Today's Papers

Syriaous Situation  

Everybody leads with Israeli airstrikes in Syria hitting what Israel said was a training camp for Palestinian militants. It was the first Israeli strikes into Syria in at least 20 years.

It’s not clear what exactly was struck. Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for Saturday’s bombing in Haifa, said that despite Israeli claims to the contrary, it has nothing to do with the place that was hit. Palestinian officials told the papers that the base belonged to another Palestinian group and has long been abandoned. Israeli military aired a video reportedly from the base showing a bunker filled with weapons. According to a wire piece in the New York Times, police wouldn’t let press near the site. Israeli and Syrian officials both said one person was injured in the attack, a guard.

The Wall Street Journal notices up high that the attack came at a bad time for the U.S. since it had been in talks with Syria about blocking militants from crossing the border. Still, the White House offered what the Washington Post calls a “muted” response: Administration officials said they didn’t know about the strike beforehand; they also didn’t really criticize it. “We have repeatedly told the government of Syria that it is on the wrong side in the war on terror,” one “senior administration official” told the papers. Everybody also notices that a State Department spokesman urged both Israel and Syria to “keep in mind the consequences of their actions.”

Given that the only even vague criticism of Israel came from the State Dept. (as opposed to the Oval Office), the Los Angeles Times’ headline gives a misleading impression: “U.S. URGES RESTRAINT IN MIDEAST.” Compare that to the WP, which ignores the Foggy Bottom blather: “U.S. RESPONSE TO ATTACK BY ISRAEL IS MUTED; Syria Is ‘on the Wrong Side’ In War on Terror, Officials Say.” The NYT, meanwhile, splits the difference: “U.S. AVOIDS CRITICISM OF RAID, BUT URGES CAUTION ON ISRAEL.”

Most European and Arab countries harshly criticized the strike. And Syria, a temporary member of the Security Council, introduced a resolution condemning the attack. Other members haven’t responded to it yet. Everybody says that the Syria probably won’t respond militarily, at least partially because its army is rusting.

One Israeli analyst told the LAT that Israel launched the strike for a domestic audience. “It’s to appease enraged, frustrated Israelis, and it’s not going to help anything,” he said.

Meanwhile, everybody notes that Yasser Arafat declared a state of emergency and issued a decree appointing a Cabinet made up largely of loyalists.

A front-page analysis in the Post does an autopsy on the Mideast peace roadmap, concluding that while the White House talks a big talk, it’s shown an “unwillingness to push either side, especially the Israelis.” Said one former State Department official, “Basically, if it is too hard, if the Israelis push back, the administration eventually caves.” A current U.S. official told the paper, “We will reach a point here, perhaps very, very soon in the next year, when the Palestinians will look at a map and say, ‘That’s it. We don’t have a prayer of having a state.’ “

The NYT fronts word that the White House is reorganizing and centralizing its rebuilding efforts in Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her staff will oversee something called the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will (at least theoretically) coordinate different agencies’ efforts and will trump the Pentagon, which until now has been in charge. The paper doesn’t have many details of the re-org and instead focuses on its political meaning. “This is as close as anyone will come to acknowledging that it’s not working,” said one administration official.

The Times notes that the new coordinating committee will also oversee reconstruction in Afghanistan; the State Dept. had (technically speaking) been in charge of that.

The NYT fronts an interview with Russian President Putin; he called the invasion of Iraq “an error.”

A front-page LAT piece notices that the outing of a CIA agent didn’t seem to bother the White House until months later when the press started breathing down the WH’s neck. “I think it took them a little long,” said one Republican senator.

On this day, the NYT atones for an old sin…

An article in The Times Magazine on Sept. 22, 1974, about the movie actor Charles Bronson, who died on Aug. 30 this year, misstated his military record. Publicity material asserting that Mr. Bronson had been a B-29 gunner in World War II, called into doubt by the article, was indeed correct. (The magazine error came to light after it was repeated in an obituary on Sept. 2 and in some late editions on Sept. 1. The more recent error was corrected in this space on Sept. 18.)