Today's Papers

Base Instinct

Everyone leads with the Defense Department’s recommendation yesterday to close or realign some 837 military installations in a wave of consolidation over the next six years. The Pentagon says the move would eliminate 18,223 jobs and save almost $49 billion over 20 years.

If approved, the realignment will amount, according to the Los Angeles Times, the only paper to hazard a nationwide thesis, to a large-scale shift of troops and equipment from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and, to a lesser extent, the West.  

As the papers note in separate stories, legislators representing affected communities demonstrated their base instincts within minutes of the 9:13 a.m. e-mail the Pentagon sent out detailing the proposed cuts. Sen. John Thune, who ousted former Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle in part by claiming he was in a better position to save South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base, hopped a plane to the affected town. And Sen. Olympia Snowe seemed to take the proposed closure of a Maine shipyard personally in the LAT, calling it “nothing short of stunning, devastating, and above all, outrageous. …  It is a travesty and a strategic blunder of epic proportions.”

Still, the cuts were less severe than the 20 to 25 percent that planners had originally warned. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it turned out the military could only afford to shed some 5 to 10 percent of its capacity once it factored in the need to accommodate troops returning from Europe and Pentagon offices that need to move from commercial space to less vulnerable digs on bases.

This is only the beginning of the wrangling: The recommendations now go to an independent, nine-member commission that will visit bases and hold hearings over the summer. Kudos to the New York Times for providing valuable context: In the past, the commission has approved about 80 percent of the Pentagon’s recommendations. (Recommended reading: Slate’s Phil Carter on problems inherent in the consolidation plans.)

Filing their copy from distant Moscow and relying mostly on wire reports, the papers mention the outbreak of violence in the city of Andijon in eastern Uzbekistan. Anti-government protesters stormed a prison early Friday morning, releasing thousands of inmates and fueling riots in which groups of armed men took over government buildings across the city before troops regained control in an afternoon crackdown. The protests began earlier in the week, with the prosecution of 23 popular local businessmen on charges of being part of a group that supports jailed Islamic leader Akram Yuldashev.

The Washington Postand NYT cite official casualty counts of “at least 10,” but the LAT mentions reports (echoed this morning) that dozens more died, and talks to a human rights activist who witnessed as many as 200 people killed in a fusillade launched against a crowd that was approaching a military compound. “They were stopped midway by a storm of gunfire that was coming from an ambush laid by government troops and the police,” he said. “They were literally lying in ambush behind nearby buildings, waiting for the crowd to approach.”

The WP fronts the fourth consecutive day of violent anti-U.S. protests in Afghanistan, where angry mobs in Kabul and Jalalabad ransacked government offices and relief agencies. Approximately eight died, raising the toll to 15 since the riots began Wednesday. The Post also reports inside that the Pentagon is investigating the Koran-in-the-toilet allegations; so far, they have not substantiated any of the claims, military sources say.

In Baghdad yesterday, as Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari extended the country’s six-month-old state of emergency by another 30 days, Iraqi security forces detained five people believed to be connected to a car bombing on Thursday that killed 17 people.

The NYT’s Baghdad-datelined Iraq piece mentions the detentions, but goes high with U.S. military claims to have flattened a rebel hideout in Karabilah, in Western Iraq, with F-18 jets. Meanwhile, in Ribat, the LAT’s Solomon Moore, who is embedded with the Marines’ Lima Company, has a front-pager that says the insurgents have been driven out, but villagers are still scared. “[I]f you leave town tomorrow, they will be back,” said one man, who had been tortured by the terrorists, “and they will kill anyone who has helped the Americans.” The language barrier is an issue, too, since translators there are in short supply. One old man spent 15 minutes trying to communicate something to a frustrated Marine, and finally sketched what appeared to be a picture of the Syrian border in the dusty ground outside his home. “I guess he’s trying to say that they all went to Syria,” the Marine said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spun up his anti-filibuster missiles yesterday, warning that he plans to launch debate next week, and is ready to deploy the nuclear option to force up-or-down votes, if necessary. But despite the headlines (“SENATE REPUBLICANS TO OPEN FILIBUSTER WAR NEXT WEEK“), it’s possible Frist’s threat was just filibluster. The WP and NYT both reveal that some moderates are moving toward a compromise that would approve at least two of the nominees in return for leaving the filibuster intact for at least a year. Frist and Democratic leader Harry Reid have set the end of the day Monday as a deadline for negotiations, and the two are scheduled to have (a romantic?) dinner together at Frist’s home on Sunday evening, the Post says.

The WP picks up a short wire piece saying an unmanned CIA Predator drone killed a “senior” al-Qaida operative, Haitham al-Yemeni, in Pakistan yesterday. According to ABC News, which broke the story, al-Yemeni was next in line to replace the recently captured Abu Faraj al-Libbi, ostensibly al-Qaida’s No. 3 man before he was seized.

The owner of the fingertip allegedly discovered in a bowl of Wendy’s chili this March, has been fingered. He’s an associate of the husband of the woman who claimed to have chomped the digit; he lost it, apparently, in an industrial accident. The police followed up after a call came in to Wendy’s, um, tip line.

Spoiler alert … The NYT fronts a story about the filming of the final episode of the hit Iraqi television show Love and War, which ends in June. But the article’s opening anecdote includes an unannounced spoiler likely to devastate regular viewers: After the two star-crossed lead characters have their long-awaited wedding in the finale, they both fall victim to a suicide car bombing. Astute viewers might have seen it coming. Several of the dark comedy’s characters have died in bombings, while others have been kidnapped. “This is our life,” said the lead actor between shots. “I’m laughing with you now, but for all I know my house has been bombed. This is the black comedy we live.”