The Los Angeles Times’ national edition leads with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s grilling by senators yesterday who questioned him about everything from troop strength in Iraq to pre-war intel. The LAT emphasizes Rumsfeld’s defense of the latter. The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and New York Times also lead with Rumsfeld’s congressional testimony, but they focus on his statements that military operations in Iraq are currently costing $3.9 billion per month; that doesn’t include reconstruction costs. USA Today’s lead also mentions Rumsfeld’s appearance, but it headlines the U.S.’s continuing troubles in convincing allies to send troops to Iraq. Three key countries the U.S. had been counting on—India, Pakistan, and Portugal—are all balking. Only about 8,000 foreign troops in total have now been promised, and they’re not arriving until September. (According to earlier reports, the administration had been expecting about 20,000 foreign soldiers.) Rumsfeld also said that the Army’s 3rd Division, one of the longest-serving units in Iraq, will start coming home soon. The Washington Post’s lead pummels the White House: “BUSH SKIRTS QUERIES ON IRAQ NUCLEAR ALLEGATION.” Asked at a brief press conference yesterday in South Africa whether he regretted his State of the Union contention that Saddam was seeking uranium from Africa, President Bush simply ignored the question. “One thing is for certain,” Bush said, “he’s not trying to buy anything right now.” (Here’s the transcript.)
The NYT’s lead goes with a two-column headline, “RUMSFELD DOUBLES ESTIMATE FOR COST OF TROOPS IN IRAQ.” But the increase shouldn’t really be treated as a shocker. A few months ago, the Pentagon did guess that post-combat military costs would be about $2 billion per month. But since then, a congressional estimate put the figure at $3 billion, and Rummy’s underling Paul Wolfowitz backed that number. The other papers don’t harp on the increase.
Well after the fold, the Post gives a glimpse of an emerging White House defense against questions about intel: Blame CIA Director George Tenet. A White House spokesman explained that the uranium claims were in drafts of the SOTU at least 10 days before the speech and that the CIA, Pentagon, and State Department all vetted it. Then an unnamed “senior administration official,” told the WP, “If Tenet had called up and said, ‘Take it out,’ we would have taken it out.”
The NYT also continues on the uranium beat (the story even merits its own slug now, “Nuclear Rationale”). The article is pretty tough—”BUSH SKIRTS QUESTION ON ‘EVIDENCE’ AND DEFENDS WAR.”—but it lets White House spokesman Ari Fleischer get away with one. Fleischer is quoted as dismissing reports from a former American ambassador who the CIA sent to Africa to check out the allegations well before the SOTU. Fleischer said the ambassador simply “concluded that Niger denied the allegation.” But as others have noted: The ambassador didn’t just pass along Niger’s denial. He says he told the CIA that the purported sale almost certainly didn’t happen.
The papers all notice inside that a recently retired State Department official, who oversaw proliferation issues at the agency, is the latest to turn and allege that his former employers spun weapons evidence. “I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq,” he said. “The administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude: ‘We know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers.’ “
The NYT goes inside with a brief interview with now-former Centcom commander Gen. Tommy Franks, who talked a bit about the still-mysterious U.S. attack on a convoy near the Syrian border. According to the Times, Franks says he doesn’t know who was killed in the attack, but said regardless, “It was a really good mission.”
Yesterday was slated to be a big day of protest for pro-democracy students in Iran. The Post’s headlinesuggests everything went well, “IRANIAN STUDENT PROTESTS ARE MOSTLY PEACEFUL.” Except that’s less than the half the story. The reason everything was so “peaceful” is that, as the WP itself notes, the students were intimidated by pro-government vigilantes. The NYT reports, “3 STUDENT LEADERS SEIZED BY VIGILANTES IN IRAN.” The LAT explains that the students were beaten and kidnapped while journalists watched. How’z that for peaceful?
In other protest news, everybody notes inside that pro-democracy demonstrations have continued in Hong Kong. About 30,000 people turned out yesterday to demand the resignation of the city’s chief executive, who’s seen as ineffective and a suck-up to China.
The Post goes Page One with Afghanistan’s major growth industry: opium. Already the word’s largest producer, the country is projected to have a record crop this year. And for your unintended consequences file: “Because aid groups have made food more plentiful, some farmers are feeding their families donated wheat, leaving their fields free for planting poppy.”
The NYT’s business section reports, “FEELINGS MIXED, MILLIONS ENROLL TO BLOCK CALLS.” Of course, the “feelings mixed” part is anecdotal and just as likely to be bogus as true. One data-point about Americans’ supposedly conflicted feelings about the do-not-call list? People have listed 23 million of their numbers in just the past two weeks.