Today's Papers

Blair: Which Project?

Everybody leads again with the latest Security Council negotiations on Iraq: Britain is considering introducing a plan to extend the March 17 deadline by about a week. The U.S. doesn’t seem thrilled about that but is willing to go along.

As the New York Times says in a two-column off-lead, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in deep doo-doo if Britain takes part in a non-U.N. approved war. Various ministers have threatened to resign, and Blair could face a challenge from his own party. According to a poll cited by the Los Angeles Times, only 19 percent of the British support war without a U.N. OK. “We are busting a gut to see if we can get greater consensus in the council,” said Britain’s ambassador to the U.N., who 1) really did use that slang and 2) added, “Don’t look beyond March.”

The LAT and NYT both have good details on the potential British plan, explaining that it will probably include a series of steps Iraq needs to take in order to prove it’s disarming. The LAT says “a consensus is beginning to emerge” around the outlines of that kind of plan. The Washington Post, though, says early reaction to the British proposal “was not encouraging.” “I don’t think this can be accepted,” said a diplomat from one of the straddlers, who have floated their own proposal for a 45-day delay. Whatever the chances of a resolution passing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer insisted, “The vote will take place this week.”

Meanwhile, a French foreign ministry spokesman said his country is “open to dialogue,” but he insisted that France wouldn’t go for anything with “automaticity,” which the British proposal has.

As the papers mention, the U.S. and Britain want a majority vote even if France is sure to veto. That way they can argue that it’s France that’s being unilateralist. The Post adds that ”many in the administration” would prefer a vetoed majority  even over the resolution actually passing, since, as the WP explains, the former would “leave the United States on what it perceives as moral high ground but with no obligation to obey the terms of the mooted resolution.”

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, ever the subtle diplomat, caused a stink yesterday when he said it was “unclear” whether Britain would take part in the likely invasion. Diplomatic displeasure ensued: The NYT’s Maureen Dowd, who appears to have taken the unusual step of picking up her phone and reporting, says, “Downing Street went nuts and began ringing Pennsylvania Avenue, demanding an explanation.” Still, Rummy wasn’t totally off-base. And other administration officials echoed his sentiment; they just did it on background. As one “top official” told the Wall Street Journal, without a second resolution it may be “that they can’t go with us.”

A front-page LAT piece says that the Pentagon is now asking Turkey to provide overflight rights. Such a deal would require a vote from Turkish parliament. The paper says if the overflights aren’t granted, even the military’s no-ground-troops-in-Turkey plans would become much harder.

In the latest uh-oh sign for northern Iraq, the LAT mentions that Turkish troops are now massing along the Iraqi border. “They’re gathering at the starting line and waiting for the gun to sound,” said one diplomat.

In a story that’s sure to warm the hearts of conspiracy theorists everywhere, a front-page LAT piece begins, “Maybe it’s a coincidence, but American and British oil companies would be long-term beneficiaries of a successful military offensive” against Iraq. The article goes on to note that the war would be a “bonanza” for oil-services companies such as Vice President Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton. But let’s hope that they read on, because as the article eventually explains, it is a coincidence: “Experts say it would make sense for U.S. and British firms to get a significant share of any repair and development jobs in Iraq, because they are such major players in the global industry with arguably the best technology and professional expertise.” Bonus coverage for the conspiracy crowd: The LAT’s original online headline read, “OIL MOTIVES SEEN IN WAR PLAN.” That changed in the final edition to (the more sedate, and accurate), “GAUGING PROMISE OF IRAQI OIL.”

Everybody notes that the Air Force yesterday successfully tested the world’s biggest conventional bomb, a 21,000-pound behemoth that sent a mushroom cloud 10,000 feet into the sky. The Pentagon quickly made video available of the test, partially, it suggested, so that the Iraqi army can take a look.

The WP, alone among the papers, reports on a federal appeals court’s ruling that detainees in Guantanamo Bay can be held indefinitely and have no legal rights. An NYT editorial blasts the decision.

A front-page WP scoop says SEC investigators have broadened their investigation into AOL Time-Warner and now believe the company “aided and abetted” other companies’ shady financial schemes. The Post says investigators believe there were quid pro quos “in which AOL and other companies exchanged cash through sham transactions to falsely boost revenue.” Last year—after the WP outed some questionable deals—the company admitted it falsely booked about $200 million in revenue.

According to yesterday’s Lloyd Grove column in the Post, the CIA has been dropping friendly postcards in neighbors’ mailboxes: “Please report anything unusual or suspicious associated with your community and/or the Headquarters,” said the card, which was hand-delivered to 250 lucky neighbors. Today, Grove notes that many readers wrote in to say that the spooks’  cards were in violation of federal law. No, it’s not illegal for our intelligence service to track you down and leave you spooky cards. But it is illegal if the cards don’t have stamps. The Postal Service is on the case. Said a spokesman, “Our inspection service got in touch with the CIA and advised them that we would hate for their certainly well-intentioned lapse to happen again.” A CIA spokesman wasn’t impressed, “I’ll look into it and get back to you—after the war.”