Today's Papers

On the Road Again

The Washington Post and the New York Timeslead with yesterday’s unveiling of the latest Middle East peace plan. The Los Angeles Times (online, at least) gives top billing to news of a major reshuffling of U.S. troops in Europe—a move that some Pentagon officials say is linked to tensions over the war in Iraq. Meanwhile, USA Today leads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that President Bush, in a televised speech tonight, will announce an end to “major combat” in Iraq, but, in spite of earlier reports, won’t say the war is over.

The latest peace plan isn’t much different than those presented before. The NYT calls it “more symbolic, than substantive,” noting that both sides have been publicly wrangling over its details since December. Widely known as the “road map,” it calls for an immediate and unconditional cease fire by the Palestinians, as well as stepped-up efforts to dismantle and disarm terrorist organizations, the WP reports. The Israelis, among other things, would be expected to cease attacks on Palestinian civilians and the demolition of their homes, dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and “progressively” withdraw its army from areas it has occupied since the Palestinian uprising almost three years ago. Second and third phases of the plan envision Palestinian elections and the founding of a separate Palestinian state by 2005, the LAT notes.

The release was met with a usual round of violence—a suicide bomber outside a jazz club in Tel Aviv killed himself and three Israelis yesterday, while Israeli tanks and helicopters launched an attack on a Palestinian militant stronghold near Gaza City early this morning, killing four Palestinians and wounding 12, according to wire reports picked up by the NYT. Meanwhile, both sides had mixed reactions to the proposals. Israeli officials told reporters that the burden to act on the plan rested with the Palestinians first—even though the proposal admonishes both sides to “perform their obligations in parallel.” Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister, said he was committed to meeting his obligations, provided that both parties act at the same time.

Everybody plays up the fact that the long-awaited proposal was delivered on the down-low. A headline in the LAT says the U.S. and other sponsors “quietly” unveiled the plan, while a news analysis in the WP notes that Bush announced the plan through a written statement issued through his spokesman, instead of a “sun-dappled” Rose Garden ceremony or something equally noteworthy. Administration officials tell the NYT that it’s because Bush wanted the focus to be on Jerusalem and Ramallah, not on Washington—but everybody notes Bush doesn’t exactly relish the role of peacemaker in a situation from which he has nothing to gain politically.

To achieve a peace accord, Bush must lean on the Israelis, an LAT analysis notes. But in doing that, he might upset some of his closest political allies, including religious conservatives. In fact, some are already upset. That list includes Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, who tells the WP that Bush is simply trying to “placate” the Europeans with the latest deal. “Land for peace has never worked yet, and I don’t think it’s going to work now,” Robertson says.

According to the LAT, tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be pulled out of Germany and stationed at new bases throughout the former Eastern Bloc, including Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, marking the biggest reshuffling since World War II. While Pentagon officials publicly deny the move is linked to Germany’s position on the Iraq war, the paper relies heavily on unnamed “senior and civilian military officials” who say otherwise. Buried in the story is something that is sure to elicit a congressional hearing or two: The Army isn’t sure whether it will continue the costly tradition of families accompanying troops overseas. Instead, the new bases would be staffed by a “skeleton crew” of soldiers deployed on six-month rotations. No word on when the plan would begin—though some troops, including the 17,000-member 101st Airborne Division, probably won’t return to Germany after leaving Iraq.

Everybody except USAT fronts word that U.S. soldiers shot and killed at least two more Iraqi civilians and wounded 15 others yesterday during protests in Fallujah, near Baghdad. It’s the second shooting this week in the city, bringing the total killed to 17. Details of the incident remain murky, though a solider tells the WP that officers were returning fire from a group of “evildoers” using civilians as cover. Ironically, the latest demonstration was a protest of earlier shootings by U.S. troops. According to the wires, at least seven U.S. soldiers were injured in continued fighting there this morning when an attacker lobbed grenades at troops inside a former police station.

USAT fronts and everyone else stuffs word of yesterday’s capture of Walid Bin Attash, a top al-Qaida operative and a suspected mastermind of the attack against the U.S.S. Cole and possibly the 9/11 attacks. Detained in Pakistan, Bin Attash was a deputy to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a top al-Qaida deputy arrested earlier this year. The NYT notes that the arrest came the same day that Secretary of State Colin Powell released figures showing that the U.S. and other nations have made “unprecedented progress” in combating terrorist attacks. Yet, FBI Chief Robert Mueller, in a meeting with USAT’s reporters and editors, warned that al-Qaida is still capable of carrying out 9/11-type attacks on the U.S.—noting that the war with al-Qaida is not over “by any stretch of the imagination.”

According to the wires, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit southeastern Turkey this morning, killing at least 84 and trapping at least 100 children in the rubble of a school dormitory.

The NYT alone stuffs word that federal prosecutors have agreed to grant limited immunity to a former FBI agent caught up in an espionage investigation against Katrina Leung, a longtime FBI informant accused of spying for the Chinese. The deal prompted former agent James Smith to turn over journals and videotapes chronicling 12 years of debriefing Leung, his former lover. Experts say the move is unusual, since the items technically belong to the FBI. Leung’s attorneys say it’s proof that the feds are being tougher on her than on Smith.

Finally, the WSJ profiles the increasing popularity of the sassy use of the phrase “Shut up!” According to the paper, “Shut up!” is the new “Oh, my God!” and has made its way from “schoolgirl chatter to adult repartee.” It’s the latest example of a linguistic phenomenon known as amelioration, which happens when a word or phrase uses its negative association over time. Other examples include flip-flops like “bad,” which can mean good, and “dope,” which means great. “Shut up!”—and for those wondering, that exclamation point is mandatory—has become widespread enough that it might soon gain entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Shut up!