The Washington Postleads with news that the White House has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranians who are believed to be working with Iraqi militias. President Bush approved the program last fall as part of a larger effort to prevent the spread of Iranian influence across the region. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the way in which Muqtada Sadr has been avoiding clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the past few weeks. His followers are participating in the Iraqi government and some officials from his party are even meeting with U.S. officials. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, and nobody else fronts, the latest from Lebanon, where the army has imposed a curfew in Beirut after at least three people were killed in clashes that began at a university between those loyal to the government and Hezbollah supporters. This raises concerns the Lebanese government can’t maintain any semblance of order, just as donors pledged $7.6 billion in aid to help the country rebuild.
The New York Timesleads with a look at the extent to which the Bush administration has used secrecy while defending its domestic eavesdropping program. Some lawyers and judges are starting to push back and say that much of the secrecy is unnecessary and ultimately impedes lawsuits objecting to the program from moving forward. The first appellate argument in the lawsuits challenging the program will begin Wednesday. USA Todayleads with data that show airline delays reached a record high last year. By several measures the delays seem to be higher than in 1999 and 2000, when they were so frequent that lawmakers threatened to take matters into their own hands. Planes were delayed a total of 22.1 million minutes last year.
For the past year, military officials have been detaining Iranian “agents” in Iraq and then releasing them after a few days, which the Bush administration felt didn’t go far enough. While some believe that hitting Iran hard in Iraq could dissuade the country from pursuing nuclear weapons, others believe that angering Iran would put more U.S. troops and citizens across the region at risk. There have been no known uses of the new authority, which excludes diplomats and civilians, but the military has apparently been pressured to use it more aggressively.
There are several interesting tidbits throughout the story, but the Post’s Dafna Linzer leaves one of the best for the end. Two administration officials separately compared the Iranian government to the Nazis and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to the “SS.” In addition, the officials used the term “terrorists” in talking about Guard members, which could make them targets in the “war on terror.”
Everyone seems to be skeptical as to why Sadr decided to lay off confrontation for now. Some U.S. officials fear this could all be part of a strategy to lay low while the pressure is on, but the change of tone is undeniable. One of the leaders in Sadr’s movements even endorsed President Bush’s new plan for Iraq.
Over in the Post’s op-ed page, Gary Anderson does a little role-playing and imagines how a planner with Sadr’s Mahdi Army might react to Bush’s Iraq plan. Anderson lays out a few possible courses of action, but the one he says would serve “long-term interests” involves stopping any visible attacks, and instead targeting U.S. and Iraqi troops through snipers and bombs. This would keep “our fingerprints off such operations because the Sunnis will probably do this regardless of what we do.”
The Post fronts a dispatch from Baghdad that looks at the way many Iraqis see Iran’s influence in their country differently from U.S. officials, who talk only about military involvement. The two countries have a burgeoning commercial relationship, and many citizens of both countries feel a kinship to their neighbor. “The economic power between the two countries, it’s enormous,” said Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, who refers to Americans as “the others.” (TP assumes he didn’t mean to make a reference to Lost, even if some similarities are quite striking.)
The LAT and WP front, while everyone else reefers, the latest from the Scooter Libby trial. Yesterday, Vice President Cheney’s former spokeswoman testified she told Libby that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA days before he supposedly first learned of Valerie Plame’s identity from a reporter. The former spokeswoman also revealed Cheney was in charge of the effort to discredit Wilson. The Post puts the straight news story inside butfronts a Dana Milbank column that looks at the way in which yesterday’s testimony “pulled back the curtain on the White House’s PR techniques.”
Everybody mentions Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement that the administration will ask for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan, which is more than what the Post reported yesterday.
USAT fronts an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who confessed she misses Sandra Day O’Connor and the lack of another woman on the bench makes her feel “lonely.” Ginsburg recognized that “this is how it was for Sandra’s first 12 years” but noted “neither of us ever thought this would happen again. I didn’t realize how much I would miss her until she was gone.”
The NYT fronts, and the LAT goes inside, with a new study that reveals smokers with a specific brain injury can immediately stop puffing without getting any cravings. One man described how his body “forgot the urge to smoke.” Researches hope this will help them develop more efficient treatments for smokers who want to quit.
The LAT’s Rosa Brooks * was convinced there was a secret message hidden in the State of the Union address, but she couldn’t figure it out. Then she decided to watch a Baby Einstein DVD, and it all became clear: “It was a cartoonish world of puppetry and sleight of hand, simplistic language, frequently repeated words, soothing imagery. And it meant nothing, nothing at all.”
Correction, Jan. 26: This article originally identified the writer of the Los Angeles Times column on Baby Einstein products and the State of the Union address as Ruth Marcus. The writer is Rosa Brooks. Return to the corrected sentence.