Today's Papers

Grilled Rice

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, with Capitol Hill lawmakers expressing widespread skepticism toward President Bush’s new plan for the Iraq war.  USA Today mentions the congressional opposition in its lead story, but focuses on the way the White House is planning to sell its war plan to the nation this weekend. The president will appear on CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday, and Cheney will sit for an interview on Fox News.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced tough questions from both sides of the aisle when she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. In the House of Representatives, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a slightly easier time because they got a little more support from Republicans, but they still faced widespread skepticism from lawmakers.

As could be expected, much of the criticism centered on the additional 21,500 troops Bush wants to send into Iraq. Although administration officials were careful to emphasize they see this increase as a “temporary surge,” they made sure not to give any hints that these troops would be coming back in the near future. Lawmakers also questioned whether the plan could really work at this late stage. Several were skeptical of whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will truly want to confront and disband the militias. Gates said he saw a greater willingness in Maliki to go after everyone who breaks the law with “no exceptions.” When asked about Maliki, Rice said she saw “his resolve” when they met. “I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time,” she added.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate said they will move forward with their plans to express their disapproval of Bush’s new plan through a nonbinding resolution. But they faced a new obstacle as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said he would filibuster any efforts to pass the resolution.

It isn’t clear whether McConnell’s efforts would be successful since several Republicans have joined Democrats in expressing doubts about Bush’s plan. The Post’s Dana Milbank writes on Page One that the tough questioning Rice faced on Capitol Hill made it clear the administration had “finally succeeded in uniting Congress on the war in Iraq. Unfortunately for Rice, the lawmakers were unified in opposition to President Bush’s new policy.” In effect, one of the most quoted statements from the hearings belongs to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel who told Rice: “I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.”

But whether this dissatisfaction with the plan will translate into Democratic leaders attempting to cut off funds for the war is still unclear. Some insisted they will go forward with the plans, but as the WSJ points out, the White House is betting that they won’t. “There are a lot of divisions among the democrats, and you see them tiptoeing around it because they understand the consequences of such a vote,” White House Counselor Dan Bartlett said. This sounds like a dare. Could the White House be attempting to goad Democrats into pushing the issue and thereby revealing the divisions within the party? 

While Rice and Gates were being grilled on Capitol Hill, Bush went to Fort Benning in Georgia to pitch his plan. Everyone notes that although the crowd of soldiers and family members was friendly, the president didn’t receive the roaring ovations he is used to when visiting military bases. The soldiers were not allowed to talk to the press.

The Iraqi government didn’t express much support for Bush’s plan either, says the NYT. Maliki did not show up for a news conference and did not comment on the new plan.

The LAT fronts a look at how part of the reasoning behind the extra troops is to make citizens feel safe and to secure Baghdad’s neighborhoods. But the truth is, it may be too late for many of the neighborhoods that were once mixed but have now been taken over by sectarian communities and militias.

The NYT fronts, and everyone else mentions inside, news that U.S. troops detained six Iranian diplomats during a raid on an Iranian diplomatic office in the Kurdish city of Irbil. One was later released. Three weeks ago, U.S. troops detained Iranian diplomats during raids in Baghdad. All the papers remind readers that Bush warned Iran yesterday to not interfere in Iraq. The NYT says the raid happened after Bush’s warning, while the LAT and WP say it was before. The Post goes high with a little context and gets word from U.S. officials that it is all part of “a new U.S. intelligence and military operation launched last month against Iran.” The paperalso mentions there were actually two raids yesterday, not one. The other raid took place at the Irbil airport, where U.S. troops tried to detain people but were stopped by Kurdish forces.

Everyone goes inside with John Negroponte, the departing director of national intelligence, also raising an alarm about Iran while giving his annual worldwide threat assessment before a Senate committee. Negroponte said the threat from Iran is growing, as the violence in Iraq is increasing and there is a resurgence of Shiite Islamic radicalism.

Most of the papers manage to catch late-breaking news that a rocket hit the U.S. Embassy in Athens early today. No one was injured. A police official characterized it as “an act of terrorism.”

The WP fronts word that a small group of American military personnel went into southern Somalia to see who got killed by the airstrike carried out earlier this week. It seems none of the “high-value targets” were hit, although an official said eight to 10 people who are “suspected of terrorist links” were killed. The Post notes this is the first known case of U.S. military members going into Somalia since 1994.  

The NYT and LAT front, and everyone else mentions, news that soccer star (and all-around famous person) David Beckham is moving to Los Angeles with his wife, Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham. The couple will be “injecting a fresh shot of celebrity into a city where it is a practiced art,” says the LAT. Beckham has agreed to a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which is reportedly worth around $250 million. Officials clearly hope Beckham’s star power can make Americans interested in soccer. But this tactic has been used before, to little long-term benefit. In the 1970s, the New York Cosmos hired three star players, including Pelé. It worked for a little while, and attendance at the games increased but the league went bankrupt and soccer never really gained massive appeal.