A Farewell to Arms?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 7 2001 5:56 AM

A Farewell to Arms?

Everybody leads with the Taliban's apparent surrender in Kandahar. According to the reports, the Taliban and new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai have closed a deal whereby Afghan Taliban fighters will give up their arms and control of their final stronghold in exchange for amnesty. USA Today  goes with the most dramatic headline: "Taliban's Battered Regime Falls." Everyone else hedges slightly more but keeps the basic message. Even previously defiant Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef has declared that his former government is toast.

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The most important remaining sticking point is the uncertain fate of Mullah Omar. The Los Angeles Timescalls the deal "murky" but suggests it would allow the Taliban leader to live in peace; the Washington Post says that Karzai offered Omar amnesty; the New York Times suggests that Omar will have to face a trial. Everybody reports, though, that Karzai doesn't have exactly the same objective as Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of defense seems to want Omar either dead or in American hands. Karzai thinks Omar's fate is a decision for Afghans.

The papers also all report tension brewing among Northern Alliance leaders, with the alliance's current finance minister, as well as an ethnic Uzbek leader, saying they plan to boycott the recent power-sharing agreement. In addition, no one knows for certain what will happen next to foreign Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan. Karzai has said they will be brought to the international justice system, but, he added ominously in a BBC interview, "They are our enemies. They destroyed our country."

If the surrender does indeed go smoothly, capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden will become the United States' one major remaining objective. Nobody reports any real progress, but evidence continues to suggest he's in Tora Bora. Northern Alliance Gen. Muhammad Fahim does definitively say that "Bin Laden is in Tora Bora," according to the New York TImes, but he also suggests that the al-Qaida head could easily escape to Pakistan.

The NYT and WP front John Ashcroft's spirited appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ashcroft doesn't seem pleased about growing criticism toward him post-Sept.-11. "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." A USAT front-page story doesn't help Ashcroft's case though, pointing out that U.S. agents now doubt that any of the 600 people detained since Sept. 11 were involved at all with the terrorist attacks.

Everyone fronts Congress' vote to give president Bush fast-track authority to negotiate international trade agreements, the first time it has granted that power since 1994. The vote was 215-214, with the Senate expected to pass the measure much more easily in a few months. The WP, NYT, and LAT all give good accounts of how deft congressmen parlay tight votes into power and goodies. Arkansas Democrat Marion Berry apparently won a seat on the powerful appropriations committee in exchange for his vote; South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint changed his vote at the last second after Republicans added a provision to help textile workers in his home state.

The WSJ fronts a story on the rapidly growing effort among state governments to reduce prescription drug prices. In Michigan a coalition of doctors and health officials will announce a list of drugs today that will receive preferential treatment from state health programs; companies with drugs that didn't make the original list will then have to cut prices to compete. The plan would save the state millions, but it would also take a bite out of major pharmaceuticals. The drug companies are fighting back hard, worried that other states will follow Michigan's lead.

The WP, LAT, NYT, and USA Today all front stories commemorating the 60th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The WP's is by far the best, mostly because it avoids the staid, saccharine tone so common in World War II articles. The LAT gives us this thesis: "As for whether Sept. 11 will continue to stir hearts 60 years from now, two camps are emerging. One contends that the aftermath of Sept. 11 will not transform society as dramatically as did Dec. 7, 1941. The other suggests that the date will endure."

The WP story in contrast makes a few serious points (would Ben Affleck and Derek Jeter fight today the way Clark Gable and Joe DiMaggio fought then?) while also detailing U.S. blunders and bloopers. For example, in the aftermath of the attack, "drinkers haunted by bad memories of Prohibition hoarded hooch for the sober times ahead," while Fiorello LaGuardia, the newly appointed head of the Office of Civilian Defense, tore through Washington in a police car with sirens blasting as he yelled, "Calm! Calm!"

The quote of the day comes from a WP interview with an injured former Taliban fighter in a Pakistani hospital. The man spoke perfect English but didn't quite have the touch for spinning his side of the story in a way likely to persuade adversaries. "I am a freedom fighter," the WP quotes him as saying, "a fighter for Islam. Holy war is in my life like a cancer. It cannot be cured."

Nicholas Thompson is a senior editor at Legal Affairs.