Today's Papers

Here’s Looking at You, Syria

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the assassination of a prominent anti-Syrian Christian Cabinet minister in Beirut. Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s 34-year-old industry minister, was driving through a crowded street in the middle of the day when gunmen rammed him from behind and proceeded to get out and shoot him through his car’s window. USA Today reefers the news out of Lebanon and leads with the Transportation Security Administration “waging an unprecedented campaign” to inform travelers about the carry-on restrictions as they prepare for the Thanksgiving crowds. Aviation officials expect a record number of passengers to board flights from Nov. 17 through Nov. 28, and TSA wants to prevent unnecessary delays.

Gemayel’s murder is the latest in a string of assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians that have taken place since Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was killed in February 2005. News of the assassination illustrated the divisions within Lebanon’s society as some celebrated Gemayel’s death.

Now, there is growing concern this latest killing will bring the country closer to a political crisis and widespread civil unrest. The assassination happened at a time when Lebanon has been going through a political crisis, as Hezbollah has been demanding greater strength within the Cabinet. After talks failed, six politicians who are aligned with Syria and Hezbollah resigned. Adding a seventh minister who also resigned in an unrelated matter, and Gemayel’s death, everyone notes the Lebanese government is hanging on by a single member. If one more minister were to resign or be murdered, the Lebanese government would automatically collapse. The NYT says Lebanese radio reported shots were fired yesterday into the office of the minister for parliamentary affairs, who is a Greek Catholic.

The funeral will be held on Thursday, and Gemayel’s allies have asked mourners to turn out in large numbers. Before yesterday’s events, Hezbollah had vowed to take to the streets on Thursday.

Supporters were quick to blame Syria for the assassination, saying Damascus wants Lebanon to descend into chaos. “We believe the hand of Syria is all over the place,” said Saad Hariri, the son of the assassinated former prime minister. Syria denied any involvement. World leaders condemned the killing, and President Bush said Syria and Iran are trying to undermine Lebanon’s government and “foment instability and violence.” But, as the WP points out in a separate analysis piece, Bush didn’t quite blame Syria directly for the attack.

As the NYT and WSJ point out, lately the Bush administration has been facing increasing pressure to engage in talks with Syria and Iran to solve the problems in Iraq, and this latest assassination is likely to complicate matters.

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council approved a proposal to establish a tribunal that would try those accused of killing Hariri. 

Everybody notes President Bush will be traveling to Jordan next week to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. The White House was quick to talk down expectations for the trip as the national security adviser told reporters “we’re not looking for a big, bold announcement” to come out of the meeting. 

The announcement came on the same day as an apparent assassination attempt on Iraq’s parliament speaker failed inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. A bomb was planted in one of the cars in the speaker’s motorcade, but he was not inside when it exploded. The NYT says the bomb was planted inside an armored car that resembles the one the speaker uses and is often used as a decoy. The NYT also gets word from a “senior Kurdish legislator” who says Iraq’s president has accepted an invitation to meet with Syria’s president in Damascus, although no date has been set.

The NYT fronts a dispatch from Iraq reporting snipers are proving not to be as effective as initially hoped in stopping insurgents. With the war lasting as long as it has, insurgents have become familiar with the U.S. tactic of using snipers and are now careful to avoid them. Their positions are well-known, and insurgents often have local civilians who warn them when a sniper is spotted.

The WP off-leads with a report from private consultants who were hired by the Department of Homeland Security and found a wide array of problems in its contracting operations. Consultants couldn’t locate 33 of the 72 contract files they had selected to review, and many of those they did find lacked essential documents. The report, which was delivered to officials in DHS in March, is one of several complaints voiced in the past about the department’s contracting practices.

The WP notes, former Attorney General Janet Reno and seven other former Justice Department officials from different administrations, have criticized the Bush administration strategy by declaring that terrorism suspects should not be held indefinitely. The former officials filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of an alleged enemy combatant, saying if the courts don’t intervene, indefinite detentions could become commonplace. This is seen as an unusual move for Reno, who has generally avoided saying anything about her successors since she left office.

The WP and WSJ point out that the Bush administration is telling the incoming Democratic majority it wants to once again talk about Social Security with “no preconditions.” Although officials deny it, this offer is leading some to speculate that the White House would be willing to drop the requirement that workers be allowed to put some of their Social Security taxes into private accounts.

Everybody fronts or reefers news of Robert Altman’s death. Altman was often called one of America’s most original and influential movie directors. He was 81 and died of complications from cancer. Altman’s clear breakthrough was MASH, and he continued to make several notable films, including Nashville, Gosford Park, and The Player, to name a few of the 33. In evaluating his movies, the Post’s Stephen Hunter says, “at least five of them were great, at least 10 more really, really good, and only a few pretty awful.” Everyone notes he was known for his use of multilayer soundtracks, where many voices competed for attention, and his improvisational style. He was nominated for five Academy Awards and received an honorary Oscar this year. Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion, was released in June and he was scheduled to begin shooting a new movie in February.