The New York Times and Washington Postboth lead with President Bush’s orders to deploy a three-ship amphibious battle group carrying over 2,000 Marines to a position off the coast of Liberia. The ships should arrive in seven to 10 days, around the same time that 1,300 Nigerian peacekeepers are scheduled to enter the civil-war-torn country. What exactly the Marines’ mission will be is still unclear, but Bush has said that any possible intervention will be “limited in time and scope.” “Mr. Bush’s decision is an important symbolic move, but falls far short of actually sending American troops ashore,” reminds the NYT, which has petitioned on its editorial page for U.S. intervention. “It appeared to be an effort to walk a careful line between the Pentagon’s reluctance to put American lives at risk and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s argument that the United States must not appear to be sitting on its hands.” The NYT is the only paper to note, “The timing of the announcement caught Pentagon officials off guard.” Unfortunately, the Times doesn’t speculate as to why, given that intervention has been hotly debated in the administration for a couple weeks now, the president’s orders might have “blind-sided” defense planners.
The Los Angeles Timesoff-leads the Liberia deployment and instead gives top billing to yesterday’s capture of between five and 10 of Saddam Hussein’s personal bodyguards in a raid near the northern city of Tikrit. All the papers think that these latest arrests, along with the killings of Odai and Qusai Hussein in a Tuesday shootout, suggest that U.S. forces may be closing in on the Ace of Spades, Saddam himself. According to an article fronted by the NYT, the raid is merely the most prominent upshot of a recent “surge in tips” from informants that has inundated American forces in the three days since the deaths of Saddam’s sons. The WP stuffs its coverage of the raid on page A13.
The WP off-leads with legislation passed in the House early yesterday morning that would allow Americans to reimport prescription drugs developed in America but sold at lower prices overseas. With an “unexpectedly large” bipartisan coalition supporting the bill, the vote is described as “a rare and resounding defeat” for the president and Republican leadership. According to the LAT, opponents of the reimportation legislation—including, of course, the pharmaceutical industry—”seem to have built a solid bipartisan wall in the Senate to stop it.” Already 53 senators have signed a letter expressing opposition to the House plan, ostensibly on the grounds that it doesn’t require the secretary of Health and Human Services to certify that the reimportation program “pose[s] no additional risk” to consumers.
The WP runs an exclusive story on an internal White House debate over how to restructure the postwar Iraqi reconstruction effort. For the second time in three months, major changes seem to be in store. The Bush administration is discussing adding “one or more prominent figures” to team up with L. Paul Bremer, the head U.S. administrator in Iraq. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who led the Republican team during the 2000 Florida recount imbroglio, is apparently at the top of the administration’s wish list, but officials are predicting he won’t become involved. Still, they say they want “a Baker-like figure.” Today’s Papers will leave it to Kausfiles and Chatterbox to speculate about who that might be.
Apparently spurred on by last week’s Capitol Hill debacle in which Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., called the cops on his committee’s Democratic members, the WP runs a front-pager knocking Republicans for having “tossed aside many of the institutional reforms they promised” when they took over the House nearly 10 years ago. Republicans who rode into the majority decrying 40 years of hardball tactics by Democratic leadership now treat the Democrats far worse than they themselves were treated when they were in the minority. And all those reforms that were supposed to make Congress a healthier place—like term limits, stricter ethics laws, and greater influence for rank-and-file members—have flown out the window.
Both the WPand NYT go above the fold with the same big photo of President Bush with his arm draped chummily over Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ shoulder. In their coverage of yesterday’s meeting between the two leaders, all the papers stress Bush’s strong praise for Abbas (“a good man” and a “leader of vision and courage”) as well as his condemnation of the Israeli security fence around the West Bank (“I think the wall is a problem”).
Department of Mysterious Corrections: Two days ago, Today’s Papers linked to a UPI article claiming that the at the time unreleased Senate report on 9/11 showed “U.S. intelligence had no evidence that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, or that it had supported al-Qaida.” When the actual 800-plus-page report came out the next day without even addressing the question of a Saddam-AQ link, UPI had to retract its story. An updated version is now online.