Horsing Around

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 1 2002 5:25 AM

Horsing Around

The Washington Post leads with various cost estimates for a military campaign in Iraq. Even some from the Republican side say the price tag for an invasion and occupation could be as high as $200 billion. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that President Bush will seek more tax cuts once Congress is back in session. At the New York Times, the top story reports that the U.S. has been given a base of operations—for military exercises at least—in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar. Next week, Gen. Tommy Franks will head to the site to oversee an elaborate war-games drill.

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"Despite the high economic and political stakes ... the current administration has refused to engage in public debate about the likely costs of a new war," says the WP lead. True enough, but this stuff isn't exactly news. As the article reminds, Bush's chief economic adviser put the cost at $200 billion back in September. And though the administration backed away from that figure, an unnamed official gives the WP a pretty good reason why: It would be premature for the president to get specific about costs when he hasn't announced we're going to war.

According to the LAT lead, new tax cuts are being pursued "with an eye on the next campaign." The story highlights proposals to boost the child tax credit and lower the tax on investments. With a Republican Congress in place, Bush wants to pre-empt possible criticism that he stood by and did nothing as the economy declined. Opponents of a tax cut, Alan Greenspan included, question whether we need more of a stimulus; they see reason for cautious optimism in recent economic data suggesting manufacturing is up.

Unlike some of its Arab neighbors, Qatar has consistently sought out American protection from Iraq. The NYT lead reports that the tiny but wealthy country already spent over $1 billion to construct an air base for U.S. forces. Officials tell the paper that they expect Qatar to permit the U.S. to use the base to attack Iraq, provided the United Nations and other countries give it "the necessary political cover." 

In a passing reference, the NYT lead alludes to a lingering mystery of military culture. "The United States military has used part of the Doha Airport as a logistics hub, an installation that is known informally and inexplicably [?] as Camp Snoopy," the paper reports.

A front-page article in the WP says the Bush administration is developing "a parallel legal system" for suspects in the war on terror. As the piece notes, Bush has asserted the right to designate Americans as "enemy combatants," a status that in the past had been reserved for non-citizens during wartime. The label allows terror suspects to be held without trial and interrogated without an attorney. Not everyone thinks this is such a good idea. "The notion that the executive branch can decide by itself that an American citizen can be put in a military camp, incommunicado, is frightening," says a critic of the administration.

One quibble with the WP's otherwise insightful coverage: "I wouldn't call it an alternative system," an official tells the paper. But that's exactly what the piece does. It uses the word "system" seven times, declaring the presence of "a new system," "a parallel system," and so on. The word choice implies the creation of new laws, not the interpretation of old ones—it undercuts a key part of the administration's argument. Better to tell it like it is: Bush wants to adapt the current wartime system to include the war on terror and to expand the conventional meaning of terms like "enemy combatant" to include U.S. citizens as well as foreigners. Same system, new interpretation.

In an op-ed in the NYT, William Jefferson Clinton (remember him?) exhorts America to do more to treat AIDS sufferers in the developing world. Clinton points out this will not only save lives but will also encourage more people to get tested. Right now, over 95 percent of those with AIDS are not benefiting from advances in medicine that keep the disease at bay. Estimates hold that over the next few years 36 million people will need AIDS medicine.

The LAT reports that as China's Communist party was handing the reins of power to a new leader, in downtown Beijing the curtain went up on the country's first-ever staging of Animal Farm. It seems George Orwell's famed parable against communism continues to impress its message. Despite the director's claim of emphasizing "not the ruling class, but ... the animals that represent the masses. ... I wanted to criticize them for being selfish, indifferent, ignorant, fatuous and lazy," theater-goers aren't buying it. "He never said in his book that the animals' rebellion was wrong," one observed.

The NYT fronts a cute story on Casco, the horse-turned-opera-star who has delighted audiences at the Met's staging of Aida. The story goes down a well-trodden path (described here by Slate contributor Jeffrey Goldberg) when it "dupes" readers into believing the profile is of a person, before "surprising" them with news that the subject is really a horse. Note to NYT editors: It's hard to pull off this deception when you run a headline that reads "A NOBLE CLIP-CLOP FOR MET'S HORSE" beside a full-color photo of a horse (of course).