Penultimatum

Penultimatum

Penultimatum

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 17 2003 5:16 AM

Penultimatum

Everybody leads with Iraq, saying that after yesterday's summit-cum-group-hug, war is probably going to start in a few days. The U.S., Britain, and Spain said any haggling over their resolution must be wrapped up by the end of Monday. "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world," said President Bush at yesterday's meeting, which lasted about an hour. He added, "Saddam Hussein can leave the country if he's interested in peace."

Don't expect much diplomatic hustle and bustle today. If, as is all-but-certain, Bush and Co. can't muster a majority for their resolution, then it appears they won't bring it to a vote. The three sponsors, says the Washington Post, were "merely going through the motions in an effort to place the blame on the United Nations." The New York Times says that "in private," administration officials were clear about what they expect to happen—"war without the sanction of the Security Council." The Wall Street Journal suggests the administration is flexible; it's willing to consider a delay of a "day or two."

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As USA Today mentioned last week, Bush is expected to give an address as early as tonight, essentially announcing that the war is about to start, and telling foreigners—and Saddam—to leave Iraq.

Saddam said yesterday he's not going anywhere. He vowed to fight "wherever there is sky, land or water in the entire world."

France, Germany, and Russia have scheduled a Security Council meeting for today to go over Hans Blix's latest report. Given the U.S. position, that meeting isn't likely to have a lasting impact.

The papers all notice that while President Bush took various smacks at the U.N., he did say that they'll be included in plans for a post-war Iraq. "The U.N. will definitely need to have a role," said Bush, who added, "that way, it can begin to get its legs of responsibility back." The Journal says the administration envisions itself "sidelining" the U.N. development agencies after the invasion and leaving "much of the work" to private U.S. companies. According to the WSJ, the plan would also leave non-governmental organizations "in the lurch," giving them scant funding. The Journal says European officials and some Iraqi dissidents have reacted to the plan "with disbelief."

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The WP's Dana Milbank notices that Vice President Cheney yesterday ripped on the inspectors, saying chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei's assessment that Iraq doesn't appear to have a nukes program is "wrong." "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," said Cheney, who didn't offer evidence for the new charges.

USAT has some interesting poll numbers on the impending invasion: 64 percent of respondents say they support the notion of a U.N.-cleared invasion, a near-record number. But if there's no U.N. vote, as appears likely, only 47 percent support going in.

The NYT's off-lead says that Saddam has pulled most of his air defenses back to Baghdad, and the city now appears to have more anti-aircraft guns and missiles than during the Gulf War. They're creaky old Soviet things, but as the U.S. Air Force's top general in the gulf put it, "if you put enough lead in the air somebody is going to get hit."

The Post says that residents of Baghdad are hustling to prepare for war, "Masking tape, applied in the shape of an X, covers the windows of hotels and stores." Or not. "Few shop and hotel windows in central Baghdad have been taped over," says the NYT. The Times says that the Iraqi regime is purposely not getting citizens ready for an invasion since it doesn't want to start a panic or an insurrection.

The Los Angeles Times, alone among the papers, fronts word that an American protester was killed by an Israeli bulldozer yesterday as she tried to block it from demolishing a home in the Gaza Strip.

The NYT's White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller notices one book currently on President Bush's nightstand: historian Michael Beschloss' The Conquerors.