Today's Papers

Basing Instinct

The New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Postall lead with the independent base commission breaking with the Pentagon’s proposals and deciding to keep a submarine base in Connecticut and a big shipyard in Maine. Overall, the Pentagon has suggested closing 62 major bases, and the commission is expected to take the next few days working through the list. Except for yesterday’s two surprises, the commission has basically stuck to the Pentagon’s proposals. The president and Congress can both reject the commission’s recommendations, but neither is expected to. The Los Angeles Timesfronts the commission but leads with more worry from Iraqis that the draft constitution is too Islam-heavy. The piece also acknowledges, as Slates Mickey Kaus has argued, that the draft is actually so vague that nobody knows how it will play out.

Considering Iraq’s draft constitution, one Islamic scholar in the U.S. said, “It’s not a workable document. They brushed their differences under the carpet and crafted language that they could vote for.” 

Particularly considering that the draft’s clauses on Islam are so fuzzy, TP wonders if the papers are making a mistake by giving so much play to religion and relatively little to the more concrete and actually explosive issue with the draft: federalism. It doesn’t make for the sizzling headline that “impending theocracy” does and doesn’t trigger our base anxieties. But it could spark a civil war.

“Rather than an inclusive document, it is more a recipe for separation based on Shiite and Kurdish privilege,” one well-regarded analyst told the Post. “It may well be more of a prelude to civil war than a step forward.” One superstar law prof and former administration adviser added, “A constitution that is a deal between the Shiites and Kurds is not a deal.”

So far as TP sees, the Post is the only paper that gives significant space to the federalism concerns, and even then it’s stuffed inside with a vague headline.

As only the Wall Street Journal says up high, about a half-dozen people were killed in the holy city of Najaf in fighting between militiamen loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr and what were apparently government troops. It’s unclear how it started, but the Post says the troops Sadr tussled with are actually loyal to a rival Shiite faction. (As the Post recently noted, government forces and Shiite militia are often one and the same.)

Two Iraqi ministers and 21 lawmakers connected to Sadr said they’re, basically, calling in sick in protest. Meanwhile, the papers also have scattered reports of Sadr vs. Shiite militia fighting in Basra and even Baghdad. Knight Ridder—whose Baghdad bureau chief speaks Arabic—has fine reporting on the fighting. One of its reporters overheard Sadr commanders ordering supporters to torch rival Shiite offices “without killing anyone.” (None of the papers venture to guess why Sadr is making so much trouble now. The most compelling analysis TP has seen is by a time-tested blogger named Swopa.)

In Baghdad, about a dozen Iraqis were killed and 60 wounded—police and civilians—when insurgents launched a multipronged attack on some police units.

The Post, for some reason, fronts a sleepy dispatch on President Bush offering yet another speech emphasizing that the U.S. isn’t going anywhere in Iraq. “We will stay, we will fight, and we will win the war on terror,” the president said.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times quotes yet another top commander stressing that the U.S. is planning to draw down its forces. “We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward,” said the general, who’s director of operations for CENTCOM. “You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It’s very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.”(TP wondered the other week about tension between the White House and military.)

The Post fronts and the NYT teases news that with less than a month to go before a big U.N. conference on reform, the U.S., in the Post’s words, “threw it into turmoil” with more than 750 proposed amendments to the conference’s draft agreement. Among other things, it called for striking sections supportive of greater foreign aid and one on global warming. The Post’s take is clearer and has starker language than the NYT, but TP isn’t sure which is more accurate.

The NYT mentions that Israeli officials confirmed plans to expropriate more West Bank land near Jerusalem in order to put one Jewish West Bank neighborhood behind the security barrier. Secretary of State Rice has previously warned Israel not to make the move,which could cut off thousands of Palestinians from Jerusalem. Meanwhile, an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed four militants. And a Palestinian fatally stabbed one Israeli man and wounded another in Jerusalem.

A front-page USAT story notices that whatever the perception offered by cable news, sexual assaults against children have fallen by about 40 percent in the last decade.

Everybody notes that televangelist Pat Robertson apologized for suggesting that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez be assassinated. “I said our Special Forces should ‘take him out,’ ” explained Robertson. ” ’Take him out’ could be a number of things, including kidnapping.”