Today's Papers

French Roast

Everybody leads with Iraq. The Los Angeles Times goes with both Russia and France vowing to put the kibosh on the current U.S.-backed resolution on Iraq. “Whatever the circumstances, France will vote no,” said President Jacques Chirac during an interview with French TV. The LAT also catches late-breaking word from Pakistan suggesting that it will abstain, meaning that the U.S. will need to go five-for-five among the remaining fence-sitters. The Washington Post and USA Today both say that, as the tide seems to be turning against the administration, it has backed down a bit and said that, of course, it’s happy to be flexible. “It is too soon to say what the final document that will be voted on will include,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. The Post emphasizes that it’s Britain that’s actually pushing to modify the resolution—including extending the deadline and listing benchmarks—while the White House is pushing to limit any changes. The WP, citing unnamed officials, says there is “no chance” that Bush will agree to extend the deadline beyond March 21. The New York Times, which off-leads its diplomatic check-in, isn’t so sure about that and quotes one official as saying, “No one knows how long a delay the president’s willing to swallow.” The Times, meanwhile, leads with a poll in which 44 percent of respondents said the U.S. should take “action soon,” up nine points from a week ago. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they would support an invasion even if the U.N. doesn’t go along. Still the country is largely divided (and perhaps a bit schizophrenic): A slight majority of respondents, 52 percent, said the U.S. should give inspectors more time.

The Post suggests that the diplomacy efforts are turning into a cluster, um, muck. “This is a mess,” said one diplomat from a fence-sitter. “Nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have been talking, but have no idea what the Americans are thinking.”

Everybody notices that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan weighed in yesterday against unilateral action, saying “the legitimacy and support for any such action would be seriously impaired.”

The NYT, trying to squeeze some news out of its poll, makes a big stink out of the fact that when asked how “the United Nations is handling the situation with Iraq,” 58 percent of respondents said that it’s doing a poor job, up about 10 percent from a month ago. The NYT headlines, “MORE AMERICANS NOW FAULTING U.N. ON IRAQ, POLL FINDS.” But the question is Rorschachesque, and fuzzier than Today’s Papers’ back. The U.N. isn’t “handling the situation with Iraq”—its member countries are, or are at least arguing about how do it. To conflate all that and make the institution itself the responsible agent just confuses things. By the way: Forty-five percent of respondents also said that they believe Saddam was “personally involved” in 9/11.

Everybody notes that the White House complained Hans Blix hadn’t mentioned that Iraq has developed a drone craft that appears to have a much longer range than allowed. The Post, whichhas the best story on the development, notes that inspectors actually surprised Iraq one day and came across one of the craft as Iraqis were trying to dismantle and presumably hide it. Blix also publicly released the written report (in PDF format) that is much harsher than his recent oral presentation.

The Wall Street Journal picks up on something the LAT mentioned yesterday: Despite the Turkish parliament’s rejection of a deal to let American troops in, the U.S. military is continuing a buildup in the country, just a quiet somewhat limited one.

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof hangs out in Turkey and concludes that the U.S. offer to let Turkish troops enter Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq is “like hiring the Bloods to patrol a Crips neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, a front-page Post piece suggests that the administration isn’t planning to send enough peacekeepers in. According to the article, the Pentagon is planning on keeping up to 60,000 troops around post-invasion. A retired general who oversaw peacekeeping operations in Bosnia thinks there should be three times as many troops and says, “There’s a concern that there hasn’t been the recognition by the senior leadership—I read civilian—as to the enormity of the challenge.”

A Page One piece in the Journal mentions one reason Russia has come out against the U.S.-Brit-Spanish plan: The Motherland is bursting with oil revenues nowadays and financially speaking is doing well enough that it doesn’t need to kowtow to the U.S. anymore.

The NYT and WP go inside with a NASA scientist’s contention that the media overreacted to his e-mail that had warned, in spicy language, that the shuttle Columbia would be in trouble if the wheel well was damaged. “There really wasn’t a level of concern,” he said, explaining that he really was just “what-iffing.” It’s worth noting that while today’s hype-busting stories are stuffed inside, the original, frankly shrill pieces about the e-mails all ran on Page One.

If you own a house, you might want to skim Paul Krugman’s column today. He says the budget deficit is ballooning so much that interest rates are eventually going to skyrocket. So, lock in your mortgage at a fixed rate now. Krugman just did.

A front-page Post piece, by resident muckraker Juliet Eilperin, says that despite recently tightened ethics laws, lawmakers are allowed to go on industry-funded junkets so long as the excursions have a primarily “educational” purpose and are not in Washington. Funny thing is, most of the examples cited actually seem like reasonable trips. And except for the one requisite quote from a watchdog group—and the hypey headline, “TRAVEL BY LAWMAKERS SCRUTINIZED”—the piece doesn’t actually give the impression of any major transgressions.

The Post mentions that the administration, ostensibly to save the cost of “paper and producing another volume,” has decided to stop publishing an annual report detailing how much money states get under federal programs. Many states have recently complained that the feds are short-changing them. Though the Post doesn’t mention it, this seems to be an emerging habit. In January, the administration killed a regular Labor Department report on mass layoffs.

The Post’s magazine guy, Peter Carlson, reviews an American literary institution, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and notices something curious:

In several photos, the models wear only the bottom half of the bikini, shyly covering their lovely breasts with a hand or an elbow. At first I found this puzzling: Why are these models losing their bikini tops? But then I realized what was really going on. SI is owned by AOL Time Warner, the rapacious conglomerate that was nearly bankrupted by the moronic merger-mania of its executives. This folly apparently left SI so poor that it could afford to buy only the bottom halves of these expensive bikinis. And the models, eager to help their impoverished employer, gamely carried on as best they could. In these trying times, that’s downright inspirational!