Today's Papers

Summit Like It Not

Everybody leads with the Israeli–Palestinian summit in Jordan, co-hosted by President Bush, where both sides made pledges toward peace: Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to “the armed intifada,” while Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said he’ll start dismantling the few illegal settlement outposts that have sprouted up since violence restarted in October 2000.  

The New York Times says that Sharon’s statement fell short of what American diplomats had drafted for him (though the paper doesn’t detail exactly how). The Wall Street Journal points out that while Sharon’s pledge to dismantle some settlements has big symbolic value, only about 800 settlers live on those outposts while there are about 230,000 settlers overall in the West Bank and Gaza. Still, thousands of right-wing Israelis demonstrated yesterday against Sharon’s promises.

Meanwhile, while Abbas pledged to “exert all of our efforts, using all our resources to end the militarization of the intifada,” the papers all note it’s not clear how he’s going to get that done. Palestinian officials say Abbas is close to getting Hamas and others to declare a cease-fire. But while Hamas has suggested it’s open to that, it said it’s opposed to the pledges Abbas made yesterday.

A piece inside the Washington Post looks at how the carefully crafted speeches suggest the obstacles ahead. For instance, one word not mentioned during the scripted chatter: “settlement.”

Everybody but USA Today off-leads with the House’s passage of a bill outlawing what abortion opponents calls “partial-birth abortion.” The Senate passed a similar bill in March, and the president has said he’ll sign it. It’s the first time Congress has banned a specific abortion procedure since Roe v.Wade. The procedure itself is somewhat ill-defined and abortion-rights activists “and many doctors” (NYT) say that the ban could apply to a variety of methods. The Post says that doctors typically use those procedures when they believe other methods might endanger a woman’s health. They also pointed out that the bill doesn’t include an exception for the health of the patient. Abortions-rights advocates said they’ll challenge the law in court—three years ago the Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law.

The Post and Journal both have big pieces on how U.S. intel on Iraq’s alleged WMDs might have been stretched and oversold by the administration.The Post emphasizes that Vice President Cheney made “multiple” visits to the CIA; some analysts said they felt implicit pressure from the fly-bys—though other analysts disagreed and said they quite enjoyed the quality time with Dick. The piece also says that Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz pooh-poohed spooks’ qualified conclusions. “Wolfowitz treated the analysts’ work with contempt,” said one former defense intel official. Meanwhile, the Journal’s piece comes down hard on the White House: “Much of [the intelligence] wasn’t very solid, and the fragmentary information sometimes produced fierce internal disagreements about its meaning. Yet those shades of gray were washed out in pronouncements by administration policy makers.”

The Journal says the U.S.’s Iraq reconstruction agency has been beset by shortages and guffaws. Most staffers didn’t realize that their satellite phones wouldn’t work indoors, so until recently they’ve had to leave their phones outside and have some poor GI sit under a tree all day and let people know when there’s a call. Funny stuff. But as the article too briefly mentions, things are getting better; most of the follies cited are actually a bit dated. (See above.)

The WSJ points out that for all the recent worry about Shiite fundamentalism in Iraq, most Shiites seem to “tolerate or even like” the American presence, while the recent attacks against GIs have nearly all come in Sunni neighborhoods. Sunnis were the privileged minority under Saddam’s regime. The Journal says former Baathists fomenting trouble are now putting a Sunni fundamentalist spin on their pitch.

Everybody fronts Martha Stewart’s indictment yesterday for allegedly lying to the feds and the public about an insider stock deal. She pleaded not guilty—and hours later stepped down as chairwoman and CEO of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

A nice NYT news analysis by Kurt Eichenwald says that despite prosecutors’ lame protestations, the feds are indeed going after Martha precisely because of her celebrity. And, says Eichenwald, there’s nothing wrong that. Law enforcement isn’t just about punishing crimes, it’s about deterring them. And nailing celebrities gets people’s attention and maybe makes them think twice: “If yesterday’s indictment had been against Martha Jones rather than Martha Stewart, no one would be reading this article—primarily because it would not have been written.”

Back to WMDs … The Journal’sWMD piece includes an info box that looks at the administration’s public, sketchy claims last fall and contrasts them with intel really knew. Juicy stuff, but the WSJ fudges a wee bit itself. According to one entry: “Iraq has ‘a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for … capable of killing millions.’ —President Bush Oct. 7, 2002” [itals added.] TheJournal’s counterpoint notes, “Intelligence officials were never sure that Iraq still possessed biological agents.” Look at Bush’s full quote. It’s not exactly a paragon of honest rhetoric, but contrary to the Journal’s suggestions, Bush is not clearly claiming that Iraq still had bio-weapons:

In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq’s military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions.