Today's Papers

Cut and Run

The New York Times leads on White House plans to reduce troop levels in Iraq by 50 percent next year in a bid to shift the debate away from a specific exit deadline and towards a broader discussion of America’s role in the region. The Washington Post leads, and the LA Times off-leads, on claims that during the buildup to war the White House ignored repeated warnings from intelligence agencies about the risks involved. The Wall Street Journalheads its worldwide newsbox, the NYT and the LAT tease, and the WP stuffs news that Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is back in Iraq. The LAT leads on claims that Iran’s efforts to gain nuclear weapons have led up to a dozen other Middle Eastern countries to seek nuclear technology.

The White House is developing “concepts” for drastically reducing troop levels in Iraq once the surge strategy has run its course, according to senior administration officials. The proposals, apparently developed with the backing of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but without the involvement of US military commanders, would see troop numbers fall to 100,000 by the time of the 2008 election, with a new focus on training Iraqi forces and fighting Al Qaeda. “The current level of forces aren’t sustainable in Iraq, they aren’t sustainable in the region, and they will be increasingly unsustainable here at home,” said one official involved in the discussions. America’s top ground commander in Iraq warned that any US pullback would have to be conducted slowly and carefully.

The Democrat-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday reported that in early 2003 US intelligence agencies warned that invading Iraq would risk sparking sectarian violence, aiding Al Qaeda’s operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan and increasing Iran’s regional influence. Analysts also told the White House that military action “probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups”. The Senate committee’s chairman said the warnings “were widely distributed at the highest levels of government, and it’s clear that the administration didn’t plan for any of them.” Meanwhile Moktada al-Sadr, the populist Shiite cleric who heads the Mahdi Army, is back in Iraq after a lengthy stay in Iran; speaking at a mosque in Kufa, he demanded the speedy withdrawal of US troops and called for unity between Shiite and Sunni factions. The deaths of seven more US soldiers were announced  Friday, bringing the total for May to nearly 100.

Israel continued to pound Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip yesterday, launching airstrikes on at least eight locations. The NYT teases the story, noting that one of the attacks struck close to the home of the Palestinian prime minister. At least 38 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began nine days ago.

Both the NYT and the WP front reports on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ties to Vinod Gupta, a CEO whose shareholders say he used company money to “ingratiate himself” with the pair. Gupta paid Bill Clinton more than two million dollars in consulting fees, and spent $900,000 to fly the former president and his wife around the world; the case illustrates how successfully the former president leveraged his elite donors once he left the White House - and the extent to which Hillary has been able to tap into the same network. Meanwhile the LAT picks over two new Hillary Clinton biographies, but finds little that’s likely to impact on her chances in 2008.

All the papers ponder the implications of the war spending measure, which Bush finally signed yesterday, for the 2008 presidential candidates. The NYT and the LAT report on GOP attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom voted against the spending measure. The WSJ accuses Hillary Clinton of political opportunism.

The WP fronts news that the new immigration bill currently under debate would do away with the “genius visas” that give talented aliens a fast-track route to US citizenship. The new regulations would send top academics, artists and sports stars through the same process as everyone else; a Nobel prize would count for less than a two-year degree.

There’s more trouble brewing for Alberto Gonzales; the WP and the LAT both report that the Justice Department weighed political allegiances in appointing more than two dozen new immigration judges, many of whom had little previous experience of immigration law. The practice potentially violates civil service laws, and apparently pre-dates the tenure of former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling.

The WP and the NYT report that Bush negotiators snubbed German calls for deep long-term cuts in levels of greenhouse gases ahead of next month’s G8 meeting, citing the US’s “fundamental opposition” to the German position.

After a former Tour de France winner admitted doping yesterday, the NYT reports on the peloton of pro racers who have confessed using performance-enhancing drugs in recent weeks.

The WP reports that the prosecutor who won the conviction of “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak case wants him to be sentenced to more than three years behind bars. The NYT notes that Libby’s attorneys hope to persuade Bush to grant a pardon.

With Americans turning away from sticky sodas in favor of quirkier non-carbonated drinks, both the WSJ and the NYT eye Coke’s $4.1bn purchase of Glacéau, the manufacturer of VitaminWater. “Growth in the beverage industry isn’t going to come from tiny bubbles,” said one analyst.

The NYT profiles Iran’s departing UN ambassador, who despite being forbidden to travel more than 25 miles from Columbus Circle rose to become one of Tehran’s most influential advocates in the United States.