Plane Provocation

Plane Provocation

Plane Provocation

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 4 2003 5:12 AM

Plane Provocation

The New York Times leads with an Iraq roundup, emphasizing that the White House dismissed Iraq's moves to dismantle its missiles. The Washington Post says that the U.S. and Britain are committed to wrapping up the Security Council debate next week. If their resolution doesn't look like it will get the necessary nine votes, then the two countries will skip a vote and still invade. The Post says even Blair is willing to go that route, though not happily. USA Today leads with what sounds like an official leak from the White House: Unnamed administration sources say that while they think North Korea is on its way to firing up its nuke reprocessing plant—as the NYT reported over the weekend—the administration doesn't plan to respond militarily. Flipping the switch on the reprocessing plant is about the most serious step North Korea could take; it would allow it to begin producing about a nuke per month through the summer. USAT's lead also mentions, and everybody else fronts, word that North Korean MiGs got cozy with a U.S. spy plane over international waters Sunday, at times flying within 50 feet of the U.S. plane. They also painted the plane with targeting radar, one step short of actually firing missiles. The Post, which off-leads the story, says U.S. officials were "stunned by the audacity" of the intercept. It was the first time in more than 30 years that North Korean planes have threatened a U.S. aircraft. The Los Angeles Times leads with a scoop: The Pentagon is planning to create its own corps of spies around the world. The plan hasn't been implemented yet but could eventually include hundreds of spooks who could theoretically focus on the kind of combat-mission-oriented intel that the Pentagon thinks the CIA shortchanges. "The CIA doesn't have the number of assets to be doing what the secretary of Defense wants done," said one Pentagon official.

The NYT's lead says that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer derided Iraq's dismantling of its missiles as a "the mother of all distractions." (Besides bringing peace and democracy to the Mideast, let's hope this war also brings an end to the mother of all clichés.) The Times goes on to quote Fleischer as saying that Saddam has "put himself in a Catch-22" since "he denied he had these weapons, and then he destroys things he says he never had." But as the Post, unlike the Times, points out: Fleischer is full of it. Iraq never denied it had the missiles; it included them in its December weapons declaration.

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As the NYT suggested yesterday, Turkey's government said it will try to get it parliament to vote again on letting U.S. troops in. But it's not clear that will happen anytime soon. Meanwhile, Turkey's stock market dived 11 percent on news of the rejection. In yet another bit of sensitive diplomatic-speak, one administration official told the NYT that things with Turkey are still moving forward. "It's Turkey," said the official. "The negotiating never stops."

The NYT says some in the administration are urging President Bush to get the war started right after the Security Council issue comes to a head next week, while others are telling him to hold off until at least the ships off of Turkey can be swung around to Kuwait and unloaded—about two weeks more.

The Post gives Page One play to a puffy interview with Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander directly in charge of the invasion force. The WP highlights McKiernan's comments that he is prepared to attack "with or without" Turkey: "GENERAL DISMISSES REBUFF BY TURKEY." Does the Post really expect that the general would say anything besides that? If he did, that would be news. (Imaginary headline: "GENERAL SAYS U.S. 'UP A CREEK' WITHOUT TURKEY.")

A Wall Street Journal piece ponders the potential for an overwhelming POW problem—where do you keep them all? etc.—and mentions that the "Army has fewer than 100 interrogators fluent in Arabic." Is that enough?

The WP and LAT fronts the White House's new plan for Medicare drug coverage, set to be previewed by President Bush today. The plan—really more of an outline since it's light on details—will give extensive coverage to seniors who sign up with HMOs, and "bare bones" coverage, as the Journal puts it, to people who stay in standard Medicare: Those folks will get about a 15 percent discount off drugs and also coverage for catastrophic illnesses, though the White House didn't say what the cost trigger-point will be for that. Low-income seniors will also get 600 bucks to spend on prescriptions. As skimpy as that plan is, it's more generous than the administration's previously floated idea: no coverage for those not enrolled in HMOs.

The LAT and WP both go inside with follow-up to a story in the British Observer alleging that U.S. intel services have been eavesdropping on Security Council members to try to gain an edge during the coming vote. The American papers' conclusions: Yep, that's probably true, but big whoop—everybody spies on everybody. Asked whether he thought intel officials were listening to his phone conversations, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.N. said, "The fact is, this sort of thing goes with the territory. You'd have to be very naive to be surprised." Or as another diplomat put it when asked the same question in a phone interview, "Let's ask the guy who's listening to us."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.