UNraveling

UNraveling

UNraveling

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 14 2003 6:30 AM

UNraveling

Everybody leads with the apparent implosion of prospects for the passage of, or even a vetoed majority for, a U.N.-resolution backing an invasion of Iraq. "It looks pretty grim," one unnamed senior administration official (hereafter a "SAO") told the Washington Post. As the New York Times and Los Angeles Times emphasize, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that the U.S. might abandon the resolution effort.

The first paragraph of the NYT's lead points out that just last week President Bush vowed that there would be a vote. "No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote," he said. USA Today says President Bush is preparing to give what the paper describes as a televised "ultimatum," potentially just "hours" after U.N. negotiations shut down. USAT doesn't mention anything about possible demands. Instead it suggests that the ultimatum will serve as a symbolic starting gun and a signal for foreigners to get out of Iraq. The paper says bombing would start "within days" of the speech.

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All the papers are darn pessimistic about the chances for a resolution. The Journal, for example, refers to "what looks like an impassable U.N. wall." But the Post goes the furthest, running a near-banner headline, "U.S.-BACKED RESOLUTION APPEARS DOOMED." The WP also notes, icily, that earlier this week U.S. officials "had claimed, without providing evidence, that they were within striking distance" of a yes vote. (There is probably a bit of penitence or maybe revenge going on here. Earlier this week, the Post had  gobbled up those flimsy claims, leading Monday with, "POWELL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT U.N. SUPPORT.")

The LAT seems least convinced that a defeat is a done deal. It emphasizes that British officials say they haven't given up yet and goes with a one-column no-big-deal headline, "U.S. TO DELAY VOTE ON IRAQ."

The White House and 10 Downing St. were particularly peeved that France immediately rejected the British proposal. The French stance apparently emboldened some of the fence-sitters to back away from the U.S.-sponsored resolution. A British government spokesman called France's rejection a "poisoning" of the diplomatic process. While most of the papers focus on France, USAT notes up high that Russia and Germany also quickly rejected the proposal.

Everybody notes how confusing things have gotten at the White House. But the NYT has the best color. The paper describes "a brief scurry" in the morning to arrange for President Bush to hop over to Europe and convene a "war caucus" with Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. Then officials realized that Bush is about as popular over there as Fergie, and that his presence wouldn't exactly do wonders for Blair. The plans were canceled by lunchtime, says the Times. "There's recognition this has not been our finest diplomatic hour,' said one SAO, whose voice, says the Times, was "dripping with understatement." (This morning, the White House announced that Bush will confab this weekend with Blair and Aznar in the Azores.)

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The Wall Street Journal says that Spain and "several Arab states" are now pushing Bush to just get the war started, since, they argue, prolonging the debate would actually fuel anti-war sentiment. The Post, though, suggests that's merely administration CYA-induced spin. Saying that the White House is "laying the ground-work" for Bush to reverse his pledge to get a vote, the paper explains, "Under one scenario, the administration could say the resolution was being withdrawn at the request of the co-sponsors, Britain and Spain."

In an interesting bit that only the Post seems to catch, the paper notes inside that despite the White House's insistence that any action should come ASAP, the U.S.'s No. 2 military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said at a closed-door Pentagon meeting yesterday "a delay of a month or more in invading Iraq could easily be dealt with by the military and would not increase American casualties." (WP's wording.) The story, which mentions in passing that Rumsfeld also suggested a delay was fine, runs on Page A19, perhaps bumped to the nether-regions by the WP's fascination with the rescue of Elizabeth Smart. (Not that the Post is alone in that. The LAT,NYT, and USAT all also put Smart on Page One. The NYT, for good measure, adds a thoughtful editorial, taking 321-words to say, essentially, "Hey, nice that she was found.")

The LAT says Chile and Mexico, two undecideds, are drafting a proposal that would list seven "achievable" tasks that Saddam must carry out in three weeks. After the time is up, the council would meet to decide whether he passed. (Sounds a bit like Survivor, no?) Meanwhile, according to the LAT, France has called for a similar plan with a 120-day deadline.

All of this diplomatic tsurisseems to have British government officials hoping that Calgon can take them away. On Wednesday, the Post described Blair as appearing "pale," "constantly fighting a cold," and with hair looking ever "thinner and grayer." Today's WP says Britain's ambassador to the U.N., Jeremy Greenstock, "appeared wan and haggard."

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The papers note that Vice President Dick Cheney talked to Turkey's new president yesterday, and essentially got the hand, learning that Turkey wouldn't approve GIs there anytime soon, effectively shutting the door on that route. 

The LAT has nabbed a classified State Department report that concludes that the much-touted domino democracy theory isn't likely to happen. The government report doesn't much mince words; it's titled, "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes." According to the LAT, it was published February 26, the same day Bush made a big speech envisioning how a war in Iraq would eventually cause elections to sprout throughout the region. Bringing democracy to Iraq, "couldn't hurt," said one current intel official. "But to sell (the war) on the basis that this is going to cause 1,000 flowers to bloom is naive." The headline, by the way, is devastating, "DEMOCRACY DOMINO THEORY 'NOT CREDIBLE' "

To be fair, the State Department is known to be drawn to the status quo and doesn't like to shake things up. But there is another, less direct, piece today about the chances that democracy is going to flourish in the event of an invasion: NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof's dispatch from Turkish Kurdistan. The headline is a bit obtuse, "TORTURE, BEYOND SADDAM." But version online isn't: "BETRAYING THE KURDS." The Times also notes inside that Turkey moved to ban two Kurdish parties that, it says, have ties to rebels.

Briefly, in other news, everybody fronts word that the Senate passed a bill by a large margin to ban a procedure known by opponents as partial-birth abortions. The House plans to pass a similar bill in April. Bush praised the legislation and is expected to sign it. Abortion-rights activists vowed to go to the courts. According to one study cited by the WP, the procedure was performed about 2,000-times last year in the U.S.

According to an NYT op-ed by Nixon biographer Roger Morris, this isn't the first time the U.S. has advocated regime change in Baghdad. According to Morris, the CIA helped engineer a coup there in 1963. Among the plotters "colluding with the C.I.A." was one Saddam Hussein. "Almost certainly a gain for our side," a National Security Council aide wrote to President Kennedy about the takeover.