Today's Papers

Bush Blanches

Just about everybody leads with the tentative stabs at diplomacy in the Levant war, with U.N. Chief Kofi Annan and Brit Prime Minister Tony Blair calling for an international peacekeeping force. As New York Timessays right up high, “the United States and Israel reacted skeptically.”

President Bush, of course, was caught responding in a microphone faux pas. He said Annan’s push for a cease-fire “seems odd.” Then he added, “What they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.” (Short audio file, courtesy the NYT.)

The Washington Post’s lead doesn’t put much weight on the diplomatic machinations and instead emphasizes the fighting: About 50 Lebanese were reported killed, nearly all civilians. Among the targets hit was “the Beirut-Damascus highway, along with gas stations.” Lebanon’s Daily Star has a comprehensive list of damage from the airstrikes, including 38 roads cut off and 42 bridges destroyed.

Hezbollah launched a few dozen rockets against Israeli towns and again hit Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. One rocket went 4 miles south of Haifa, the farthest hit so far. A few people were wounded; nobody was killed. The Israeli military said the number of rocket attacks is now at about 40 a day, down from 150 last week. The Wall Street Journal notices that the Israeli military said there was a gunfight when Hezbollah gunmen tried to cross the border.

The White House announced that Secretary of State Rice will head to the region “at some point in the future,” as a State Department spokesman put it. Slate’s Fred Kaplan counters that the president needs to “drop the moral posturing; resume diplomatic relations (not the same thing as friendship) with all parties; ‘get on the phone with Assad’ himself (don’t leave it to Annan, whose leverage is limited); and get Condi on that plane.”

As the Los Angeles Times emphasizes, Tehran made vague calls for a cease-fire, and the ever-helpful Syria promised to mediate. For its part, Israel also seemed to drop a demand that Hezbollah disarm and disappear, instead saying Hezbollah needs to pull back from the border and hand over the kidnapped soldiers. As for the proposed peacekeeping contingent, there has been a small U.N. force on the border for nearly 30 years—and a lot of good they’ve done.

The LAT and Journal both point out the key role Syria could play, with the LAT saying Syria could put the kibosh on Hezbollah, first by simply telling them to cool it, then if necessary by cutting off Hezbollah’s supply route. The Journal suggests Syria could be enticed with an offer of economic incentives, aka bribes. The “reality for the U.S. is there is no end game unless you sit down and talk with the bad guys,” said one analyst. “And so the choice is between Damascus or Tehran.”

Always thinking outside the box, the NYT editorial page ponders the crisis and endorses diplomacy. Then the paper moves on to impart its wisdom on how we as nation should respond to … the heat wave and full-blowing ACs: “The rule for dressing in this weather is to wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and carry a heavy sweater.”(The NYT: Views you can use!)

Everybody notes that the U.S. is going to begin evacuating citizens via a cruise ship to Cyprus. The LAT says that before they board citizens have to sign a contract promising to pay the government back for the evacuation. Alone among the papers, the LAT claims, as its headline puts it, “U.S. RESCUE BOGS DOWN IN LEBANON.” (The paper’s evidence for that seems thin; it’s based mostly on citizens who’ve had a hard time getting hold of the embassy.) 

Only the Post and NYT front a massacre in a town just south of Baghdad in which gunmen moved through a Shiite-dominated marketplace and killed about 50 people. “They did not spare anyone,” said one local cop. “Not the children. Not the elderly. The Iraqi army did not interfere.” (Residents complained that nearby GIs didn’t intervene, either.) The LAT catches late-breaking word of another 45 people killed in a car bombing in another Shiite-dominated town just south of Baghdad. Three GIs were also reported killed in separate attacks.

A piece inside the Post mentions in passing that an Iraqi official said 628 people were killed in Baghdad last week, “a figure that far exceeded the numbers previously suggested by news reports.” The story also details just how complete the breakdown has been in Baghdad the last week: In some neighborhoods, people haven’t been able to go out and buy food. Meanwhile, some residents have reportedly “sold off their furniture to buy AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition.” In a day of stiff competition, this is today’s most sobering story.

The NYT notices that followers of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr boycotted the Iraqi parliament yesterday. “It’s become obvious that the occupation forces are responsible for the devastation taking place in our country,” said a legislator from Sadr’s bloc. Sadr has been threatening to attack U.S. forces as a solidarity move with Hezbollah.

Only the Journal seems to flag news that the Taliban seized two towns in southern Afghanistan and “forced police and government officials to flee.”

As of the early morning hours, about 300 people were reported killed by the tsunamithat hit the south coast of Indonesia’s main island, Java; another 160 were missing. The U.S. issued a tsunami alert 15 minutes after the underground earthquake that created the wave, but Indonesia hasn’t installed such a system yet.

The WP off-leads a fine program approved by the president back in 2002 meant to compensate ranchers who’ve faced droughts. Ranchers don’t have to prove they were actually affected by drought. And, go figure, it seems plenty of them weren’t.

The WP goes inside with a Democratic House report concluding that 20 of 23 federally funded “pregnancy resource centers” gave bogus info, telling callers (Democratic staffers) that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer and infertility.

Another piece inside the Post says Justice Department investigators backed up the claim by the FBI’s highest-ranking Arabic speaker that he was blacklisted after he complained of being cut out of counterterrorism programs.

Finally, the Post’sE.J. Dionne flags an interesting proposal for Israel by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit:

[T]he war should be started over: Hold fire. Declare a unilateral cease-fire for 72 hours. Make the international community responsible for resolving the problem of the northern border by nonviolent means within that period. Make it clear that Israel is not an unthinking bully that lashes out in every direction, but rather a responsible, orderly country, which is demanding that a zealous terrorist organization be removed from its border, that it stop threatening the lives of Israel’s citizens and that it release the soldiers it kidnapped entirely unprovoked from Israel’s sovereign territory.