Today's Papers

A Syria of Fortunate Events?

The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal world-wide news box all lead with President Bush’s nomination of John Bolton—a State Department official with a history of U.N. bashing—to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Everyone trots out the same 1994 quotes, when Bolton said, “There’s no such thing as the United Nations,” and, “If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” The WP and LAT say that aides to SecState Condoleezza Rice have been spinning the nomination as a bold, “Nixon goes to China” move. USA Today leads and the WP off-leads a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that women under 65 who regularly take low-dose aspirin have a lower risk of strokes, but not of heart attacks. It’s exactly the opposite of the effect on men, who suffer fewer heart attacks but the same number of strokes when taking aspirin. USAT gets some context from one of the authors: “I don’t think we should be that surprised. Women do suffer proportionally more strokes than men.”

The papers differ on the actual chances that Bolton will get the posting. The LAT says it’s probably a done deal given the comfortable GOP Senate majority, but the NYT and WP insist on using the conditional mood and on highlighting some prominent Senate Republicans’ doubts. “We need alliances, we need friends,” Chuck Hagel told the NYT. “To go up there and kick the U.N. around doesn’t get the job done.” Everyone mentions that Sen. Richard Lugar, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, did not exactly jump to issue a statement of support, either. His spokesman says Lugar wants to meet with Bolton “before discussing his support.”

The WSJ delivers the most substantive background, saying that Bolton has successfully led anti-U.N. battles against such bureaucratic red-tape as a protocol to verify compliance with the biological weapons ban and an accord to limit small-arms trafficking. He’s also been a hardliner on Iran, and the Journal notes that, if confirmed, he could be in a position to spearhead sanctions. Meanwhile, the WP has the best personal details, reporting that Bolton, who played a key behind-the-scenes role in the 2000 Florida recount battle, proudly keeps a mock hand grenade in his office inscribed, “To John Bolton—World’s Greatest Reaganite.” (Slate’s Fred Kaplan says  the nomination is a clear sign of Bush’s contempt for the U.N. and an indication that he doesn’t plan to pursue much diplomacy through it.)

The papers stuff developments in Lebanon, as Syrian President Bashar Assad promised to move most of his 14,000 troops in the country closer to the Syrian border by the end of the month. The announcement was far short of the full withdrawal Lebanese demonstrators and Western leaders had hoped for, and as many as 100,000 people took to the streets in Beirut, waving red-and-white flags and chanting, “Syria out!” and “Truth, liberty, and national unity!” Some Syrian units have already started moving to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, near the border, where tensions are high, and the WP files a nice dispatch: “These people will never leave,” said a farmer whose orchards there have been home to Syrian troops for decades. “They are eating everything here, from the brown grass to the green. Watch. It will be us who will have to leave.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is planning a counter-rally today, and USAT writes in an analysis that its mostly Shiite supporters are more likely to see the Syrian troops as protectors than occupiers. And a Christian Science Monitor analysis echoes the warning that a turn toward democracy could lead to more stridently anti-Western governments in the region.

Nevertheless, given the spate of democratic developments, the WP fronts an analysis on the apparent snowball effect, which both liberals and unnamed SAOs claim has taken them by surprise. On the eve of a presidential address on the topic, some Bush-bashers are even asking themselves if the prez might have been right about all that freedom marching stuff. “This is the most difficult thing for me, because I don’t care for the tactics,” the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart said, “but I’ve got to say I’ve never seen results like this ever in that region.”

The NYT off-leads a semi-scoop: 47 of 58 people on terrorist watch lists who tried to buy guns over a nine-month period last year were approved by officials, according to a Government Accountability Office report scheduled to be released today, an advance copy of which was leaked to the paper. Not that that’s so shocking: It’s not currently illegal for people on watch lists to buy guns. And since February of last year, the FBI has run “millions of gun applications” against its internal watch list to make sure apps from people it’s watching get special scrutiny.

More harrowing fear-mongering comes in the form of an LAT fronter on the possibility that  terror groups are trying to infiltrate U.S. intel agencies. The upshot: “intense competition” for a limited pool of skilled linguists, analysts, and people who could serve as clandestine operatives has created a rushed environment terrorists could exploit to place insiders in spy agencies. Some 40 applicants have already been “red-flagged” and turned away because of potential terror ties.

The WP goes inside with its own GAO report, this one saying the EPA tipped the scales in favor of an industry-approved approach when issuing new rules for mercury pollution. The report follows  one by the EPA’s inspector general that says the agency’s staff was pressured to favor the industry proposal. The final rule is still on schedule to be issued on March 15.

The papers all report that, at latest count, 32 Iraqis, many of them police and soldiers, died yesterday in a spate of armed attacks and suicide bombings in at least four cities in central Iraq. Also, the Bulgarian defense minister said that a Bulgarian soldier killed on Friday appeared to have been struck by friendly fire from the direction of American troops in the area. American military officials said a special commission would look into the incident.

And everyone stuffs tragic news from the Dominican Republic: Rival prison gangs in the midst of an armed battle set fire to a crowded cell-block known as “Vietnam,” killing 134 trapped inmates. “It was awful—I saw piles of burnt bodies on the sidewalk,” a man who lives near the prison told the NYT. “It was an inferno.”