Today's Papers

Grounded for Days

The Washington Postleads with news that President Bush will announce today that Army combat tours in Iraq will be cut from 15 months to 12 months. Bush will make the announcement during a national speech in which he will also endorse Gen. David Petraeus’ plan to indefinitely halt any further troop withdrawals after this summer. The move would return the length of combat tours to what they were before last year’s “surge” and is seen as an acknowledgement by Bush that the longer deployments have been straining service members. The move is hardly controversial as even Gen. David Petraeus has expressed support for it, and the shorter deployments would apply only to service members sent to Iraq on Aug. 1 or later.

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with the continuing headaches for air travelers, which are not expected to end soon as airlines continue to face more intense scrutiny from Federal Aviation Administration inspectors. American Airlines canceled almost 1,100 flights yesterday and stranded tens of thousands of passengers. The airline continues to try to deal with wiring problems on some of its planes, which had already resulted in more than 400 cancellations Tuesday. The airline said it expects to cancel 900 flights today. USA Todayleads with a new Transportation Security Administration program  that will screen the cargo that goes inside passenger planes. The new program will get started this summer in major cities and could cause delays in shipments. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuffing Bush’s attempts to get quick passage of the Colombia free-trade agreement. Pelosi said she will try to “freeze the clock” so lawmakers aren’t constrained by the time limits to approve the agreement. Democrats insist the deal can only be considered after more extensive action is taken to deal with the downturn in the domestic economy.

After two days of congressional hearings about the Iraq war, the Post points out that a bipartisan group of lawmakers will push to get Iraq to pick up a larger share of the tab for the war and reconstruction efforts. As they prepare a new war spending bill, it seems Democrats are preparing for another fight with the White House. Democratic lawmakers want the bill to include a ban on torture, a mandate that would give service members as much time at home as in combat, and a timetable for withdrawal that would leave military commanders in charge of key details. Bush has said he’s opposed to all three ideas, not to mention that he’s also spoken up against including domestic spending in the war bill, a request that Democrats will almost certainly ignore.

Petraeus told lawmakers yesterday that he’s not planning on asking for another buildup of troops, even if the security situation gets significantly worse. But the NYT points out that it seems likely there will be an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq for the elections, which are now scheduled to take place in October, even if there’s no official “surge.” It’s a strategy the military has carried out several times since the invasion by bringing in new troops while holding brigades scheduled for departure from Iraq a few weeks longer. Interestingly enough, the NYT talks to an administration official who says benchmarks are no longer really being used as the standard to measure progress because there are other important factors to consider.

In a Page One analysis, the LAT takes a look at the intense focus that Petraeus put on Iran during the hearings and notes that officials and experts don’t all agree about the role that Tehran plays in controlling the Shiite militias and what kind of influence it has over Iraq policy. Some contend Iran’s role is being exaggerated and while it’s certainly a player, it’s a stretch to say that Tehran is in full control of the militias.

The WP goes inside with a look at Bush’s claim that by keeping troop levels stable in Iraq until he leaves office, he’s doing the next president a favor because it increases the likelihood that security won’t deteriorate. There are those who agree with him, but others, particularly some Democrats, see a more nefarious motive to the move and contend that it’s merely Bush’s way to shift blame to the next administration. “He is going to do what Lyndon Johnson did: make sure the war was not lost on his watch,” a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations said. Meanwhile, in Iraq, fighting continued to rage in Sadr City, and three U.S. soldiers were killed in bomb attacks. Also yesterday, an Iraqi judicial committee ordered an Associated Press photographer who was detained nearly two years ago to be released.

The NYT fronts a look at how most believe that there’s little chance more than a few cases against prisoners in Guantanamo will actually go to trial before Bush leaves the White House. Why is it taking so long? Mainly because the cases are extremely complicated and involve sensitive material. But also, those advocating for the detainees are trying to make sure it goes slowly, “partly to keep the system from gaining legitimacy,” says the NYT. The Pentagon wants to show that military tribunals can operate, but defense teams are trying to make sure they do not turn into “a quick show trial,” as the ACLU’s executive director said.

The LAT and WSJ front word that Yahoo and AOL are close to reaching a deal that would combine their operations into “an online advertising giant,” as the LAT puts it. The move would help Yahoo avoid being acquired by Microsft. But Microsoft didn’t take the news lying down and is apparently in talks with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. about mounting a joint bid for Yahoo. And if this new twist didn’t include enough Internet heavyweights, Yahoo is also in talks to outsource some of its advertising to Google.

The NYT goes inside with word that many Afghan prisoners who were once held by U.S. forces in Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base are now being sentenced to as many as 20 years in prison by secretive trials in Afghanistan. The trials mainly use the claims put forward by the American military as evidence, and the whole process usually doesn’t last more than an hour. A human rights group that examined the trials said most of those who go through the secretive system are convicted.

The NYT notes inside that Sen. Barack Obama has added another detail about his life that he says gives him better foreign policy credentials than his rivals. On Sunday, Obama revealed that he took a trip to Pakistan when he was in college, which he didn’t mention in either of his books. It was because of this trip that “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said. Obama said he’s confident of his foreign policy experience because his rivals have traveled the world as Washington officials, which gives them a narrow view of the countries they visit. A senior adviser to Sen. John McCain responds by saying McCain always strives to meet a variety of people when he goes abroad to get the big picture. “Oh, and as Senator Obama may know, he has actually spent some time living abroad as well.”

The LAT and USAT front the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco, where officials were so fearful of the potential chaos that they decided to change the flame’s route. “You want to protest the torch, officials seemed to challenge, see if you can find it first,” quips the LAT.

Gen. David who? The WP points out that while Washington was focused on the testimonies of Petraeus and Crocker, most Iraqis couldn’t care less. “The Americans have hundreds of meetings and testimonies like this, and what has it done for the Iraqi people? Nothing,” said one 49-year-old carpenter. “I don’t even know who Petraeus and Crocker are,” said a 31-year-old shop owner. “I think these sorts of things are more important for Americans than they are for Iraqis.”