Today's Papers

Pushing Back

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, with President Bush appearing to reject the main suggestions offered by the Iraq Study Group. And he wasn’t alone. On the day after the report was released, U.S. lawmakers and officials, as well as foreign leaders, reacted skeptically to the committee’s recommendations.

USA Today leads with figures that show the number of reservists and members of the National Guard who claimed that they suffered negative consequences at their civilian jobs after returning from duty increased approximately 30 percent since 2002. In the fiscal year 2006, the Labor Department received 1,548 complaints from service members. Complaints vary, but reservists and National Guard members are sometimes fired, reassigned, or lose benefits after they go back to their civilian jobs. The paper emphasizes that the figures don’t reflect the extent of the problem because many cases are resolved before reaching the Labor Department.

At a news conference held with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush greatly reduced the already low expectations that he would implement two of the main ideas put forward by the ISG: combat troop withdrawal by early 2008 and one-on-one talks with Iran and Syria. “I don’t think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation,” Bush said. But, in fact, as the NYT and WP note, that is exactly the opposite of what Baker and Hamilton said when they expressed hope that their plan would be adopted whole.

At the news conference, Bush sort of admitted that things in Iraq perhaps aren’t going as well as planned when he answered a reporter’s question by saying, “You wanted frankness—I thought we would succeed quicker than we did. … And I am disappointed by the pace of success.” The plan is now for Bush to receive the other reviews of the Iraq situation from the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council and then make an announcement about “the way forward” before Christmas.

President Bush once again talked about Iraq as part of a global struggle and described it as an essential fight to spread freedom and build “societies based on liberty” in the Middle East.

In the Senate, lawmakers questioned James Baker and Lee Hamilton on whether their recommendations for Iraq are truly feasible. Democratic senators wondered whether it was truly practical to think that Iran and Syria would be willing to help the United States. Sen. John McCain was the most skeptical when he questioned the commission’s decision not to recommend more troops. As the Post notes, Baker and Hamilton recognized the risks of their recommendations but “essentially said no one else had a better idea.” Hamilton also chastised Congress for not acting more forcefully to solve the problems in Iraq.

Baker asked that Congress accept the report in full and tried to dissuade its members from treating “this like a fruit salad and say, ‘I like this but I don’t like that.’ ” They hoped lawmakers would endorse the report and use it to pressure Bush, but that seems unlikely, particularly with comments like that of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who criticized the ISG recommendations and described them as “devoid of any basis in reality” because they can’t be carried out.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized the report and disagreed with an “attempt to create a linkage between the Iraqi issue and that of the Middle East.” But Palestinian leaders praised the report and said it could be a chance to bring back the peace process. 

The LAT fronts a look at how conservatives have been strongly criticizing many of the ISG’s findings. Rush Limbaugh referred to the commission as the Iraq Surrender Group, and other conservative media outlets spent yesterday disagreeing with the group’s recommendations, particularly referring to its calls to engage in talks with Iran and Syria. 

In Iraq, the U.S. military said another service member was killed on Wednesday, which brings the total number of troop deaths on that day to 11. Another U.S. soldier was killed yesterday in Anbar province.

The LAT goes inside with a dispatch from Baghdad, where, in search of a missing American soldier, U.S. and Iraqi special-forces units are going into Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that were previously off-limits. The paper says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has “shown a new willingness to confront paramilitary forces” but going into places dominated by the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to Muqtada Sadr, could raise tensions. “Before we had to tippy-toe around these areas, now we can go in there as we like to search for our missing soldier,” a U.S. military commander said.

The LAT fronts, and the rest go inside with, the latest from the investigation into the death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was buried in London yesterday. Russian news agency Interfax reported that a Russian businessman, who is considered an important witness and possible suspect, went into a coma at a hospital in Moscow. His lawyer denied the reports. As the radiation’s reach continues to expand, seven bartenders at a hotel in London tested positive for radioactive contamination, and authorities have invited other customers to get tested.  

Everybody notes Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed that his followers would continue to populate the streets of Beirut until there is a change in Lebanon’s government. But he insisted Hezbollah is not looking to start a new civil war and urged his followers to avoid confrontations in the streets.

The Post off-leads a look at how a multibillion-dollar plan to modernize the Coast Guard’s fleet has been, in many respects, a failure. Congressional testimony as well as reports by the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security have pointed to the great flexibility officials granted the contractors of the $24-billion program. Of particular concern seems to be the lack of patrol boats available to the Coast Guard as it prepares for a likely mass exodus of Cubans once Fidel Castro dies.

All the papers point out Hewlett-Packard has agreed to pay $14.5 million to settle a lawsuit by the California attorney general, who accused the company of unfair business practices when it spied on journalists and its board members. The settlement does not affect the criminal charges against former HP Chairwoman Patricia C. Dunn and four others.

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, that the nominations were announced for the 49th annual Grammy Awards. Everybody notes R&B singer Mary J. Blige led the pack with eight nominations. The LAT is the only paper to dig a little deeper into the list of nominees and says that for the first time in six years, there are no rap artists in the top categories, such as album of the year or best new artist. This “caps a fairly miserable year for the rap scene,” says the paper. 

Don’t tell Mitch McConnell … In the Post’s Page One Coast Guard story, Sen. Trent Lott is identified as “the incoming minority leader.” Lott is the incoming minority whip.