Today's Papers

Staying the Course

The Washington Post leads with word that President Bush will begin a new offensive this week to try to convince lawmakers and the public that he also wants to see a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq but not before the “surge” is given a chance to work. The New York Timesleads with what could be another part of the administration’s offensive as the U.S. ambassador and Iraqi leaders warned that if U.S. troops are withdrawn, the country would descend into chaos. Ambassador Ryan Crocker talked to the NYT about the possibility that thousands of civilians could be slaughtered as different groups fight for power. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a mixture of both Bush resisting pressure to speed up the withdrawal of troops, and the warnings from Iraqi leaders. The paper also mentions a new report that says the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing the United States $12 billion a month.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues to hurt Bush’s standing among Americans, reports USA Todayin its lead story. In a USAT/Gallup poll,the president received a record-low approval rating of 29 percent as more than half of Americans say that the increase of troops in Iraq hasn’t made a difference. More than 70 percent believe troops should come home by April, but a little more than half say that lawmakers should wait until the progress report in September before devising a new strategy. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new study that says California’s population will grow by almost 75 percent in the next 50 years to a total of almost 60 million. The Golden State’s ethnic makeup will also change, as Latinos will become the majority.

Yesterday, the NYT reported the administration was engulfed in furious debate over how to prevent more Republican lawmakers from defecting, and today the Post seems to suggest the White House has come up with new talking points. But it’s difficult to qualify it as anything except more of the same. The president will emphasize that security must come before there’s a withdrawal of troops. At that point, probably in the spring, the troops would move to more of a supporting role that will include fighting al-Qaida in Iraq. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Iraq Study Group proposed pretty much the same thing and, as has been mentioned before, military officials don’t think troop levels in Iraq could be maintained much longer than March or April.

As part of what the Post calls this new “political strategy,” Bush will outline what is described as “his vision for the post-surge.” He will urge lawmakers to not focus on this week’s report on Iraq (the WSJ talks to an official who says the report will be depressing) and instead wait for the assessment in September, which is now taking on mythical proportions that remind TP of the expectations before the Iraq Study Group released its findings. To say the least, it’s unclear whether these new talking points will have any effect on Capitol Hill as lawmakers clamor for a real change in strategy. But that is exactly what the White House won’t be offering. “Don’t expect us to lift a veil and have a whole different strategy,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi foreign minister, and other government officials, warned that a pullout of U.S. troops could lead to a civil war and the eventual collapse of the government. The minister added that a regional conflict could also break out and emphasized the point by saying that Turkey has gathered 140,000 troops near Iraq’s border to prepare for an attack against Kurdish separatists. The Post reports that State Department officials are skeptical about the 140,000 figure. Interestingly enough, the WSJ says that Turkey was the one that told the United States about the 140,000 troops.

The WP off-leads a look at some internal FBI documents that reveal Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may not have been telling the truth when, during the debate over the renewal of the Patriot Act in 2005, he confidently informed senators that there hadn’t “been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.” By that time, Gonzales had received several FBI reports that mentioned agents had broken procedure, and in some cases the law, while collecting personal information. One even mentioned violations with the use of national security letters, which was brought to light this year by the inspector general (according to the Post story at the time, an official said Gonzales “was incensed” when he found out). Justice officials are saying it’s unclear whether Gonzales read the reports.

The WSJ fronts, and everyone mentions, that President Bush invoked executive privilege yesterday in blocking the testimony of two former aides and refusing to comply with a subpoena for documents relating to the fired U.S. attorneys. The WSJ says that if this escalates into a court fight, Congress might have more to lose than Bush, especially if the charge that Democrats are more concerned with playing politics than passing laws sticks with the electorate.

The WP fronts, and the LAT and NYT reefer, news that Pakistani troops stormed the Red Mosque early this morning after negotiations with the Islamic militants who are holding hostages broke down. The offensive is still going on, and, according to early morning wire reports, at least 50 militants and eight soldiers have been killed.

A few weeks ago, the NYT reported on the country’s most expensive residential property, which is worth $135 million, but it’s now been beaten, reports the LAT. The Beverly Hills mansion that belonged to William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies was put on the market yesterday with a whopping $165 million price tag. No U.S. home has ever been sold for more than $100 million, but an expert tells the paper that “it’s only a matter of time.”