Today's Papers

Merry Sanctions!

The Washington Post leads with the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous decision to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop their enrichment of Uranium. The New York Times leads with new Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ meeting at Camp David with President Bush. The Los Angeles Times goes local, leading with an investigation into problems with California’s prison health-care system.

The resolution, three months in the making after Iran rejected the Security Council’s call for full “suspension” of nuclear activities in late August, demands that Iran stop enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel within 60 days, or else … more sanctions will follow. It freezes the assets of 10 Iranian officials and 12 companies (although the NYT vaguely notes that there is “some latitude” for assets to be easily unfrozen). The LAT points out that U.S. and European requests for a travel ban on officials associated with the nuclear program were nixed by Russia, which also will be allowed to continue work on an $800 million plant in Iran. They also succeeded in making sure a favored company was not sanctioned. Russian and Chinese spokesmen say the watered-down sanctions will hopefully not affect “legitimate business transactions.” The Iranian ambassador to the U.N. issued a lengthy rebuttal to the resolution; the NYT quotes him saying that the resolution “can only remind the Iranian people of the historical injustices this Security Council has done to them” before going off on Israel.

The NYT’s lead mainly regurgitates yesterday’s front page LAT scoop: The commanders of ground forces of Iraq, Gen. George Casey and Lt. Gen Raymond Odierno, previously skeptical of a troop increase suggested by President Bush, are “open to the possibility of some increase in force.” (The LAT scoop was written before Defense Secretary Gates met with Bush at Camp David.) Their openness is seen as a counterweight to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  Gen. John Abizaid, and Colin Powell’s recommendations against a “surge.” However, the WP—which has the better report and anonymous Pentagon sources that seem to support Gen. Casey—notes, “[I]t was unclear, however, whether Casey was genuinely supporting a buildup” or just reiterating that he would take on more troops if there was a clear strategic objective.

In other Iraq news, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the increasingly less influential Shiite cleric, refused to join a U.S.-backed alliance of Sunnis, Kurds, and “moderate” Shiites  intended to isolate the popular, powerful forces of Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr. The LAT runs a short story with the headline “Iraqis See Uses For More U.S. Troops,” revealing that much of the grudging support for the United States comes from Sunnis hoping that the United States can provide a bulwark against more powerful Shiite forces.

The papers front the first official meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert tentatively agreed to reduce some roadblacks and transfer $100 million of withheld tax money to the Palestinians (Israel currently holds $500 million) as long as Abbas could ensure it would not go through the ruling Hamas government. Abbas, whose Fatah party and Hamas have been violently feuding, recently called for new elections; Hamas, which has been cut off from funding by Israel and the United States because of its refusal to recognize Israel’s right to existence and condemn terrorist attacks, is afraid that Abbas’ call and the new Israeli confidence measures could portend an internal crackdown by Fatah.

All three papers prominently front bland, long reports on  the shadow presidential campaign of  Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. (It is the day before Christmas, TP surmises, and apparently there is no other political news.) The NYT rehashes his hype and idly speculates whether he can self-consciously live up to it, the LAT looks at his career as a Chicago ward politician, and the WP, a little bit more ecumenically, examines how Obama and Hillary Clinton’s star power is crowding out Democratic primary candidates before the campaign season even begins. Obama will make an announcement on his 2008 plans after returning from vacation in Hawaii. None of the articles breaks any ground on Obama’s policy positions or plans; all of them spend multiple paragraphs on the size of the crowds he attracts.

The WP fronts a long, sobering dispatch by Anthony Shadid from Lebanon, which recounts how the “March 14” movement following the events of Spring 2005, which seemed to hail a democratic revolution and break from Syria, “represent something else less the birth of a new country and more a border between two that coexist, suspicious, angry and unreconciled, entrenched in a terrain with almost no shared ground.”

The NYT reports that the prosecutor in the Duke rape case had known for a while that there was no DNA evidence of penetration; he just recently dropped charges of rape, but is still pressing with accusations of kidnapping and sexual assault. The NYT seems to hint he could receive professional censure for refusing to disclose.

The NYT also runs an excellent local story with national overtones: In rural New York State, old unspoken agreements between farmers and immigrant laborers are collapsing under the weight of new federal deportation raids.

The LAT notes that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the production of hydrogen-powered cars. They won’t be available until 2015.

Alone among the papers, the NYT notes that Islamist forces in Somalia—which control most of the country—have ramped up attacks on the internationally-supported official government, which is apparently receiving heavy military support from neighboring Ethiopia. According to reporter Jeffrey Gettelman,  “The Islamists vowed to turn their country into a third front of jihad, after Afghanistan and Iraq.” TP remembers an amazing investigation in June revealing that the CIA had strongly backed the losing anti-Islamist side in the Somali civil war, even when the Islamists still seemed open to engagement; what are the spooks doing now?

10,9,8,7 … The NYT ends the year with top-10 lists for movies (three of them!), Broadway, television, opera, and everything else.