Today's Papers

Lethal Weapon

The Washington Post leads with the flagging efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency to pursue polluters. But the paper devotes most of its front page to the first in a series of articles examining the U.S. military’s effort to combat improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Los Angeles Times leads with Gen. David Petraeus saying that the Iraqi government has secured a pledge from Iran to cut off support for the insurgency in Iraq. The New York Times leads with a look at how a recent boom in ethanol production has led to depressed prices for the biofuel.

Since early 2003, more than 81,000 IED attacks have occurred in Iraq, killing or wounding 21,000 Americans. (IEDs are responsible for nearly two-thirds of American deaths in Iraq.) This leads the Post to claim that the roadside bomb “has become the signature weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan, as iconic as the machine gun in World War I or the laser-guided ‘smart bomb’ in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.” Yet the high-tech Pentagon has struggled to develop countermeasures, as insurgents adjust the way they use this crude and cheap weapon. Or, as one officer recently put it, “The Flintstones are adapting faster than the Jetsons.”

This may come as a shock, but the Post says that the war planners gave “little thought … to roadside bombs as a serious obstacle” in Iraq. Moreover, there were no plans for securing the thousands of munitions caches that have kept the bombmakers stocked with explosives. But hey, what’s past is past right? Once military leaders became aware of the IED threat, they began a “costly and frustrating struggle” against the weapon. The early efforts in this struggle make up the bulk of the Post’s Part One coverage. (There’s an intro as well.) It’s not the most exciting read, but it does provide a unique look at how the lumbering military is trying to adapt on the fly to tactics it didn’t anticipate.

The WP notes that the number of IED attacks in Iraq has declined recently, and the LAT may have the reason why. According to Iraqi officials, Iran promised to step up its policing of the border between the two countries. But Gen. Petraeus says Nouri al-Maliki told him the deal goes much further: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged to “stop the flow of weapons, the training, the funding and the directing of these militia extremists that have been such a huge problem … for Iraq.” If Petraeus is right, isn’t that an admission of guilt on the part of Iran? That would be out of character.

Petraeus also told the LAT that al-Qaida in Iraq—he leaves off the “in Iraq” part—has produced a “Ramadan surge” in violence. Meanwhile, another mysterious foe has been stalking American troops.

Thanks in large part to generous government subsidies, the ethanol industry has rapidly expanded in recent years. But the NYT says the market is now facing a glut of the fuel, “in part because the means to distribute it have not kept pace.” And just as the government helped cause the problem, it is primed to make it worse. If prices for ethanol continue to fall, what are the presidential candidates going to tell Iowa voters? Probably that more help is on the way.

The NYT fronts a look at Fred Thompson’s eight years in the Senate. After reviewing his archived papers and interviewing his former aides, the Times says Thompson “brought a lawyer’s sensibility to his deliberations” and “displayed little enthusiasm for divisive battles over … issues that motivate religious Republican primary voters.” Those may sound like appealing qualities, but such nonpartisanship isn’t going to fly in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. So, as the NYT delicately puts it, Thompson “is now refining some of his earlier positions in a way that better reflects his party’s base.” This graphic outlining his flip-floppery would make Mitt Romney blush.

In other political news, Newt Gingrich has decided against running for president in 2008. John McCain would prefer a Christian president to a Muslim one. And Republicans are still trying to run the stubborn Larry Craig out town.

The president of Duke University apologized  Saturday for not doing a better job of supporting the men’s lacrosse players falsely accused of rape last year.

special U.N. envoy arrived in Myanmar Saturday to hold talks with the military government.

Turning to Eastern Europe, Ukraine will hold a parliamentary election tomorrow that is likely to result in more squabbling between the major parties. The NYT has an interesting piece on the country’s prime minister, who has reinvented himself after trying to steal the 2004 presidential election. But that article is overshadowed by a fascinating front-page report on Chechnya, which is experiencing a revival of sorts. Juxtaposed photos from 1995 and 2007 show that Grozny, the capital, has literally “reappeared from the rubble.” The Times says it has rebounded “more swiftly than European cities revived by the Marshall Plan.” The government is even thinking up ways to lure tourists.

According to the Times, Chechnya’s turnaround is the result of a two-stage Russian strategy—”extraordinary violence, followed by extraordinary investment”—that is currently headed up by the republic’s president, the thuggish Ramzan Kadyrov. Despite his “chilling” human rights record, Kadyrov has gained popular support by doggedly pursuing reconstruction. TP wonders if there are any lessons here for America in regards to Iraq. There may be, but the second half of the Times piece lays out the myriad problems that Chechnya still faces. One of those problems is that in Grozny “a few buildings have been rebuilt on the outside only, and remain ruins inside or only partly finished.” Perhaps they are symbolic of the republic as a whole.