Today's Papers

Surprise Layover

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with President Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq’s Anbar province, where he said that a drawdown of U.S. troops is possible but did not specify any kind of timeline. The president emphasized that “those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground – not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians.” During his time in Iraq, Bush met with several Iraqi and U.S. officials, including Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who will probably point to the teaming up with Sunni tribes in Anbar as one of the success stories of the “surge.” 

USA Todayleads with a look at how the FBI has been falling far behind in updating its DNA database with new samples. Almost 85 percent of the samples the bureau has collected since 2001, which amounts to the “DNA from nearly 200,000 convicted criminals,” has not gone into the database and the backlog keeps growing.

Bush’s visit to Iraq was shrouded in secrecy and he spent approximately eight hours in the country before continuing with his scheduled trip to Australia. He was joined by other top administration officials, and as everyone points out, Bush never left the fortified base. USAT notes that meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Sunni country might have been designed as “a slight to al-Maliki,” whom many consider to be running a sectarian government.

More likely though, Anbar was chosen because it’s seen as the clearest place where some success has been evident. But Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert, tells the NYT that Anbar isn’t really exemplary of a successful American strategy since any progress there has more to do with the local frustration with al-Qaida in Iraq. Although Bush tried to bring both sides together yesterday, there is clearly still distrust between the Shiite central government and the Sunnis as many doubt the Anbar model can be exported to other areas.

But that is exactly what the new U.S. strategy in Iraq has become, reports the WSJ in a Page One piece. The paper says that “after almost four years of trying to build Iraq’s central government in Baghdad” the United States has concluded that “what appears to work best in the divided country is just the opposite.” In other words, the United States is increasingly trying to prop up local leaders and the WSJ suggests this might amount to dividing the country into different areas, a strategy that sounds a lot like the “soft partition” that several Democrats have been advocating for some time. The thinking is that the United States should worry a bit less about the central government and hope that the country will remain united in the long run because local leaders will still depend on Baghdad for money.

And, wait a minute, isn’t that a strategy shift from the stated goals of the “surge” that was supposed to give some breathing room for politicians in Baghdad so they could make progress and create a model democracy in the Middle East? The “big change in the debate has come about because the surge failed, and it failed in an unexpected way,” points out the NYT’s David Brooks (subscription required) who says there is now a consensus that “peace will come to the center last, not to the center first.”

Both the WP and LAT check in on how the troop buildup is going and ask whether the surge is working. Short answer: no. The LAT goes through the depressing data: There’s been little political progress, the number of Iraqis forced to leave their home has increased, there’s been no significant drop in civilian deaths, and a new troubling trend has emerged of intra-Shiite killings. The best the LAT and WP can say is that things are sort of stable because neighborhoods have become more segregated, and there is a heightened presence of U.S. troops.

Meanwhile, the WP notes U.S. troops can’t trust many in the Iraqi army, which has been infiltrated by Shiite militias. And, to make matters worse, many of the Sunnis joining forces with the United States used to be insurgents and have a strong distrust of the Shiite government. No one really knows if they could ever really work together  if U.S. troops leave.

USAT fronts a good look at how members of Congress have often been responsible for pressuring the Defense Department to provide better equipment, such as body armor, for troops in Iraq. Despite assurances from the Pentagon that they were doing everything they could, things always ended up moving faster once a lawmaker got involved. Proving that the often-derided earmarks can serve an important purpose, the paper notes that lawmakers sometimes used the tactic to get some supplies to troops in the war zone.

To counter claims made in Robert Draper’s new book, Dead Certain,that the Iraqi army was disbanded without the administration’s knowledge, Bush’s envoy, L. Paul Bremer, gave the NYT a copy of a letter he sent to the president where the topic was mentioned. But truth be told, talk of dissolving the Iraqi army amounts to a small section in a long letter and it’s not even clear whether the president understood what Bremer was telling him. By all accounts, it seems the decision was made without consulting some of the nation’s top military officials. (This week, Slate is publishing three exclusive excerpts from Dead Certain).

The Post points out that studies show the more a myth is talked about, even if it’s to debunk it, the more people remember it as fact. This could go a long way to explaining, for example, why many still believe Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

The LAT reports on rumors that Google might be announcing the release of a new cell phone, “cheekily dubbed the GPhone.” No one knows if it even exists, but talk about the possible device has been increasing lately as many believe it “will be an iPhone killer.”