Thin Blue Lines

Thin Blue Lines

Thin Blue Lines

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 14 2003 7:34 AM

Thin Blue Lines

The New York Times' lead and the Los Angeles Times' top non-local story both deal with the ongoing debate at the United Nations over a French proposal that would shift authority in Iraq from U.S. control to a homegrown U.N.-backed government within the next month or so. The Washington Post leads with a new poll in which 61 percent of respondents opposed President Bush's recent call for $87 billion in new reconstruction funds for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and representatives from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have not yet come to a resolution on the plan put forward by France's foreign minister, which calls for the transfer of power to a U.N.-backed Iraqi government next month, the drafting of a new constitution by the end of the year, and a first round of elections to follow in the spring. Characteristically loose-lipped and expansive, the participants allowed that the negotiations had so far been slow, but also "positive," "good," and "frank." A member of the Iraqi Governing Council involved in the talks told the LAT that the full transition to an Iraqi government could drag well into next year, a schedule closer to the timetable favored by the U.S. Meanwhile, as the two Timeses file from Geneva and place Secretary of State Colin Powell at the center of their stories, the corresponding piece inside the WP focuses instead on the
potential consequences of any decision for the United Nations, whose institutional confidence remains uncertain in the wake of the truck-bombing that destroyed its Baghdad headquarters last month.

According to the WP's poll, which was conducted over the past four days, a 41 percent plurality of those surveyed thought that recent tax cuts should be rolled back in order to free up funds if Congress approves Bush's $87 billion reconstruction proposal. Overall, 52 percent said they approved of the President's handling of affairs in Iraq, a figure down 23 points since the end of the war in April.

The WP fronts
a dispatch from Khaldiya, west of Baghdad, where members of the local U.S.-trained police force find themselves torn between a mandate to maintain order and the suspicion of townspeople who distrust their closeness to American forces. As a result, police officers there have become increasingly ineffective, and some have begun openly sympathizing with anti-occupation guerillas. One police lieutenant told the paper, "In my heart, deep inside, we are with them against the occupation. … This is my country, and I encourage them." All of the papers front photos of the funerals of the Iraqi policemen killed by American soldiers in a friendly fire incident in Fallujah on Friday. The papers also mention that the U.S. military has issued a formal apology for the encounter and note that two more Iraqi police officers died from their wounds Saturday, bringing the death toll for the engagement to 11. (Morning wires report that a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah early Sunday.)

The NYT off-leads a detailed look at what it labels "
the largest budget deficit the nation has ever known," which has gradually mounted over the past three years. When President Bush took office, the budget was $281 billion in the black, with a cumulative surplus of $5.6 trillion projected to pile up by 2011. Since then, the sluggish economy, three rounds of tax cuts, and the post-9/11 spike in defense spending have darkened the picture considerably, contributing to a decline that one analyst deemed "Miltonian" in degree.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, by August of 2001 the projected total 2011 surplus had dropped to $3.4 trillion, and by January of 2002, to $1.6 trillion, before sliding further still to the current estimate of a $2.3 trillion deficit. For those keeping score at home, that $8 trillion swing in the projections is about equal to the total revenue the federal government collected between 1789 and 1983.

The NYT fronts a report on
Saudi Arabia's evolving anti-terror policies, drawing on accounts from four senior U.S. officials who visited the country last month. According to the officials, the Saudis have pledged to increase regulation of the kinds of charitable giving that are thought to have funded terrorism in the past, and law enforcement officials there have reportedly become more open in publicizing their pursuit of terror suspects. U.S. efforts to gain permission to interview the families of the 9/11 hijackers, however, have been repeatedly rebuffed.

The NYT and
WP reefer the death of Gov. Frank O'Bannon, D-Ind., who suffered a stroke in Chicago on Monday. Lt. Gov. Joseph Kernan, who had been running things while O'Bannon was incapacitated, was immediately sworn in as governor.

The WP's "Style" section
shadowed a cheerful, salty-tongued Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., as he pressed the flesh during the recent Democratic presidential debate in Albuquerque, revealing that beyond having a name oft-dropped in connection with the 2004 running-mate sweepstakes, he also holds the Guinness Book's record for most hands shook in an eight-hour period. Elsewhere on deck, a piece in the WP's "Outlook" section floats an idea for a new executive-branch position that would streamline and solidify the presidential succession should the VPOTUS be unable to assume the presidency in time of crisis: assistant vice president.

Finally, in the baby-steps department, the WP reports inside that Kim Jong-il's government has given a South Korean automaker the go-ahead to begin
marketing a car to North Koreans, capitalist-style. "Creating an ad campaign acceptable to North Korean officials wasn't easy, said John Kim, the company's director of general affairs. 'We had to work closely with the government, and they kept on rejecting ads ... because they looked too much like we were trying to sell something.'" With that obstacle licked, only a couple of wrinkles remain: Most North Koreans can't drive, and the new sedan's $14,000 MSRP is a little steep—about 15 years' worth of salary for the average North Korean worker.

Benjamin Healy is a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly.