All the papers lead with President Bush’s prime-time speech where, as expected, he said an improved security situation in Iraq would lead to a small withdrawal of troops at the pace that had already been outlined by Gen. David Petraeus earlier in the week. In Bush’s first announcement of a withdrawal since the invasion, he said the goal would be to reduce the number of Army combat brigades in Iraq from 20 to 15 by mid-July. Bush recognized the U.S. role in Iraq would last “beyond my presidency” but emphasized that “the more successful we are, the more American troops can return home.” He called this new stage of the Iraq conflict, “Return on Success.” Democrats were quick to criticize the plan, saying that it merely continues a failed strategy and doesn’t provide enough of a withdrawal.
The New York Timespoints out that Bush didn’t utter the word withdrawal once in his speech, which “noted positive developments … while leaving out the grim realities of life in the shadow of death, without basic regular electricity or other services.” The Washington Postnotes the White House has tried to downplay the report it will send to Congress today that will say there has been “satisfactory” progress on nine of the 18 benchmarks, which is just one more than in July. USA Todayhighlights the fact that Bush didn’t actually mention any numbers and it’s unclear whether all combat and support troops that were part of the “surge” will be coming home.The Los Angeles Timesnotes debate will continue next week as the Senate takes up the defense authorization bill. In many ways, Bush’s real audience were moderate Republican lawmakers, some of whom have expressed doubts about the president’s plan. Bush tried to appeal to them last night by “insisting … the administration now wants an approach in Iraq that will have appeal in the political center,” says the Wall Street Journal.
The LAT fronts an analysis piece describing how Bush used to say “victory” to describe his objective for Iraq. Now, it has been “replaced by a slightly more ambiguous goal: ‘Success.’ ” Although Bush still spoke about how Iraq is vital to America’s security, the fact remains that most Americas don’t think “victory” is possible and even Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker “described more modest goals” earlier this week. In a piece inside, the NYT also notices the vocabulary shift and says Bush’s speech “once again raised the question of what America’s mission in Iraq really is–and how long it will last.”
USAT points out that, despite previous promises to the contrary, “the commitment sounded open-ended” yesterday.
TP complained on Wednesday that the papers weren’t being consistent about reminding readers that, unless the length of deployments were increased, most troops that were part of the buildup would have to come home by September anyway. Today, all the papers mention that fact numerous times. Everyone makes a point of saying how Bush’s view of Iraq was particularly upbeat and the NYT says that at times, the president’s assessment “seemed even rosier than General Petraeus’s did.” The WP publishes a fact check piece inside and says the president frequently made assertions that “contradicted recent government reports or his own words.”
The NYT has a separate story explaining why it’s still unclear how many troops will actually be coming home, and how, even after the drawdown, there might be more American troops in Iraq than before the “surge.” Part of the reason has to do with how a brigade doesn’t have an exact number of soldiers, so five brigades could mean different things. And, as a source tells the paper, Petraeus “won’t necessarily be taking out the exact five brigades that surged.”
In an editorial, the NYT says it’s clear from last night’s speech that Bush “has no strategy to end his disastrous war and no strategy for containing the chaos he unleashed.” The Post agrees with the NYT that Bush wasn’t entirely truthful with the American people, but ultimately says that the plan he laid out is “preferable to a more rapid withdrawal,” which would lead to greater bloodshed.
The Post notes that, in a meeting with its reporters and editors, Gen. Petraeus predicted Iraq would reach nationwide “sustainable security” by June 2009.
The NYT, LAT, and WP all front news that a Sunni tribal leader, who had become a high-profile ally of the United States in Anbar, was killed yesterday. Although U.S. officials immediately considered al-Qaida in Iraq the prime suspect, the NYT notes there are plenty of other groups who could have seen the sheik as an enemy, including other Sunnis who thought he was hogging the spotlight. Now there’s concern the assassination could discourage other tribal leaders from coming forward to help U.S. troops.
Everybody notes that 15 elite Pakistani soldiers were killed by a bomb that appeared to have been set by a suicide bomber inside a dining hall of a military base in northwestern Pakistan. The Post also notes that about 50 militants were killed when they attacked an army base in South Waziristan.
Crude oil closed above $80 a barrel for the first time ever yesterday, although it’s not a record when adjusted for inflation.
The day has finally arrived for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to hang up his hat and leave the Justice Department. “This is a quiet ending to a sad chapter at the Department of Justice,” said Sen. Charles Schumer.
The WSJ says children who collect high-end art “are emerging as one more niche” in the growing global art market. Some children (of incredibly well-off, art-loving parents) are amassing art collections of their own that include works by the likes of Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Although the trend is clearly not widespread, there are some great stories, including the 10-year-old who bargained $200 off a $3,200 sculpture by Nao Matsumoto and a 9-year-old with a 40-piece collection, including an Andy Warhol panda that is “hanging above her tea-party table.”