Today's Papers

First Step

The New York Times and USA Today lead with, while the Los Angeles Timesfronts, the Iraqi cabinet approving the much-debated security agreement that calls for U.S. troops to withdraw by the end of 2011. After nearly a year of negotiations with the United States, 27 of the 28 cabinet ministers who were present at yesterday’s meeting voted in favor of the agreement. The Status of Forces Agreement, which would replace the United Nations mandate that expires at the end of the year, now goes to the Iraqi parliament, where a contentious debate is expected to unfold. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide newsbox leads with the meeting between President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain that will take place in Chicago today. The meeting could be mutually beneficial, as Obama will need Republican cooperation in Congress and it gives McCain the opportunity to reclaim his “maverick, bipartisan mantle” after a heated campaign.

The Washington Postleads with a look at how, before the election, Barack Obama wrote letters to employees at seven federal agencies that included descriptions of how his administration would run specific government programs. The American Federation of Government Employees distributed the letters, which were written at the request of the union’s president. In the letters, Obama described how he wants to cut back on private contractors, remove existing roadblocks on scientific research, and promote tougher regulations to protect workers and the environment. Many of the promises made by Obama would require additional spending, which the president-elect has recognized would be difficult to obtain given the current economic conditions. The LAT leads with a rare bit of good news for Southern California—calming winds brought about “the first major break in days” in the fight against the wildfires that broke out on Thursday. As of late last night, the fires were 80 percent contained.

It’s unclear how big a fight opponents of the security agreement will put up in parliament this week. The WP says that the overwhelming “cabinet vote indicated that most major Iraqi parties supported it,” but opponents continue to insist that the pact would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority. “If we need to get two-thirds, then there will be difficulties,” a Kurdish lawmaker tells USAT. Even if it crosses the parliamentary hurdle, the agreement would then have to be ratified by Iraq’s three-member presidential council. The Sunni representative on the council, Vice President Tariq Hashimi, has called for a referendum on the pact and could veto any agreement, notes the LAT. But the WSJ points out that “his opposition may be thawing,” and some Sunni lawmakers have already expressed support for the agreement.

The WSJ says that the “substantive points of the deal haven’t changed” much since the more than 100 amendments requested by the Iraqi cabinet were mostly “seen as cosmetic.” The Iraqi government emphasized that the clause that stated that U.S. troops could be asked to stay longer has been removed. “This withdrawal date is firm and holy and will not be changed according to conditions on the ground,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. In practice, though, the Iraqi government can still ask U.S. troops to stay.

Besides setting the withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, the agreement also calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June. In addition, a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee would decide whether an American service member who commits a serious crime outside a U.S. base while off duty should face an Iraqi court. Does this mean we’ll see U.S. troops standing trial in Iraq anytime soon? It’s very unlikely, notes USATin a helpful Q and A, because it’s simply “almost unheard of for a U.S. troop to be off duty and off base in Iraq.”

As Congress gets ready to debate whether to bail out Detroit’s Big Three automakers, the LAT fronts a look at how a failure in the industry wouldn’t just affect the employees at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. About 70 percent of the parts in most automobiles are made by outside suppliers that employ hundreds of thousands of workers. This is a point that will probably be emphasized this week when lawmakers hear testimony from industry leaders. But in a front-page piece, the NYT says that many industry experts say that people often underestimate how quickly foreign-owned automakers could step in and pick up the slack if one of the Big Three were suddenly to vanish. That’s not to say the change wouldn’t be painful, especially considering that foreign-owned automakers use more parts from overseas.

The NYT fronts word that Obama’s advisers are looking into former President Bill Clinton’s fundraising and activities in order to determine whether there’s anything that should prevent his wife from becoming secretary of state. This is seen as a sign of just how serious Obama is about making Sen. Hillary Clinton a member of his Cabinet. In fact, Democratic sources tell the paper that as long as they can figure out the former president’s role, it’s likely that Obama would ask her to take the job. As others have said, it’s highly unlikely that Obama would have risked causing another rift in the party unless he was serious about the appointment. While it’s easy to imagine that a Clinton confirmation hearing could be heated, a few Republicans gave their support yesterday. “It seems to me she’s got the experience. She’s got the temperament for it,” Sen. John Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said. “So my own initial reaction is it would be a very good selection.”

The NYT says many pointed to the news that Gregory Craig was named White House counsel as a sign that Clinton is on the real shortlist for the State Department job. Some had expected the man who represented Bill Clinton during impeachment proceedings to become national security adviser or deputy secretary of state. But Craig was a strong supporter of Obama from the beginning of the campaign and strongly criticized Clinton’s claims of foreign-policy experience.

The WP fronts a look at how giving the position to Clinton could provide many “benefits and pitfalls” to the Obama administration. Since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has tried to position himself as “something akin to the world’s philanthropist in chief” and as secretary of state, his wife would oversee many of the country’s foreign aid efforts, which could turn the “couple into an overwhelming force in global aid.” Former presidents are usually kept at arms length, but that might prove difficult with such a high-profile figure who will have a direct line into the administration. If his wife becomes secretary of state, the former president would definitely face increased scrutiny about his fundraising and lobbying activities, particularly since he has refused to publicly disclose the names of those who have donated to his philanthropic activities and his presidential library.

In the famously detailed vetting document that Obama is asking those who want to work in his administration to fill out, one questions asks applicants whether there are “any categories of personal financial records … that you (or your spouse) will not release publicly if necessary. If so, please identify these records and state the reasons for withholding them.” The WP points out that “in the margins of a copy of the application leaked from the transition team, the word ‘Clinton’ is written next to that paragraph.”