Today's Papers

Tug of War

As usual, war talk dominates the papers this morning. The New York Times leads with a sneak peek at Iraq’s war plan against a possible U.S. invasion. According to unnamed Defense Department officials, Saddam plans to do just about anything to stall the advance of Allied troops on Baghdad, from blowing up oil rigs to starving his own people. A banner headline atop the Washington Post announces “Unrivaled Military Feels Strains of Unending War.” Troops have never been more qualified, equipped, or confident—but military experts say that’s not necessarily a good thing. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times leads with, and others front, yesterday’s massive anti-war protests around the world, including rallies in New York, London, and Berlin that drew record crowds. According to the NYT, Saddam’s war game can be summed up in two words: slow and confrontational. Iraq has drawn up plans to destroy bridges, dams, and oil fields—one proposal even calls for the intentional flooding of the Euphrates River—to stall a ground attack on Baghdad, which will be guarded by two rings of Iraqi troops. Iraq’s military is about a third of the size it was during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the paper notes, but U.S. officials still worry about an ensuing battle on the streets of Baghdad—a scenario that plays a prominent role in Saddam’s war plan. American intelligence officials—whom the NYT credits for much of the scoop—say Iraqi troops in Baghdad will be equipped with chemical protective gear—proof, they contend, that Saddam plans to employ poison gas or germ weapons against Allied forces. Meanwhile, U.S. officials also say they are fairly certain that Saddam will launch Scud missiles toward Israel—missiles possibly armed with chemical components. (No word on how Israel might respond.) The paper doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation for how U.S. officials know this stuff—only that they have been scouring Iraqi troop deployments and Saddam’s public statements for clues. Everybody updates goings-on at the United Nations and with NATO. As the WP notes, Belgium yesterday offered a compromise that would give Turkey military aid as long as NATO clarifies that it is not an endorsement of war in Iraq. According to the papers, NATO has scheduled an emergency meeting on the compromise today. Meanwhile, there are varying reports on U.S.-led efforts to win support for military action from the U.N. Security Council. Everybody says the U.S. and British will adopt a softened tone in its upcoming resolution, which could be delivered early this week. A LAT report and a wire story in the WP say the resolution won’t include a threat of war and will instead press for the means to “restore international peace and security.”The NYT implies the language might go slightly farther—specifically threatening Iraq with “serious consequences.” Yet that strong language might very well sink the resolution, U.S. officials admit. But looking on the bright side, “they also noted that France’s proposal for a resolution authorizing the doubling or tripling of the inspectors also did not have enough votes to pass.”Meanwhile, the paper notes that U.S. officials might be OK with delaying a resolution for a little while longer. “Military officials said that they did not expect to be ready to attack Iraq until mid-March in any case, and that an attack would be acceptable in late March or early April, even with the onset of warm weather that some fear could hamper combat,” the NYT reports. Front-pagers in the WP and NYT dissect what prompted the latest increase in the nation’s terror alert system. Officials say they received “downright terrifying” intelligence that al-Qaida was planning an imminent attack involving chemical, biological, or radioactive dirty bombs aimed at targets like hotels or apartment buildings. There was also increased chatter among terror operatives, sources say, although a “Week in Review”piece in the NYT says chatter ultimately doesn’t mean much to investigators. In his weekly radio address yesterday, President Bush tried to quell the panic that ensued after last week’s announcement that individuals should retain supplies like duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of a terror attack. Americans “should go about their lives,” he said. Of course, all of this has been a boon to the duct tape industry, as a NYT Style piece notes. Yet, when it comes down to it, duct tape might not be the best tape for the job. “Polypropylene tape would be most acceptable,” a tape expert tells the NYT. “Duct tape will leave a residue, whereas polypropylene will not.”The NYT stuffs word that the Bush administration decided late Friday night to allow groups that provide or promote abortion overseas access to the $15 billion he has proposed to fight AIDS in Africa. The groups won’t be allowed to spend the money in countries where they offer integrated health care, but the move is still certain to rile up anti-abortion members of Congress and social policy groups. Colombian officials yesterday said that three Americans who survived a plane crash in southern Columbia are in the hands of the country’s largest guerrilla group, the WP reports. It’s still not exactly clear what they were doing in Colombia, only that they were contractors for the Pentagon. Finally, there are tributes aplenty this morning to The Simpsons—which airs its 300th episode tonight on FOX. (Click here for Slate’s “Assessment” of the show and here for accolades from the NYT and the LAT. What, no love from the WP?) But the real lovefest is reserved for the legendary Al Bundy of Married with Children in the NYT Arts section. “Al Bundy is my hero,” author Walter Mosley writes. “He’s a working-class loser who’s defeated by life but refuses to lay down and die … Al coming home to an empty refrigerator is me coming home to our president’s state of the union address. His willingness to fight for the paltry scrap of dignity he has managed to maintain gives me hope that I too will be able to stand tall.”