Today's Papers

Gunning for Victory

The New York Times leads with word from unnamed White House officials that the administration has concluded it may not be able to stop North Korea from building nukes and will instead now focus on trying to stop Pyongyang from turning itself into a Nuke-Mart, selling warheads to whomever. The Washington Post’s lead says that the gun industry is “on the cusp” of getting Congress to protect it from pending and future lawsuits. The paper says that with the muscle the NRA and gun-manufacturers’ lobby have put behind it, even some pro-gun-control legislators are supporting a bill to shield gun manufacturers and sellers from suits by gunshot victims. One aide to a Senate Democrat who’s on board called the bill the “Things You’ve Got To Do To Get Re-Elected Act.” The Los Angeles Times leads with word from health officials that SARS can survive in the open for at least a day, much longer than scientists had thought. The Post had this report yesterday. Meanwhile, USA Today catches up on the weekend news and leads with word that Syria, in a bow to U.S. pressure, has “closed” the Damascus offices of at least three Palestinian militant groups, though no one is sure how real the closures are or how long they will last.

The Wall Street Journal, like the Times, goes high with word that the White House is considering ways to cut off North Korea’s potential export capability.Many in the White House think that Pyongyang is intent on building nukes regardless of any agreements it makes. And the NYT suggests that hawks have won the president’s support for their position that, instead of negotiating with North Korea, the U.S. should simply isolate the regime and wait for it to collapse. The WSJ suggests that the debate isn’t quite over. The Journal also emphasizes higher up than the Times does how unlikely it is that the U.S. will actually be able stop North Korea from getting into the export business. The hardest part will be closing the many overland routes between North Korea and China, an especially tough task since China, concerned about destabilizing its neighbor, doesn’t seem interested in helping out. Though papers skip it, it’s worth noting that last week Secretary of State Colin Powell said talks with North Korea (in which that country apparently offered to drop its nukes) “turned out to be quite useful.” (What, if anything, changed?)

The Journal says up high that the number of SARS cases in China “continued to rise sharply,” with 164 new cases reported yesterday. The Post has the same number but the opposite interpretation, arguing that things are getting better since the rate of increase is going down, “BEIJING REPORTS DROP IN SARS.” Both papers indicate that an increasing number of SARS cases are being reported in rural areas, where the health-care infrastructure is much worse.

After a few days percolating inside the papers, particularly in the NYT (see here and here), the U.S.’s surprisingly light footprint in Baghdad, and the issues around it, break out onto Page One. USAT’s cover story looks at what it calls “perhaps the No. 1 threat to security and public confidence in Baghdad”: gunmen seizing houses. In some cases, the men have been members of the U.S.-supported Iraqi National Congress, and American troops have had to repeatedly swing by to kick them out.

The Post notices that the U.S. hasn’t moved against most of the clerics, sheiks, and exiles who’ve declared themselves in charge of this or that part of Iraq. For example, there’s the 31-year-old electrical technician, who, thanks to some clerics, is now “director” of a Baghdad hospital, much to the doctors’ dismay. The Post suggests that, in addition having too few troops around, part of the problem lies with the isolation of retired Gen. Jay Garner’s team, which is holed up in a former presidential palace. “If we traveled around more, we’d know more,” one senior official stuck in the building said. “We’d feel this authority vacuum more.” The Post also suggests that the U.S. is holding back on high-visibility action because it is afraid of being viewed as an occupier. (Here are some tips for the U.S.’s effort, as compiled by Slate’s David Plotz.)

The LAT, which has a good wide-angle piece on the power vacuum, also notices that the Iraqi exile groups that the U.S. has bet on haven’t found much, or really any, popular support. The paper describes a recent meeting of the exiles as like “a scene out of The Godfather, Part II,” with snipers, armed guards, and a few U.S. soldiers protecting the get-together.

The NYT has a good piece inside that looks at whether Syria is really cracking down on the groups that the U.S. wants blacklisted. The Times’ reporter filed from Lebanon but still got a sense of things. He called Hamas’ Damascus branch, and someone answered the phone. “I don’t know if it is closed or not,” said the Hams rep. “If I am here, it doesn’t mean it’s open.”