of U.S. officials in one word: “livid.” Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking at a Virginia university yesterday, appealed to the Bush administration to be “patient” and engage in more talks before jumping into war.

Everybody notes that Hans Blix and the U.N. weapons inspectors were back at work in Baghdad yesterday, where they met, unguarded, with Saddam’s top science adviser. The NYT, alone among the papers, reports that “it’s unclear” whether the inspectors will meet with Saddam himself—though the story implies it’s a real consideration. If it happens, it will be the first time the Iraqi leader has met with weapons inspectors, ever.

A LAT piece says U.S. officials are increasingly worried that war with Iraq could sharply escalate the war on terrorism, through attacks by not only al-Qaida cells but amateurs not affiliated with any terrorist groups. On Friday, Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters that a recent increase in terrorist cells was not related to the looming war on Baghdad, but privately, officials aren’t so sure. Some suspect the groups—or just random individuals—may be plotting attacks against Americans as a show of solidarity with Muslims in Iraq.

The NYT National page looks at congressional efforts to restore the draft—a movement organized, ironically, by several antiwar Democrats. While many give the legislation little chance of survival, sponsors contend it’s the only way to control a war-frenzied administration. “One way to avoid a lot more wars to come is institute the draft,” Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.D.) tells the NYT. “You will find that this country will sober up, and its leadership, too.”

The WP fronts word that the Bush administration is looking to rework how the federal government helps the poor. Among other things, the White House is moving to shift control of social services to the states, reduce or cut funding to anti-poverty programs and community services grants and require more proof that low-income people are eligible for public help. The story isn’t rich on specific detail, though a related piece inside sheds more light on the White House’s thinking. Bush advisers believe that tax cuts and other economic policies should now be viewed a social policy, too. For instance, the White House contends the $1.5 trillion in cuts that will largely benefit the wealthy ultimately will help the poor more than direct government aid. “That is very much pro-poor,” Bush economic guru Glenn Hubbard tells the WP.

In a related story, the NYT notices that some of the tax cuts Bush proposed last week look familiar. Many, including one that offers a break to individuals who pay for their own health insurance, were proposed by Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign—and at that the time, Bush opposed them.

All three papers this morning front lengthy, in-depth stories on NASA and the Columbia investigation, and all say virtually the same thing: Budget cuts at the agency nixed upgrades and expertise critical to the safety of the shuttle program. (Click on these links for the NYT, WP or LAT version.) Everybody goes inside with NASA’s announcement last night that a Defense Department radar shows something—possibly a meteoroid—hitting the Columbia on its second day in orbit—damage that might have played a role in last week’s deadly crash.

Finally, the NYT and WP editorial pages today are awash in talk of impending war in Iraq, the shuttle disaster and Bush’s domestic policies. A LAT editorial, on the other hand, asks this curious question: “Will Bananas Split?” The paper reports that the world’s banana population could be wiped out in the next 10 years by a crippling fungi advancing through tropical soils. “A banana-free world is unimaginable,” the editorial says. “No banana splits or banana cream pies. No banana bread. No comedic pratfalls. What first food would babies spit up? With banana extinction, what would ‘going bananas’ and ‘top banana’ mean? Would ‘banana republic’ then mean an extinct tropical dictatorship? And what could school lunch traders offer to replace the trusty banana in those clandestine Twinkie deals?” All very important questions, indeed.