Today's Papers

Iraq to the Drawing Board

The New York Times leads with Democrats in Congress vowing to heighten their oversight of U.S. policy in Iraq now that they’re in the majority. The Los Angeles Times leads with a broader look at the momentum towards shifting policy in Iraq, which could include withdrawing troops and engaging Iran and Syria to get support for U.S. policy.

The Wall Street Journal also tops its world-wide newsbox with a wrapup of the Iraq policy changes afoot. The Washington Post leads with Congressional Democrats making an overhaul of the Alternative Minimum Tax their top budget priority; they say the tax has increased taxes for too many middle class Americans.

President Bush met with Democratic Senate leaders in the White House on Friday, the day after he did the same with the new House leaders. After the meeting, Harry Reid, the Nevadan who will become majority leader when the new Congress convenes, said Iraq will be “the first order of business,” according to the NYT. Carl Levin of Michigan, soon to be the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will push for a stricter timetable on when U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Iraq. And Joe Biden of Delaware, who will take the helm of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wants an international conference on Iraq, similar to the Dayton talks that led to a peace agreement in Bosnia.

The Post fronts, and the NYT stuffs, the Pentagon undergoing its own reevaluation of its strategy for Iraq. The NYT includes details of a military team that has been working since September to look at fresh options for the U.S. in Iraq; the panel includes some of the military’s top thinkers on counterinsurgency such as Col. H.R. McMaster, who became a media darling for his innovative operations in Tell Afar, Iraq. (Incidentally, the Post runs a dispatch from Tall Afar and finds that most of Col. McMaster’s progress in the former insurgent stronghold has held even several months after he left.)

The LAT emphasizes the role that the Iraq Study Group will play in whatever changes may come to the U.S. policy on Iraq. The group is dominated by centrists and its recommendations, which could be released this month, will likely hold great sway in the new bipartisan atmosphere. Robert Gates, Bush’s nominee to be defense secretary, is being replaced in that group by Lawrence Eagleburger, another Bush I-era realist who has been critical of Bush II’s Iraq strategy.

The White House, however, doesn’t want to abandon every unpopular foreign policy move it’s made. The administration is looking at ways to keep John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. even though there aren’t enough votes in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to confirm him, the NYT reports, citing a senior administration official. Options include appointing him to an ad hoc position that would act as de facto ambassador but wouldn’t require confirmation, or giving him another recess appointment. In the latter case he couldn’t get paid, but the administration is looking into whether someone else could pay him. The NYT dryly notes: “Obviously, doing that will anger Democrats, the official said. ‘But we’ll see.’”

The Alternative Minimum Tax mainly affects upper-middle class people in big, expensive cities – who, by coincidence, happen to strong Democratic supporters, the Post notes. Getting rid of the tax would cost $1 trillion over ten years, and the Democrats have yet to say what their plan for replacing that income would be. One option would be not extending the Bush tax cuts but Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat in line to head the House Ways and Means Committee, has declined to say whether that is on the table.

There are still nine House races where the results are too close to call, notes an AP report that the Post carries inside. Seven of the races involve Republican incumbents and the Democratic challenger has the lead in one of them.

Remember when Pakistan’s government made peace with the Islamist extremists on the border with Afghanistan? After huge attacks from each side over the last two weeks, that deal is over, the Post reports on the front page. “I am afraid we are on a war course in the tribal areas,” a senior Pakistani military official says.

The LAT Column One feature is a great one, about an ex-Marine who is still crippled with shame by his father’s desertion from the military in World War II. He’s campaigning to get his father pardoned, and to restore the family name he’s trying to convince the Marines to let him reenlist and go to Iraq. He’s 60 years old. It’s a heartbreaking story and a must-read.

Also in the news… Democrats in Congress may halt the momentum towards free trade, the Journal reports. The U.S. and Russia have signed a deal that would allow Moscow to join the World Trade Organization, the Journal, among other papers, says. John McCain is set to form an exploratory committee to look at running for president in 2008, the NYT says. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. could be a key cabinet member in a more bipartisan-oriented White House; he’s also working on an innovative China policy, the NYT reports on the front page. Democrats made significant gains among religious voters in the midterm elections, the Post finds. Asian-Americans have a harder time getting into elite universities than equally qualified students of other races and federal officials are looking into whether it amounts to discrimination, the Journal says.

A Houston landscaper has discovered that refusing to serve gay customers is good business, the NYT reports. After telling a gay couple in an email that “We choose not to work for homosexuals,” the family-owned landscaper was bombarded with angry emails and so many phone calls that the owners had to change their phone number. But they lost only two clients, totaling about $500 a year. And after the story was picked up in the Houston Chronicle, they easily made up for it, picking up $40,000 in new business in two weeks.