USA Todayand the New York Timeslead with the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, telling Congress a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq in the next six months is not a good idea because it would only increase sectarian violence, and discourage Iraqis from taking control over their country. The general’s views didn’t sit well with Democrats and some Republicans who have been advocating for significant changes in Iraq policy. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with word the administration doesn’t appear to be taking all the talk of bipartisanship to heart, as it resubmitted six judicial nominees who had already been deemed too conservative by Democrats.
The Washington Postleads locally but goes high with analysts who believe civil war has already begun in Iraq and now worry that a continuation of sectarian violence could spark several regional conflicts. If Iraq falls deeper into chaos, it would encourage neighboring countries to go in and fight as well. “The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body,” one analyst said. The Los Angeles Times alsoleads locally with news that hospital giant Kaiser Permanente was charged with dropping off homeless patients on skid row. Kaiser is the first, but there are currently 10 hospitals under investigation for the practice.
During the hearings, General Abizaid said he was hopeful Iraq could still be brought under control. The general admitted publicly for the first time there should have been more U.S. troops on the ground right after the invasion. “I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable,” he declared. At this point, he would recommend neither an increase nor a decrease of troops, although he did emphasize the need to increase the U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces. To that end, Abizaid said the number of American advisers to work with Iraqi units needs to increase.
The first hearing on Iraq after last week’s Congressional elections that centered on that very issue made for some good political theater, the NYT says in a standalone Page 1 story, and everyone else mentions. Democrats made their presence felt in the room, while Republicans kept with usual practice for members of Congress of coming in and out of the hearing as they saw fit. The political angle to the hearings was also emphasized by the presence of Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton, two presumptive presidential contenders who grilled the general in order to make sure their views were heard. But the general disagreed with both of them on some key issues. At one point, Sen. Clinton blankly told Abizaid, “Hope is not a method.” And the general replied, “I would also say that despair is not a method.”
One point in which all of Iraq’s neighbors seem to agree on, according to the WP, is the chaos and high number of killings that would result if the United States decides to pull out quickly and divide the country into three separate regions. If full-scale civil war breaks out, a Syrian analyst says, other countries will not hesitate to get involved, “Iran will get involved, Turkey will get involved, Saudi Arabia, Syria.”
According to a Page 1 article in the LAT,some Iranian leaders are questioning whether a quick withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would be good for the region. Although officially Iran’s government has always been opposed to the presence of American troops in Iraq, some analysts are starting to see a change in attitude among some who believe a too-fast withdrawal could bring chaos to the region.
The NYT and WP go inside with the latest from the mass kidnapping in Iraq, where there are still several unanswered questions. It is still not clear who the kidnappers were or what their motives were. There continues to be disparities in the numbers of how many were kidnapped and released. The government’s spokesman said 39 people had been kidnapped and all but two released. Meanwhile, the WP reports a spokesman for the minister of higher education said approximately 70 out of the as many as 150 victims had been released.
The U.S. military announced yesterday that six U.S. troops were killed in Iraq on Tuesday.
The NYT fronts, and the WP reefers, news that Republican senators elected Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi * to the post of minority whip. This surprising comeback takes place four years after Lott was forced out of the Senate leadership because of some comments that many interpreted to mean he supported segregation. “We all believe in redemption,” Sen. McCain declared after the election. Lott managed to beat out Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee by one vote. According to the Post’s Dana Milbank, Lott “broke down in tears as he thanked his colleagues for welcoming him back from the wilderness.” As was expected, GOP senators also elected Mitch McConnell as their minority leader.
As incoming House Democrats prepare to choose their leaders today, the Post fronts and the NYT goes inside with more members of the party saying the bitter election campaign for the House leadership is strongly, and unnecessarily, dividing them. Everyone seems shocked that Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi is fighting so hard for Rep. John P. Murtha to take the majority leader post. Pelosi is allegedly calling members into her office to discuss committee assignments, and promptly mentioning how she wants Murtha to get the position. For his part, Murtha didn’t help his cause when he derided an ethics bill as “total crap.”
Creating all of this bitter division before they even come to office has left members of both parties “straining to understand Ms. Pelosi’s strategy,” says the NYT. The Post, however, emphasizes that this shows the deep animosity Pelosi holds toward Murtha’s rival, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, whom she has known for more than 40 years.
The LAT fronts word that both candidates for House majority leader have long traditions of earmarking, and hold close relationships with corporate interests. According to a watchdog group, Murtha obtained $121 million in earmarks during the current session of Congress. For his part, Hoyer was responsible for sending $61.7 million to his district, which put him among the top 10 percent of earmarkers in the House. As could be expected, much of this money benefited companies that were also campaign contributors.
The House is not the only place where the Democrats are fighting, says the NYT. “The Democrats are celebrating their big victory of Nov. 7 with recriminations, finger-pointing and infighting,” writes Adam Nagourney. Some strategists are saying Howard Dean, the party’s chairman, could have won more seats in the House if he had just put more money into races. Others say Dean isn’t getting enough credit, and even the bloggers are complaining they’re not being recognized for all their work.
The NYT and WSJ front, and all the other papers mention in the business section, news that U.S. Airways made a surprise $8.67 billion hostile takeover bid for Delta Air Lines. The WSJ sees this as a sign “that the long-predicted frenzy of consolidation among U.S. airlines may have begun.” If the deal does go through, it would create the biggest American airline.
Better late … When the NYT published an obituary about Isadore Barmash, a retired business reporter for the paper, it incorrectly wrote the name of a department store. “It was Gimbels, not Gimbel’s,” reads a correction in today’s paper. But wait, this wasn’t the first time this error occurred: “Gimbels, which closed in 1986, has been referred to correctly in The Times more than 500 times since 1980 and incorrectly more than 120 times; this is the first time the error has been corrected.”