Today's Papers

Firing Line-Item 

The New York Times   and USA Today’s leads say that Congress is almost sure to give President Bush the $87 billion he’s requested for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, although, as the NYT puts it, legislators plan to make him “walk through a bit of fire first.” Congress “will be able to support this,” Republican Sen. Richard Lugar told USAT. “But not without pointing out some failings they have seen along the way.” The Los Angeles Times’ lead notes that White House officials said the proposal’s reconstruction numbers—$15 billion or $20 billion, depending how you slice it—may be as much as $55 billion short of total reconstruction costs, a point the WP briefly mentioned yesterday. (The LAT doesn’t offer the estimated reconstruction costs for just next year, which seems to be what the proposal covers.) The top item in Wall Street Journal’s newsbox says that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is taking heat for all this. “Wolfowitz is gone,” said one senior Democratic legislator. The Washington Post’s lead says that the Pentagon, in an unannounced move Friday, told many National Guard units that they’ll have to stay in Iraq for a year, months longer than planned. With concern already high about overtaxing reserve forces, the Post says some officials think the order could “break” the reserve system.

A piece inside the NYT breaks down the spending proposal, saying that 78 percent of it, $65.5 billion, goes to the U.S. military, another $5 bil toward rebuilding Iraqi security services, and $15 billion toward reconstruction itself. Afghanistan would get $800 million in non-military aid. The other papers have a different count: $20 billion for Iraq reconstruction and only $50 billion for the U.S. military—those are numbers sourced to the White House.

The LAT mentions that the White House isn’t providing details on the spending proposal, while the Journal notices that about $6 billion of the spending is marked as black budget; that is, classified.

The LAT’s lead says that though the reconstruction funding proposal may actually be too low, the White House isn’t planning on asking Congress for more money until next year’s presidential election and instead is pushing international donors to pony up. But one analyst told the paper that next month’s Iraq donor conference will be lucky to net pledges worth (begin Doctor Evil voice) one billion dollars.

The article’s print headline misses all this fun and instead notes that the White House finally copped to something everybody already knew: “IRAQ ESTIMATES WERE TOO LOW, WHITE HOUSE ADMITS.” The headline online gets it: “WHITE HOUSE SAYS IRAQ FUNDS REQUEST STILL FALLS SHORT.”

The WP’s lead article notes that Army officials swear that the increased reliance on National Guard troops has had, as the WP paraphrases it, “no adverse affect on recruiting.” Interesting. … Back in June USAT reported, “The nation’s largest auxiliary forces—the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve—are beginning to have trouble meeting their recruiting targets.”

The Journal’sIraq money piece mentions that the proposal estimates that about 110,000 U.S. troops will be in Iraq this time next year, just 30,000 fewer soldiers than now.

A Page One Post piece says that U.S. intel essentially anticipated the current troubles in Iraq but was ignored by the White House.“Intelligence reports told them at some length about possibilities for unpleasantness,” said one anonymous senior administration official. “The reports were written, but we don’t know if they were read.” The piece seems to be based on intel officials (or friends?) firing back at some in the administration who, the WP explains, “have begun to fault the CIA and other intelligence agencies for being overly optimistic.”

The LAT fronts word that investigators are lacking solid leads in last month’s Najaf bombing and have released most of the suspects originally nabbed. As TP has mentioned, the LAT’s original coverage of the blast made too much of the arrests—after all, the supposed al-Qaida men were cuffed just a day after the blast. The LAT deserves credit for fronting a corrective followup, but, points off, doesn’t mention the original, overly credulous coverage.

The NYT’s off-lead and a WP piece inside say that Palestinian prime minister nominee Ahmed Qurei argued that he won’t take the job unless Israel stops isolating Yasser Arafat and follows the road map’s various demands. As the NYT puts it, “ARAFAT’S CHOICE SETS CONDITIONS FOR ACCEPTANCE.” But the papers may be reading too much into Qurei’s talk: The WSJ, citing unnamed Palestinian officials, says that he has already accepted the job.

In a stuffed WP interview, the U.S.’s former top negotiator for North Korea slammed the White House’s approach to Pyongyang. Calling the situation “very grim,” the former diplomat, who stepped down last month, said the U.S. should put aside its objection to sustained one-on-one talks and stop doing “drive-by meetings.”

A piece inside the Post picks up on some recent eloquent evasive action by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. “Can you please give us at least one example of what is the result today” of the search for banned weapons in Iraq, one reporter asked. “I’m inclined not to,” Rumsfeld replied. “I’ll tell you what the situation is: The situation is that it’s an important question.”