The New York Times and Washington Post lead with President Bush's about-to-be announced proposal to give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants through a guest worker program that will allow them to stay for at least three years but won't give them permanent residency status. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times previewed the plan. The Wall Street Journal says up high that the U.S. is leaning toward keeping Iraq's oil industry in state hands and closed to foreign investment. "It's just pragmatism," said one U.S. official, referring to the desire to allay Iraqis' concerns that the U.S. is going to make an oil grab. Apparently some Iraqi figures, such as Ahmed Chalabi, disagree and want the industry opened to foreign investment. USA Today leads with a poll suggesting that, at least nationally, former Gen. Wesley Clark is closing in on Howard Dean, who's lost a bit of ground recently. Of Democratic-leaning voters, 24 percent said they're for Dean and 20 percent supported Clark. When likely voters were asked whether they prefer Dean or Bush, the former got creamed by 22 points. Respondents put an unnamed Democrat 17 points behind Bush. The LAT leads with Gov. Schwarzenegger's State of the State address, in which he warned of budget cuts (set to be announced Friday), insisted he won't raise taxes, and urged voters to support his $15 billion bond proposal.
Unnamed administration officials also said that they'll issue more green cards—which allow people to stay in the U.S. indefinitely—but they declined to say how many. There are an estimated eight million illegal immigrants in the U.S., roughly half of whom are Mexican. As one official explained, "So long as the undocumented person represents that they are working here and we can confirm that, then it could be as many as eight million people" given working papers. (Read a transcript of the telephone press conference announcing the proposal, hosted by a needlessly anonymous "senior administration official.")
Everybody notes that the president's proposal might have hard time getting congressional support, with some conservatives arguing that the plan amounts to a blanket amnesty (a bad thing, in their minds). Meanwhile, as the WP notes, immigrants-rights groups criticized the plan as ungenerous, arguing that immigrants who sign up might end up being worse off because the government will now know where they are and might come looking for them if and when their guest visas run out.
Euphemism watch: The Post consistently describes the illegal residents as "undocumented workers." Why? After all, whatever one thinks of the U.S.'s immigration policies, the workers are indeed here illegally. That's not a value judgment; it's a description.
Everybody fronts the joint announcement by Indian and Pakistani leaders that they'll sit down next month to try to hash out a comprehensive peace agreement. The NYT, in the clearest take, explains that in return for Pakistan's promise to rein in militants in Kashmir, India said it's willing to negotiate over the disputed territory. Tensions between the two countries have relaxed considerably in the past few months, and India says there have been far fewer guerrilla incursions into its part of Kashmir—a decrease, the LAT notes, that may be attributed to the onset of winter.
The papers mention inside that two bombs exploded in Kandahar yesterday, killing 13 people, mostly children. Another 30 Afghans were injured.
With Marine units about to return to Iraq, the papers continue to highlight the Marines' promises of a softer approach than the Army has taken. "I'm appalled at the current heavy-handed use of air [strikes] and artillery in Iraq," one Marine officer told the Post. "Success in a counterinsurgency environment is based on winning popular support, not blowing up people's houses."
A front-page investigative piece by the WP's Barton Gellman finds evidence of an Iraqi "nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war." Iraqi scientists did hide plans for various banned programs, but the plans didn't seem to be beyond the brainstorming stages, having been limited because of sanctions, the Gulf War I, and U.N. inspections. Of course, none of that is new. But Gellman has endless details, including an internal Saddam-era Iraqi memo (that he corroborated), stating that the total "destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991." As for Iraq's nuclear efforts—which the administration played up—one scientist said, "We would have had to start from less than zero. The country was cornered. We were boycotted. We were embargoed. The truth is, we disintegrated."
Gellman also finds evidence supporting the long-floated theory that Saddam's scientists were lying to him. In some cases, researchers "worked" on absurd, sure-to-fail weapons programs that Saddam was told would work. They then had to hide the programs' documents from inspectors. "Saddam Hussein ordered this work, but where would we get the materials?" said a former Iraqi general. "This was the case in every field. People would prepare reports under the order of Saddam Hussein and the supervision of the people around Saddam Hussein. But it was not real."