Nix on Blix

Nix on Blix

Nix on Blix

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 20 2003 7:01 AM

Nix on Blix

None of the papers leads with an Iraq catchall, in a sign that the media half of Gulf War II is finally over—or maybe just that yesterday was just a slow news day. The New York Times has the most dramatic lead, reporting that the Pentagon wants to keep four military bases in Iraq even after it installs a local government there, projecting "American influence into the heart of the unsettled region." The Los Angeles Timesleads with the U.S.'s increasingly frantic search for illegal weapons in Iraq, even as the Bush administration plays down expectations that anything will be found soon and tries to keep U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix out of the country. And the Washington Post leads with a short story on the capture of Iraq's ex-finance minister (the "eight of diamonds") by Iraqi police, the first big arrest the country's reconstituted police force has made since the war ended.

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Although the NYT's lead is specific about the four bases the U.S. wants to keep in Iraq, it's not yet clear whether the U.S. will have "full-up operational bases, smaller forward operating bases, or just plain access," in the words of one "senior administration official." But any which way, the official said the new bases will let the U.S., ahem, "modulate our footprint," in Saudi Arabia while exerting greater influence in Iran and Syria.

The LAT's lead prominently features days-old quotes from Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, and the only real news is that the Pentagon is assembling a 1,000-person "survey group" to interrogate Iraqi scientists and sift through data in an effort to jumpstart the search for illegal weapons and fend off criticism that the U.S. has bungled the search so far. It also appears the group is intended to head off calls for U.N. weapons inspectors to return, with one "senior U.S. official" calling it "too soon" to let Hans Blix's team back into the country.

The NYT fronts and the LAT goes inside with news that things in Baghdad seemed to be returning to something approximating normalcy yesterday, with the beginning of the Muslim work week. According to the NYT, thousands of Iraqi public employees returned to work in Baghdad, braving mangled offices, power outages, and nightmare traffic jams.

The NYT fronts, and the LAT stuffs news that Nigerians voted en masse yesterday in the country's first civilian-run election in 20 years. Considering expectations of widespread disruptions, the LAT thinks it went pretty well ("OBSERVERS APPLAUD NIGERIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AS SUCCESS"), while the NYT's story places much more before-the-jump emphasis on gun-toting gangs and ballot-box stuffing and reports that six people were killed in the south of the county.

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The WP and LAT both stuff—and the NYT ignores altogether—word that talks among the U.S., North Korea, and China will probably still happen next week despite North Korea's announcement Friday that it either did restart (English translation) or might have restarted (Korean version) a nuclear reprocessing plant.

The WP fronts—above its lead—the first installment in a two-part investigative report on a South African scientist's efforts to sell the U.S. government lethal bioweapons he developed during the apartheid era. The nut of the piece is that the deal fell through and no one quite knows where all the genetically modified bacterial strains are now. The problem is that the story doesn't deliver: We never find out who might have the bioweapons, and we have to wait until well after the jump to learn that U.S. officials rejected the scientist's offer because they judged the weapons to be 1990s-vintage materials that could be made these days by students "at the graduate or even undergraduate level," according to one official who spoke to the Post. Still, any story that features a CIA operative smuggling a vial of deadly bacteria into the U.S. inside a toothpaste tube makes for some compelling reading.

Curiously, both the NYT and WP front 2,100-word stories on just how doggone powerful Donald Rumsfeld has become. Both papers unfurl Rummy's unlikely ascendance in a tidy three-act format that makes TP suspect these pieces have been sitting around waiting for a slow-news Sunday.

In keeping with the lack of news, the NYT also fronts a long diary of the final days of the war in which star correspondent John Burns gets personal, if only eventually. In addition to being shaken down for $6,000 in cash by Iraqi intelligence agents at the beginning of April, Burns was also frequently the recipient of "what was either a black joke or a threat," from the director of the Information Ministry. "Ah,' he would say, 'the most dangerous man in Iraq!'"

In an interesting Week in Review article, the NYT reflects on the strategic effects of the world's only "hyperpower" also being a "hyperdebtor"; in other  words, the U.S. dominates the rest of the world with an economy that is deeply dependent on foreign credit. Only once before has a great power built its hegemony with someone else's money, and the example isn't entirely encouraging for proponents of the American Empire: Czarist Russia.

The Week in Review also does an admirable job explaining just what it means that a Russian mathematician may have proved the Poincaré Conjecture, a feat announced this past week. The Times couldn't help adding this observation: "That grown men and women can make a living pondering such matters is a sign that civilization, as fragile as it may sometimes seem, remains intact."

Testing the assumption that there's still a healthy market for absurd, lifestyles-of-Saddam-Hussein coverage, the LAT fronts a piece on all the weird stuff U.S. forces have been finding in his palaces. In a description of Saddam's so-called "Love Shack" that might as well be pulled from Saturday Night Live's "The Ladies Man," the paper cites a "brown shag carpet, Naugahyde bean bag chairs, [and] smoked bedroom mirrors." And what would the deposed dictator bump-and-grind to?  "The cassette tape player featured 'The Bee Gees Greatest Hits Vol. II,' and 'Disco Festival '85.'"