Today's Papers

Bush Comes to Shove

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Everybody leads with President Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam and his sons: Leave within 48 hours or face invasion. “The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities,” Bush said. “So we will rise to ours.” Nobody thinks Saddam will skedaddle, including his foreign ministry, which rejected the demand yesterday before it was even made.

As the Wall Street Journal and New York Times note, U.S. officials said troops are going in even if Saddam leaves; it’s just a question of whether they’ll go in fighting.

Plan accordingly: Citing one, and just one, Pentagon official, the NYT mentions that if Saddam announces that he’s sticking around, the war might start “in less than two days.” [Emphasis added.]

The Journal says that the war will start with air attacks and small-scale special operations, with a big ground invasion following no sooner than three days later. The Los Angeles Times bets that everything will happen nearly simultaneously.

The papers all note that British Prime Minister Tony Blair took his first war-related hit yesterday when Robin Cook, Blair’s former foreign minister, resigned from Blair’s Cabinet. Meanwhile, as the Post highlights, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the coming war “a mistake.” Canada also told the U.S. that it will not be sending troops.

Everybody mentions up high that Turkey’s government has decided to make a last-ditch effort to get its parliament to agree to let U.S. troops in, or at least give American planes overflight rights (a crucial issue for the U.S. and one that the press hasn’t fully picked up on). The U.S. has warned Turkey that without a deal Turkey won’t get an aid package, and the U.S. will oppose any Turkish troops poking around Iraqi Kurdistan. This isn’t a moot issue: As some papers explain, it’d still be useful for GIs to move through Turkey even after the war starts. And of course, Turkish troops are still unwelcome in Kurdistan.

The papers all notice the harsh smack that Bush delivered to France and probably Russia. “Some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq,” said Bush. “These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.” (Here is Slate’s Will Saletan’s take on the speech.)

Bush also spent a chunk of the speech pushing the alleged connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, charging that Saddam “has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaida.” Most of the papers, exhibiting acute signs of  learned helplessness, or maybe just bored with whole thing, don’t challenge the president. The Washington Post  is an exception. It headlines, “BUSH CLINGS TO DUBIOUS ALLEGATIONS ABOUT IRAQ.” The story runs on page A13.

As soon as the war starts, Bush is expected to give another address, this one from the Oval Office. The papers also say that in the next few days the president is probably going to ask Congress for $60-$90 billion for the war and immediate reconstruction. 

Everybody files dispatches from Baghdad. The Post notices that currency changers have been doing big business, exchanging Iraqi dinars for greenbacks. Meanwhile, the NYT’s incomparable John Burns picks up on “a suppressed but fevered anticipation of the changes for the better.”  But the LAT’s dispatch suggests that Iraqis aren’t so thrilled about the coming action. “Do people in America like war?” asked one. (According to the Post, the NYT’s muckedy-mucks have decided that Burns should leave Baghdad. The Post’s reporters are staying, at least so far. The LAT apparently is still figuring it out.)

In a fascinating bit on the war strategy, the NYT says that U.S. marines and British troops are hoping to quickly take the southern town of Basra. There are three advantages to promptly bagging Basra: 1) it has a port; 2) it doesn’t have frontline troops guarding it; 3) it’s inhabited by Shiite Muslims, who loathe Saddam and will probably come out and cheer when the troops arrive. In other words, it’ll make for good television. And as one Marine spokesman put it, “The first image of this war will define the conflict.” There is one possible roadblock: Saddam has put a man named Ali Hassan al-Majid in charge of the region. Better known as “Chemical Ali,” he oversaw the gassing of Kurds in the late 1980s.

The Journal says that Saddam has moved a bunch of artillery into southern Iraq, and U.S. officials worry that the guns have been loaded with chemical weapons.

Everybody notes that the administration has upgraded its terror-threat alert to orange and ordered National Guard units to deploy at various locales throughout the country. The papers all quote Security Chief Tom Ridge’s warning: “A large volume of reporting across a range of sources, some of which are highly reliable, indicates that al Qaeda probably would attempt to launch terrorist attacks against U.S. interests claiming they were defending Muslims.” It looks like you should take that with a grain of salt (of course, these days you should be prepared— have a shaker near you at all times): The NYT mentions in passing, “Officials said that there was no intelligence to suggest an imminent attack on American soil.” The WP, which has the more credulous coverage, doesn’t mention that.

Bush didn’t exactly win over the editorial pages (not that that’s his prime audience): The NYT, LAT, and USAT (yes, it has editorials) all have serious misgivings about the war. The WP is for it but complains that the war “will be conducted with less support than the cause should have commanded.” Meanwhile, the Journal’sop-ed page throws a war fiesta, running two editorials and three op-eds all giving a thumbs-up.

Keeping things in perspective … “We also have a war we have to fight, too—the Washington Wizards are trying to make the playoffs. It’s pretty much the same thing.”
—Wizards point guard Tyronn Lue, as quoted by the AP and cited by the Post