Today's Papers

Sticker Shock and Awe

Everybody leads with President Bush’s address to the nation last night, during which he acknowledged the war in Iraq will take longer and cost a whole lot more than initially expected. 

Speaking from the White House Cabinet room, Bush told the nation that defeating terrorists in Iraq and rebuilding the country would “take time and require sacrifice.” He omitted any mention of how long American troops would remain in Iraq, how much the operation will ultimately cost, and a key sore point for the administration: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“We will do whatever is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our nation more secure,” Bush said.

The president announced he will ask Congress for $87 billion in additional military and construction spending—slightly higher than the $60 billion to $80 billion the administration had said it would ask for late last week. (The Washington Post says the White House, at the request of congressional leaders, scrapped a plan to ask for smaller amounts of money in shorter increments to lessen the financial blow.) That’s in addition to the $79 billion appropriated by Congress last spring, bringing the cost of the operation to around $165 billion.

Just how that stacks up to what the Bushies had initially projected isn’t entirely clear this morning. Nobody reports the specifics of what the Iraq budget was supposed to be—perhaps because firm numbers have been hard to come by. The end result is a mash of confusing and somewhat contradictory figures.

The WP’s headline says “BUSH TO DOUBLE IRAQ SPENDING,” but the story says that with the latest funding request, the total Iraq budget is “$50 billion more than officials had estimated just a few months ago.” That’s about as specific as the papers get on that front—the Los Angeles Times, for instance, says only that the war will cost “substantially more than the administration had previously acknowledged.”

As everybody notes, Bush made a big point of saying that the $87 billion would be spent on military operations in places beyond Iraq, including Afghanistan and “elsewhere.” But the WP, which has some good numbers on where and how the money will be spent, says the bulk of the money—around $70 billion—will go to Iraq. Of that total, around $20 billion will be spent on rebuilding the country—far less than the estimated $50 billion to $75 billion in total reconstruction costs. Administration officials tell the WP they will seek the balance from “other countries, international financial institutions and Iraqi revenue.” Of course, all this may be moot: The $87 billion request is something “many experts believe may yet prove low,” the New York Times says.

Looking at the bigger picture, the WP fronts this interesting factoid: The 1991 Persian Gulf War cost $80 billion, of which the U.S. paid only $9 billion. Meanwhile, USA Today, citing Defense Department figures, reports the monthly bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan now rivals the Pentagon’s average monthly spending during Vietnam. That tab doesn’t include reconstruction costs “which had no parallel,” the paper says.

As the LAT notes, Bush picked up on a theme that his aides have been pushing in recent weeks: that rebuilding Iraq is a commitment as important as the successful occupations of Japan and Germany after World War II. But that comparison may not be entirely accurate, a NYT analysis reports. “Both were cohesive nations long before their defeat; Iraq never has been,” the paper notes. “And while there was more to rebuild in Tokyo and Berlin in 1945 than in Baghdad in 2003, the occupied were not shooting at the occupiers.”

Most of the papers mention Bush’s sinking poll numbers. A poll released Saturday by Zogby International showed Bush’s positive performance rating dropping: 54 percent of likely voters rated Bush’s job performance as fair or poor, and only 45 percent rated it as good or excellent, the LAT says. Yet not everybody is jumping ship. A Time/CNN poll cited by the WP showed that three in five Americans (63 percent) believe going into Iraq was the right policy and almost three in four (71 percent) said the United States has done a good job since major fighting ended.

Everybody fronts word that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has nominated a potential successor to Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as prime minister on Saturday. Arafat tapped Ahmed Qurei, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament and a key negotiator of the Oslo peace accords, to succeed Abbas. Qurei, who is said to be weighing the offer, is a “skilled politician with a reputation as a pragmatist,” the NYT says. While he has solid support among members of the parliament, Qurei isn’t popular among the general public, according to the WP. When it comes to diplomacy, the LAT says that Qurei has a long history of “cordial relations” with the Israelis, but the WP cites an Israeli official who says he’s too close to Arafat to stake out independent positions. Meanwhile, the NYT goes inside with warnings from Bush administration to Israel to cool its attacks on Hamas and drop attempts to expel Arafat from Israeli-controlled areas, out of fear it might turn him into a martyr.

The WP fronts a lengthy look at the Patriot Act, the sweeping anti-terrorism law signed after 9/11 that granted the government more powers to conduct surveillance in the name of preventing another terror attack. No other piece of legislation has been so hotly debated, the paper notes, yet the irony is that operations carried out under the law are so secret that even its critics—who include both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives—are unable to cite specific instances of abuse. “The problem is, we don’t know how (the law) has been used,” one critic says. “They set it up in such a way … [that] it’s very hard to judge.” Meanwhile, the NYT goes inside with a write-up of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s public campaign in favor of expanding the law’s reach. He’s drawn big crowds and lots of media coverage, the paper says, but mixed results when it comes to drumming up actual support.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards announced yesterday he wouldn’t seek re-election so that he could focus on his Democratic presidential bid, the NYTreports. Among those who might seek the office in his wake: Erskine Bowles, a chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, who ran and lost a bid for the Senate last year.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal profiles “Strollerqueen,” a California mother of two who has seemingly gone nuts for baby buggies. She chases down strangers on the street to grill them about stollers, collects buggies like baseball cards (she owns 52 different models), and is obsessive when it comes to hunting down rare limited editions. She has gained “celebrity status in the underground world of stroller watchers,” the WSJ notes, while her stroller-themed fiction, including one titled “As the Wheels (Don’t) Turn” has gained cultlike status. Her observations have turned the buggy industry upside down, as companies fight for her seal of approval. “Other people count sheep,” she tells the WSJ. “I count strollers.”