USA Todayand the Washington Postlead with news that President Bush is making changes to his top military and diplomatic Iraq advisers as he prepares to announce details of his overall strategy for the war next week. The Wall Street Journal includes the staffing changes in the top spot of its worldwide newsbox but focuses on how Bush’s Iraq plan will call for a “surge” of 20,000 troops. In addition, the Bush administration plans to pump more money into Iraq to promote economic growth. The New York Timesleads with Democrats officially taking control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, where, as expected, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was elected the first female speaker of the House. After a day filled with celebration, much applause, and the usual promises of bipartisanship, the House opened the session by passing what the WP calls “the broadest ethics and lobbying revision since the Watergate era.”
The Los Angeles Timesgoes high with both the staff changes and the new Congress but leads with approximately 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops launching a “major offensive” in Diyala province, a place that has become a sort of hub for Sunni insurgents. U.S. commanders did not share details of the offensive with their Iraqi counterparts until shortly before it began, fearing the information would leak to insurgents. Regardless, it seems the insurgents were prepared for their arrival, and by the time the raids started, there were very few military-age men found in the area.
Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus will replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as commander of multinational forces in Iraq. In other military changes, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon will take over the top spot in Central Command, which controls forces in the Middle East, from Gen. John P. Abizaid. The departure of both men was expected, but as the LAT notes, announcing both at the same time is a sign of the administration’s desire to show it will be breaking from its current policies in Iraq.
Everybody notes Fallon would be the first Navy officer to serve in the top spot at Central Command. The WP says some military officials think the choice is unusual because a Navy officer would be in charge of two ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the NYT suggests it might have something to do with wanting to place greater emphasis on dealing with Iran, which would rely more on naval forces and airpower.
In diplomatic changes, Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador to Iraq, will be nominated to represent the United States at the United Nations, replacing John Bolton. Bush intends to appoint Ryan C. Crocker, who is the current ambassador to Pakistan, as the new ambassador to Iraq.
And, finally, the only staffing change that isn’t discussed by anonymous officials is the resignation of Harriet E. Miers as White House counsel. As the Post points out in a Page One story, several administration insiders concluded Miers wasn’t the right person to lead potential clashes with the new Democratic majority, who have already said they will be asking for a lot of information from the White House for oversight purposes. “The White House knew they needed to get a tough street fighter—that’s what this is about,” said a Republican adviser.
As a side note, it seems pretty clear the White House leaked all this information yesterday to steal some of the thunder from the Democrats, who would have otherwise dominated the front pages today. But none of the papers even mentions the coincidence. Perhaps it’s too obvious, but the curious timing should, at the very least, be recognized.
Sen. Harry Reid took control of the Senate, but as the WP describes it, “with the eyes of history riveted on her, it was Pelosi’s day.” Pelosi emphasized the significance of her new position: “This is an historic moment for Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years,” she said. Even Republicans recognized the historical significance of the day. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner talked about how it was the first time the gavel of the House of Representatives would be presented to a woman. “Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent, this is a cause for celebration,” Boehner said.
Everyone has a follow-up to yesterday’s revelation by the New York Daily News that President Bush had attached a “signing statement” to a postal-reform bill emphasizing the government’s authority to open U.S. mail without a warrant. The White House and the U.S. Postal Service denied the president was seeking new powers and insisted he was merely restating existing law. But some civil liberties experts are concerned the vague language of the “signing statement” could be an effort to go beyond current practices and make it easier for the government to open mail without a warrant.
The papers note an Israeli raid in Ramallah yesterday resulted in the death of four Palestinians. The unusual daylight raid came hours before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the peace process. Needless to say, the raids made their meeting a little bit uncomfortable with Mubarak declaring, “Israel’s security cannot be achieved through military force.” Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the raid “proved that the Israeli calls for peace and security are fake.”
The Post fronts newly released FBI documents that reveal the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist suffered from paranoid delusions as a side effect of a powerful sedative he started taking after an operation. He became dependent on the sedative and continued taking it during his first 10 years in the Supreme Court. The former chief justice tried to escape from a hospital, thought he heard voices, and imagined there was “a CIA plot against him.” The documents also show the FBI was used both when Rehnquist was appointed to the court and when he became its chief justice to question and investigate witnesses who were planning to testify against his confirmation.
The WSJ wonders on Page One what will happen with the U.S. Senate’s famous “candy desk,” which dates back to 1968. Sen. Rick Santorum from the candy-filled state of Pennsylvania always kept the desk full, courtesy of some of his state’s big companies, such as Hershey’s. Ethics rules forbid lawmakers from accepting gifts worth $100 or more a year from one source but there are exceptions for items from a senator’s home state. Problem is, Sen. Craig Thomas will take over the desk and he’s from Wyoming, not exactly candy central. Regardless, Thomas says “the candy desk has been my favorite for a while” and insists he’ll continue the tradition somehow.