The papers all lead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box, with George Bush’s highly choreographed declaration of almost victory yesterday evening while aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier fresh from the war. Though Bush didn’t technically say the war in Iraq was over, a star-spangled poster on the ship’s tower made his purpose clear: “Mission Accomplished,” it read in bold letters that were televised across the country. Every lead notes that the entire event—which included Bush’s Top Gun-style arrival on a Navy jet while sporting an olive-green flight suit—was carefully calibrated to provide hours of stock footage for next year’s re-election campaign.
Bush talked around an actual declaration of victory by blending the war into the larger campaign against terrorists. “The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on,” he said in the most-quoted sound bite. The emphasis on terror also allowed him to avoid discussing the United States’ failure so far to find any of the chemical or biological weapons the Iraqi regime allegedly had—not that anyone cares about that whole weapons pretense anymore. A “senior administration official,” whom the New York Timesburies at the very, very bottom of its lead, actually went so far as to say it’s unlikely any real chem or bio weapons will ever be found because—get this—Saddam “couldn’t put them together as long as the inspections were going on.”
The Washington Post and NYT alone mention that one reason the White House did not want to declare an official end to the war—apart from the fact that, well, there’s still fighting going on—was that such a declaration would require the U.S., under the Geneva Convention, to release all of its 6,000 Iraqi POWs.
The Post has the most colorful reporting from aboard the carrier, including a loudspeaker order that sailors were not to cheer until Bush’s arrival had been officially announced. “‘At that time, you’ll be allowed to cheer as loudly as possible, and you’ll be encouraged to show your affection,’ the disembodied voice said. It then warned that there was to be ‘no spitting on deck.’ “
A day after the U.S. released its “road map” to peace between Israel and Palestine, at least 30 Israeli tanks, backed by three attack helicopters, rolled into a crowded Gaza neighborhood, surrounding the house of a Hamas militant and killing at least 12 Palestinians, including a 2-year-old boy, according to off-leads in the Los Angeles Times, NYT, and WP. Though the raid came just a day after a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the NYT reports that Israeli officials did not link it to the bombing. Palestinian officials, for their part, said the raid was evidence that Israel isn’t serious about peace, a sentiment echoed on the street. “It’s a map, but the road is to Israel,” one woman told the WP. “It is not a road to a Palestinian state.”
The WP fronts and everyone else goes inside with word that the House approved a $15 billion bill to fight AIDS, primarily in Africa. The bill, which the Senate will take up this month, would triple U.S. spending on AIDS and—as everyone notes in their leads—would put special emphasis on abstinence over other preventative measures, such as condom use. Last-minute amendments that the White House promoted would require that at least one-third of the money earmarked for prevention to be spent promoting abstinence. Only the WP breaks it down: “Depending on how much is appropriated, the United States would devote $165 to $200 million to the promotion of abstinence.”
The LAT and WP front, and the NYT goes inside with sweet, sweet victory for the State Department in its bitter turf war with the Pentagon: The administration plans to name a former State staffer, Paul Bremer, to oversee Iraq, supplanting Jay Garner, the retired general who has been “coordinating” in Baghdad for a couple weeks. Officially, the change is meant to make the U.S. occupation more palatable for allies who’re reluctant to help in reconstruction while the military is still in charge. But the change also represents a chance to talk some smack about other competing agencies: “The Pentagon was running wild and there’s been no parental oversight,” a “well-placed U.S. official familiar with the internal friction” (read: someone at State) explained to the LAT. Pentagon confidant Richard Perle, however, had this to say to the WP about Bremer’s famously aggressive nature: “He’s aggressive by foreign-service standards. I’ve seen hummingbirds that are aggressive by foreign-service standards.”
In an “Editors’ Note,” the NYT announces that the reporter who stole entire passages from a Texas newspaper this past weekend has resigned. “The Times has been unable to determine what original reporting Mr. Blair did to produce” his story and plans to review all of his past articles. They’d better get cracking: TP’s quick-’n’-dirty Lexis-Nexis search turned up 689 pieces with Blair’s byline.
According to USA Today, the alleged 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, has filed several motions that ask John Ashcroft to complete a multiple-choice quiz. Moussaoui wants Ashcroft to explain the government’s theory about his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks by checking one of the following boxes:
- 20th hijacker.
- 5th plane pilot missing in action.
- I, Ashcroft don’t know.
- Let’s kill him anyway.
And if Ashcroft does well on the quiz? “1st prize: 1st class seat at Zacarias Moussaoui execution,” the motion continues before adding this caveat: “Only joking, it is not going to happen.”