Today's Papers

Catching Mitt

The New York Times leads with a long, gloomy assessment of Pakistan’s security services, which have “lost control” of some of the militant groups that they created and have nurtured since the 1980s. The Washington Post leads locally; its top national story is a comparison of how the presidential campaigns are approaching Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when 52 percent of the Democratic delegates and 41 percent of the Republicans will be selected. USA Today leads with a primary poll showing that Hillary Clinton is still ahead nationwide but Barack Obama is closing, and that John McCain has a healthy lead over the rest of the Republican field. The Los Angeles Times leads with a California poll showing the same two leaders, but that Clinton has a large lead over Obama there and that the Republican race is much tighter than it is nationally. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the Bush administration saying it wants to sell  precision-guided “smart” bombs to Saudi Arabia.

It’s impossible to be everywhere on Super Tuesday, so the candidates are having to prioritize, the Post writes. Clinton is concentrating on racking up big numbers of delegates in her “home” base of New York and New Jersey, as well as California and Arkansas, which together account for nearly half of the Super Tuesday delegates. Obama’s campaign says he is less focused on delegates and more on winning states, especially his home state of Illinois and many traditional GOP strongholds in the West. As for the Republicans, the race is still so chaotic that they are focusing more not getting left behind in the pre-Super Tuesday votes in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida.

Michigan’s primary is today, and everyone notes that it’s Mitt Romney who has the most riding on it. He seems to be in full-on pander mode, promising yesterday to “ease fuel-efficiency standards and spend billions more in federal money to bolster struggling automakers,” the Post reports. McCain, by contrast, is telling Michiganders that they have to get used to auto-industry jobs leaving. “At every stop, he went out of his way to make comments unpopular with many Republicans,” the Post writes. McCain’s strategy may not be as self-destructive as it looks, according to one unaffiliated GOP pundit in the state: “If you live in Michigan, you know these jobs are probably not coming back.”

McCain’s point was underscored by the splash made by Chinese automakers at the Detroit auto show. One company rolled out a fully loaded SUV that it plans to sell in the United States for $14,000; it should be in showrooms within a year, the company says. “Americans should go to a new industry of space technology,” one of the Chinese company officials told USA Today. “The automotive industry is a traditional manufacturing industry. … America should do the easier job and keep the hard job for us.”

The NYT’s Pakistan piece is largely based on interviews with two former officials of the ISI, the country’s military intelligence agency, who are apparently feeling freer to dish dirt to reporters as the rule of President Pervez Musharraf weakens. Among the disclosures: The ISI led efforts to rig elections in 2002 and dozens of its officers have had to be purged from the agency because they grew to sympathize with the Islamist militants. “We could not control them,” one of the ISI officials said. “We indoctrinated them and told them, ‘You will go to heaven.’ You cannot turn it around so suddenly.”

Next door in Afghanistan, all is not well between the United States and its allies, the Post reports on the front page. The United States is sending in 3,200 more Marines in the hopes that it will “shame” other NATO members like Canada and the United Kingdom into sending more, as well. The United States is also cutting back its public criticism of allies like Germany, but the piece includes all sorts of on-background, catty interalliance sniping. The British complain that they have responsibility in a violent part of Afghanistan while the Americans have the more peaceful east. “The American rejoinder, spoken only in private with references to British operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is that superior U.S. skills have made it so.” Oh, snap! The Marines should be all in place by April, the Journal says.

Iraq’s defense minister says his country will need U.S. military help to defend the country’s borders until at least 2018, the NYT reports on the front page. The minister was visiting the United States, where he brought a shopping list including “ground vehicles and helicopters, as well as tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.”

Also in the newspapers: The FDA says meat and milk from cloned animals are safe. Emergency room waits are getting longer. President Bush’s approval rating keeps sinking. MySpace is pledging to do more to keep adults from pretending to be kids and kids from pretending to be adults on the site. And Latina women are changing the face of Mary Kay.

Quelle Romantique! A French newspaper reports that President Nicolas Sarkozy married model/singer Carla Bruni on Thursday in a “small, very private” wedding. The Elysee Palace didn’t deny it, and Sarkozy himself said just last week of his wedding prospects: “There’s a strong chance that you will learn about it after it’s already done.”