All the papers lead with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ resignation after only four months in office. The Washington Post says that Yasser Arafat, whose lack of support is said to have fueled the exit, did not immediately accept the prime minister’s resignation, but the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times say that Arafat did accept it. Though Arafat could reappoint Abbas, the papers agree that this is unlikely. Everybody notes that this is bad news for the peace process (President Bush had originally made Abbas’ appointment a condition for initiating the “road map,” and the administration negotiates with him and not with Arafat). Meanwhile, Israel tried to kill a founder of Hamas with an airstrike in Gaza City (which left the leader wounded), and the European Union agreed to freeze all of Hamas’ assets.
In his speech to Palestinian legislators, Abbas reportedly put most of the blame for his departure on Israel, saying it is unwilling to commit to a peace plan. He held the Bush administration responsible for not pressing Israel, and said Arafat didn’t do his part to cooperate. In an accompanying analysis piece, the WP points out the lack of clarity in U.S. policy toward the Palestinian Authority: The Bush administration will not deal with Arafat, but the outcome of their plan relies on an official appointed by Arafat, who ultimately has control over the prime minister. And the administration’s embrace of Abbas only weakened his stature among radical groups and ordinary Palestinians, while the American alienation gave Arafat greater prominence locally.
It’s the Sunday before Sept. 11, so it’s no surprise to start seeing coverage of the two-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In perhaps the most hard-hitting anniversary coverage, the Post runs two superb A1 stories, one on al-Qaida regrouping in Iraq, and the other examining holes in the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the WP, al-Qaida began planning their new front in Iraq in February. Since then, anywhere from 1,000 to several thousand foreign fighters have entered the country through Iraq’s borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. While its tricky-to-track borders (mountainous, unmarked) provide AQ members and sympathetic radicals the ease to travel into the country, the American occupation gives them a reinvigorated reason to make the trip. Based on interviews with European, American, and Arab intelligence sources, this story is a must-read.
The Department of Homeland Security, spawned by the attacks of two years ago, is now “hobbled by money woes, disorganization, turf battles and unsteady support from the White House,” the WP says. Some of the problems belying the 6-month-old agency: The top two officials under Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge are resigning; the department’s headquarters are cramped and ill-equipped; its budget is too small; it has trouble luring talented staffers; support from the White House is lukewarm. “Not a lot is getting done at the top of the department,” an anonymous White House official tells the paper. “Nobody’s got the fortitude to say, ‘Sit down and shut up.’ … It’s sad.”
The NYT scores a front-page scoop with the story of a Czech immigrant who captured rare video footage of both the towers being hit. His video, shot from an S.U.V., may be the only record of the impact of both planes. It was discovered only recently, after a free-lance photographer—hearing how the tape got traded for a bar tab in Queens—brought the artifact to the Times. The NYT says that federal investigators have yet to snag a copy, but ABC is showing the footage at 9 a.m. today.
In the face of daily attacks, U.S. soldiers in Iraq are making swifter strikes instead of using conventional war tactics, says the LAT on Page One. One platoon leader tells the paper: “We’re using Vietnam-type tactics.”
The Post buries an article on an interesting turn in the anthrax investigation: The FBI has hired a colleague of Steven Hatfill, a “person of interest” in the case. This is a big deal because the co-worker provided the feds with info, and if the government wants to use him as a prosecution witness, hiring him is a huge no-no and will taint his credibility.
President Bush will address the nation in a prime-time address tonight, appealing for international support and patience in the peace process in Iraq.
In its “Week in Review” section, the NYT asks, “Who Won?,” in a headline for a story on the 9/11 anniversary. Instead of weighing in on that heavy question, scholars and talking heads offer engrossing tidbits on the ways in which their lives have changed. (Steven Brill doesn’t let his son ride the subway during alerts! Michael Maltzen won’t go to Disneyland!) True, changes in the American psyche are profound two years later, but the story reads like a man-on-the-street query of the New York Review of Books subscriber list.
Also in the “Week in Review,” the NYT notes that 30 years after the Chilean coup that installed Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the country’s economy is humming along. Taxes are collected, poverty is reduced, but, reminds the Times, “underlying the current prosperity … is a long trail of blood and suffering that makes the thought of reversing course too difficult to contemplate.”