Withdrawal Method

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 19 2003 7:21 AM

Withdrawal Method

All the papers lead with soft Sunday features: The New York Times goes with the Pentagon's failure to adequately incorporate advice from a pre-war State Department report into its postwar planning for Iraq. The Los Angeles Times' top national story is a roundup of reconstruction efforts. It reviews recent violence, highlights new construction and service restorations, and concludes that Iraq is "a patchwork of separate countries—a confused mix of stability and chaos, progress and paralysis." The Washington Post banners its front page with a five-story, yearlong investigation into the unregulated "shadow market" for prescription drugs. Its top hard-news story is the Pentagon's unofficial timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

In April 2002 the State Department assigned 200 Iraqi business leaders, lawyers, and engineers to 17 working groups charged with outlining the major challenges of a U.S. occupation, the NYT explains. The resulting 2,000-page report was more realistic about the dilapidated state of Iraqi infrastructure and civil society than the Pentagon's reconstruction planners were. It also predicted that a power vacuum immediately after Saddam Hussein's fall could lead to widespread looting, and that a quick dismantling of the Iraqi army might cause disgruntled ex-soldiers to attack the U.S. The Defense Department's reconstruction office did not learn about the report until less than a month before the start of the war. According to "State Department officials," the Pentagon blocked efforts by the military's chief reconstruction official to appoint one of the report's coordinators as his adviser. The Times adds that the Pentagon has since shed its bureaucratic blinders: Many working-group participants are now on the Iraqi Governing Council, and every reconstruction manager has a CD-ROM of the report.

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The U.S. will aim to reduce its presence in Iraq from the current 130,000 troops to fewer than 100,000 by next summer and to 50,000 by 2005, if a current Army timetable is approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Post's above-the-fold story, sourced to "senior Army officers," also relates that the military has considered pulling out of entire cities, such as Basra and Mosul, as well as from well-policed neighborhoods in Baghdad. Unlike the current deployment, which has drained morale and weakened U.S. readiness elsewhere, the Army considers a deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 troops to be sustainable for many years.

The Post's exposé  on prescription drug chicanery points to three main culprits: the inability of wholesale buyers to trace a drug's provenance, low barriers to get a drug-selling license, and almost non-existent inspection of drugs arriving from abroad. Profiteers buy expensive medication at discounted prices by posing as "closed door" pharmacies, which pledge to distribute the medication only to nursing homes and hospices. They easily obtain state licenses to "become" such a pharmacy—often with only a private residence as an address—or they bribe workers at legitimate pharmacies. They then resell the medications to established wholesalers looking for good prices, or directly to self-medicating customers. Some resell diluted or counterfeited meds. "Taken together," the Post concludes, "the worst elements of the shadow market constitute a new form of organized crime that now threatens public health."

On the NYT Op-Ed page, this month's president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Iyad Alawi, makes two requests of the U.S.: 1) That it recall the disbanded Iraqi army and police force, up to mid-officer level. Most Iraqi soldiers and policemen are patriots, not Saddam loyalists, and they already have command structures and a political legitimacy that the U.S. will be unable to replicate from scratch. 2) That the U.S. urge international recognition of an interim Iraqi government after the council drafts a constitution, but before a U.N.-monitored referendum on its adoption. "Making Iraqis once again a part of the international system is the prerequisite for ...  a durable democratic system"; making international recognition contingent on adoption of the constitution would rob Iraqis of control of their destiny.

The NYT reefers a dispatch from Kabul on the imminent publication of the proposed new constitution for Afghanistan. The document was drawn up by a commission of 35 "lawyers and experts" appointed by President Hamid Karzai. To solicit citizen input, the commission sent out half a million questionnaires and got back 100,000. The proposed government will have centralized (i.e., non-federal) authority, with a president who appoints a prime minister, a bicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and some human rights and free-market guarantees. Most Afghans worry that the new government will be entirely secularist, so the commissioners decided to call the new nation the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and include language that "no law will be made which will oppose Islamic principles." A "grand assembly" of 500 people, many of them conservative Islamists, will convene on Dec. 10 to debate the constitution's adoption.

It's rare to spot an architecture review on the front page, but Frank Gehry's new Bilbao-esque Walt Disney Concert Hall gets below-the-fold treatment at the LAT. "The hall is the most significant work ever created by a Los Angeles architect in his native city," the Times' critic writes. "What makes the building so moving as a work of architecture is its ability to express ... the recognition that ideal beauty rarely exists in an imperfect world. ... It is in this sense that Gehry's work is truly baroque. The word is derived from the Portuguese barocco, meaning 'a misshapen pearl.' " (Several years ago Slate's Jacob Weisberg explained how Gehry became America's greatest architect.)

A wire story inside the Post chronicles a distinctly modern form of bear-baiting: North Carolina hunters who lure the beasts with junk food left in the woods—namely, large piles of chocolate, bubble gum, and licorice. "Chowing through 100 pounds of Reese's peanut butter cups can turn a bear into a lethargic, sugar-addicted blob," the piece reveals. "Biologists have spotted bears walking around in circles for no apparent reason."

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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