Today's Papers

No Relief

Following up on yesterday’s top story in the New York Times, USA Today leads with the Pentagon’s mostly fruitless efforts to find soldiers from other countries to relieve U.S. troops in Iraq. So far, about two dozen countries have pledged about 13,000 troops to postwar efforts—far less than what U.S. and British officials expected. The Los Angeles Times leads with “positive” developments in the Mideast peace talks. In a joint meeting yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to ease sanctions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip while Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, reiterated his intention to crack down on militant groups. The New York Times leads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a $750 million settlement between Microsoft—Slate’s sugar daddy—and AOL Time Warner, ending an antitrust complaint against Microsoft and turning the one-time rivals into key partners. The Washington Post leads with more cases of the SARS virus in Toronto. More than 5,000 people were ordered into quarantine there yesterday after health officials announced 33 new cases and 29 suspected cases of the disease.

According to USAT, U.S. war planners had been counting on “tens of thousands of troops” to begin relieving American soldiers in Iraq as early as next month. But the Bush administration wasn’t counting on it just for the effect of relieving battle-weary soldiers. U.S. officials wanted such support to help put a multinational face on the continued occupation of Iraq. The paper, citing diplomatic sources, mentions a few reasons for the tepid response, including strong public opinion in some countries against the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq and the increasing violence against peacekeeping troops in the region. Meanwhile, some countries just don’t have the money or the resources to send backup. And, as the NYT mentioned yesterday, it’s just going to get worse, as British troops in Iraq (now numbering near 15,000) will be reduced in coming months.

While USAT doesn’t specifically mention it, another reason countries aren’t lining up to help out might be the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—a leading reason the war was launched in the first place. Everybody stuffs word of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “victory lap” in Iraq yesterday, but as the WP notes, he’s facing allegations back home that his office “hyped intelligence claims” indicating that Saddam Hussein was in possession of the aforementioned weapons. The paper cites a BBC report yesterday that claims British intelligence officials were displeased with a dossier produced by Blair’s office last year that claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready for use within 45 minutes. The BBC, citing unnamed sources, says intelligence agencies there were skeptical about the claim from the start, since it came from a “dubious informant.” Will President Bush face similar attacks from Democrats heading into next year’s election?

Meanwhile, the LAT reports that the same neoconservatives who advocated a “regime change” in Iraq have turned their attentions toward Iran with the same goal. Only this time, not everyone—the State Department, CIA, and National Security Council, among them—is buying it. The split is more intense this time “for the simple reason that everyone basically agreed on the need for regime change in Iraq,” an unnamed “well-placed U.S. official” tells the paper. “The differences were over how and when it was achieved and what role the international community played. On Iran, the debate is much more fundamental. It’s whether there should be regime change at all.”

In Jerusalem, both the Israelis and Palestinians put a happy spin to yesterday’s talks, but the papers pick up on the fact that the two sides still have yet to begin debating the most difficult obstacles that stand to impede the “road map.” Among the subjects yet to be broached, according to the NYT: the Palestinian collection of illegal weapons and Israeli restraint of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In one compromise, Sharon yesterday agreed to release an undisclosed number of Palestinian detainees, though it’s unclear when it might actually happen. According to the LAT, the list includes Ahmad abu Sukar, the oldest and perhaps best-known Palestinian detainee. It’s a big deal because the Israelis have been refusing to release him for years.

The WSJ, which has the best coverage of the Microsoft/AOL Time Warner agreement, calls the settlement a “strategic detente between two of the world’s most bitter business rivals.” Specifically, Microsoft—again, TP’s bread and butter—will grant AOL a seven-year royalty-free license to its Internet browsing software, greater access to its Windows operating system and a long-term license to its digital media software. The two companies also agreed to talk about making their instant-messaging products compatible—though, as everybody notes, they’ve said that before and not delivered. And the former rivals agreed to collaborate on technology that could one day set the standard for how music and movies are sold over the Internet. 

While AOL scores some much-needed cash to pay down its debts, the papers tend to agree that Microsoft is the big winner in the deal. The agreement could be the “hook” the company needs to spread its Windows software among new devices, like cell phones and hand-held computers. Meanwhile, both companies will have major influence over the adoption of copyright protections for digital music. “The agreement could give Microsoft even greater influence over the future of the Internet,” the WSJ notes. Yet one critic from an “anti-Microsoft trade group” tells the WPMicrosoft’s entree into another lucrative market could incur further antitrust scrutiny. “All of these areas bear close watching,” a Consumer Federation of America official tells the Post.

Finally, the NYT writes up the conclusion of the National Spelling Bee yesterday. Sai Gunturi, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Dallas, correctly spelled “pococurante”—meaning indifferent or nonchalant—to win the $12,000 prize. It was his fourth time in the competition. “I’m going to buy a lot of video games, like, a lot,” Gunturi said.