Today's Papers

Taking a Stand

The New York Timesleads with the United Nations Security Council condemning the “campaign of violence” that has targeted supporters of Zimbabwe’s opposition and said it would be “impossible for a free and fair election to take place” as scheduled. The move came after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy in Harare and police officers raided the opposition party headquarters and arrested 60 people. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide news box leads with a newly released Pentagon report that calls Iran the “greatest long-term threat to Iraqi security.” The report was largely positive, noting that violence is at its lowest levels in four years and praising the Iraqi prime minister for cracking down on Shiite militias.

USA Todayleads with a look at how rising food and gas prices are hurting people’s abilities to keep up with basic bills as utilities are reporting that they’re disconnecting many more customers than last year. “We’re seeing a record number of shutoffs,” the head of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association said. The Washington Postoff-leads the news about Zimbabwe and leads with a look at how consumers are facing gas surcharges in a variety of industries. There’s no regulation to limit how high a surcharge can go, so they’re often all over the map. “It’s almost impossible to tell if they’re fair,” the executive director of the Consumer Federation of America said. “It makes it very difficult for consumers to comparison-shop and understand the full price of the products that they’re buying.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli pleaded guilty to lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission as the regulator investigated stock-option backdating at the chip-making firm.

The United Nations had largely remained on the sidelines, but yesterday the Security Council took its first formal action on Zimbabwe’s crisis and called on the government to allow opposition rallies and liberate political prisoners. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon went even further and called on Mugabe’s government to postpone the runoff election, saying that it “would lack all legitimacy” if it went on as scheduled. Of course, Mugabe has shown he doesn’t really care about international opinion, so it’s unlikely that this alone will change anything.

Tsvangirai dropped out of Friday’s runoff election on Sunday, but the violence and intimidation campaign by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe continued unabated yesterday. The NYT talks to opposition officials who say they knew a raid was coming, so most of the 1,500 people who had sought refuge in their Harare headquarters quickly fled, which meant that by the time the police arrived “only a few dozen of the most helpless people, many of them wounded, were left.” For its part, the WSJ has a telling anecdote from a young woman who was stopped by a group of thugs on her way to work and forced to attend a 10-hour pro-government rally instead, illustrating how the intimidation campaign doesn’t only affect those involved in politics. While Mugabe is increasingly facing criticism from other leaders in the region, the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has remained largely silent while trying to get members of the opposition and ruling parties to sit down and negotiate.

On the NYT’s opinion page, Peter Godwin writes that the “international community has no choice but to delegitimize Mr. Mugabe’s regime.” This wouldn’t be necessary if Mbeki actually decided to do something about the deepening crisis. But if he won’t, the international community has a golden opportunity to apply pressure with the World Cup that will be held in South Africa in 2010. “Perhaps it’s time to share the Zimbabweans’ pain, to help persuade Mr. Mbeki to bear down on its source by threatening to grab the world’s soccer ball and take our games elsewhere.”

In a piece headlined “The Bush Doctrine Is Relevant Again,” the WSJ’s Bret Stephens predicts Tsvangirai will win the Nobel Peace Prize and notes that “Zimbabwe is now another spot on the map of the civilized world’s troubled conscience,” joining the likes of Burma and Darfur. And as in those other troubled spots, nothing in Zimbabwe will change unless Mugabe is removed by force.

Contrasting the Pentagon’s largely positive report on Iraq, the Government Accountability Office released its own report that has a decidedly less rosy look at the situation on the ground. The WP says that “the two reports seemed to assess wholly different realities” and notes that the GAO didn’t mention Iran once in its report. The GAO said the way the Bush administration chooses to measure progress in Iraq doesn’t tell the full story, many of the president’s goals haven’t been reached, and there is no clear strategy for how U.S. troops will proceed after the “surge” ends. Although the GAO acknowledged there has been a decrease in violence in Iraq, it also noted that the administration often uses misleading and exaggerated figures to show progress. The government auditors say a mere 10 percent of Iraq’s security forces can operate without assistance from the United States.

Yesterday, the WP looked into the failure of the U.S.-funded TV network in the Middle East, and today it examines how al-Qaida has been highly successful in its propaganda efforts during the digital age. It’s truly a study in contrasts, as al-Qaida’s top leadership has been able to get their message to a massive audience through as-Sahab, the terrorist network’s propaganda studio. U.S. officials say they might have been able to disrupt the propaganda operations in the past, but now security is so airtight that it’s practically impossible to cause anything more than temporary damage. Because the propaganda is distributed through a network of decentralized Web sites, arresting individual members of the network wouldn’t stop the transmission of the information.

The NYT fronts news that congressional investigators have discovered that the American ambassador to Albania knew evidence of the Chinese origins of ammunition was removed before it was shipped by a U.S. contractor to Afghanistan. The ambassador apparently supported a plan by the Albanian defense minister to hide boxes of the Chinese ammunition from a NYT reporter, even though U.S. law prohibits trading in Chinese arms. According to the whistle-blower, “the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing.” On Friday, the 22-year-old president of the contractor, AEY Inc., and three others were charged with selling Chinese ammunition that they said was Albanian.

Nobody fronts news that a federal appeals court ruled that a prisoner who has been held in Guantanamo for six years should be released, transferred, or given a new military hearing. The court ruled that Huzaifa Parhat, one of 17 ethnic Chinese Uighurs who are being held in Guantanamo, was inappropriately labeled as an enemy combatant. It marks the first time a Guantanamo detainee has successfully challenged his designation as an enemy combatant.

The Post fronts in-house news and reports that the paper’s executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., will be stepping down after a 17-year tenure. Downie spent his entire career at the Post, where he started as an intern in 1964. As could be expected, the piece is full of praise and no word on what led to his departure beyond a rote line about wanting to spend more time with his wife. The move wasn’t unexpected, but, of course, it does seem strange that a dedicated newsman at the center of the country’s political scene would want to leave in the middle of the presidential campaign.

The WP and USAT report on a poll of religious attitudes in the United States that found 92 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit and 58 percent say they pray at least once a day. But most aren’t convinced their religion is the only one that can lead to salvation, and the overwhelming majority believe there is more than one way to interpret a religion’s teachings. But the one common factor is the belief in God or a higher power, which is shared even by 21 percent of those who said they are atheists. “Americans believe in everything,” a sociologist said. “It’s a spiritual salad bar.”