Today's Papers

War Gamesmanship

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with efforts by the Bush administration to discredit the notion that the U.S. is meeting unexpected resistance on the ground. The Washington Post leads from the front lines, as U.S. and British troops—in “pitched battles” with Iraqi soldiers—defend the supply line south of Baghdad. Prominent in the leads is the bombing of a Baghdad market on Friday, which left at least 50 civilians dead. The culprit is unknown.

The key players in the administration—George W., Powell, Rumsfeld, assorted generals—tried to paint a stern but pretty picture on Friday. As bombs fell on Baghdad, Bush claimed the moral high ground, pledging to free the Iraqi people from “from the clutches of Saddam Hussein and his murderous allies.” (NYT)  As for U.S. military prowess, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs argued that “no plan, no matter how perfect, survives first contact with the enemy. But the plan is sound, it’s being executed, and it’s on track.” (LAT)

On Thursday, Gen. William Wallace told reporters that the Iraqi resistance was not what U.S. troops had “war-gamed against.” This caused a stir. On Friday, Brig. Gen. John Kelley was even more candid. “Their determination is somewhat of a surprise to us all,” he says in the NYT. “What we were really hoping was to just go through and everyone would wave flags and stuff.” As the Times writes in an analysis, “top American generals and their field commanders have begun to give sharply differing accounts of the war in Iraq, sometimes creating an impression that two different wars are being fought.”

Rumsfeld also commented on the night-vision goggles allegedly sent to Saddam by Syria. “We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable,” he says in the LAT. The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied the accusation, calling it an attempt to divert attention from “ugly war crimes against unarmed civilians in Iraq.”

The WP’s lead provides a cluster of updates from the various hot spots—seven correspondents contributed to the story. The supply lines referred to in the paper’s headline are meant to support U.S. troops amassing just south of Baghdad. What’s striking in the Post’s coverage, the White House’s spin notwithstanding, is how competitive most of the skirmishes seem to be. Thirty-seven American soldiers have been killed thus far, according to the paper.

The first three, fat paragraphs of the NYT’s account of the marketplace bombing imply that Iraq is correct in holding the U.S. or Britain responsible. Only in the fourth graph do we learn that the cause was “impossible to determine,” and then, in the fifth, we’re told that the small size of the crater is inconsistent with American bombs or missiles. Iraqi opposition groups believe Hussein himself might have targeted the market and then blamed the U.S. so as to invite further global opposition to American aggression.

The much-lauded John Burns of the Times was escorted, along with other reporters, into “the innermost sanctums of the mosque” to view the washing of the victims’ bodies. “In the darkness,” Burns writes, “it seemed suddenly, to an outsider, that these were people who had made their own quittance with the Iraqi leader, at least in their souls, and that what mattered to them now were ancient truths, and ancient sufferings, that would far outlast the Iraqi ruler, whatever the outcome of the war.”

According to a LAT fronter, pro-Hussein forces prevented—via machine guns and mortars—Iraqi civilians from leaving Basra, the nation’s second-largest city, which coalition forces bypassed last week in their haste to get to Baghdad. British troops had hoped a popular rising would eliminate the need for urban combat, but Iraqi forces have held on, making it very difficult to get aid into the city. “Sure, I’d like freedom, sure, I’d like security,” said a farmer and failed bookshop proprietor. “But most of all I’d like to drink some water.” A British supply ship was able to dock at the port of Umm Qasr on Friday after a mine-sweeping team checked and cleared the waterway, but it’s unclear how the aid can be transported into Basra.

And then there’s television, aside from CNN. Everybody reviews the biopic Rudy, starring the former mayor’s beady-eyed cheerleader, James Woods, doing the comb-over, the glasses, the whole bit. It starts back in 1982, when Giuliani met Donna Hanover in Miami, and goes through his defining moments on and after 9/11, using real news footage mixed with recreations. “People in the crowd sometimes look about as genuinely terrified as Japanese extras running from the monster in old ‘Godzilla’ movies,” Anita Gates writes in the NYT. “Maybe someone with a bigger budget should have made this film.” Tom Shales in the Post delivers a similar verdict but with more venom. “Despicably enough, the producers use actual footage of the 9/11 disaster in the most coldhearted, specious and exploitative way anyone has done thus far.” As for Woods, he turns in “another of his unsound and furious performances.” Giuliani will probably like it just fine. And for that, Woods will like him all the more.