UNcharted Territory

UNcharted Territory

UNcharted Territory

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 24 2004 5:00 AM

UNcharted Territory

The New York Times' lead says that the CIA had been given the phone number and first name of one of the 9/11 hijackers two and a half years before the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. The Washington Post leads with, and the Wall Street Journal goes high with, the U.N.'s report concluding that elections in Iraq can't be pulled off until the end of the year at the earliest. The report also opposed the U.S.'s caucuses idea, but backed the administration's position-cum-demand that sovereignty be handed over by June 30. Taken together, the conclusions create a bit of a pickle. Unlike the WP, the Journal's Jess Bravin gets it right away. His story begins: "A United Nations assessment that neither elections nor caucuses in Iraq are feasible during the near term leaves open a critical question: Who would run the country after the U.S. occupation expires but before a new government can be elected?" As yesterday's Post noted, neither the U.S. nor U.N. wants to take the lead on pushing a solution. The Los Angeles Times leads with the latest from Haiti, where opposition leaders are poised to reject the U.S.-backed peace plan—in which President Aristide would share power—but put off publicly announcing their rejection after Secretary of State Powell asked them to give it another day. Meanwhile, 50 Marines landed in Haiti to help secure the embassy there. USA Today's lead says that cities' emergency services are moving away from recommending giving mouth-to-mouth to cardiac arrest victims and instead are advising bystanders to just do chest compressions. Apparently mouth-to-mouth isn't worth the time lost as 911 dispatchers teach bystanders to do it. 

German intel officials had given the CIA the info on Marwan al-Shehhi, who later piloted a plane in the WTC, in March 1999. The Times says the Germans considered the tips on al-Shehhi to be "particularly valuable" and they asked the agency to check up on him. A German intel official said "there was no response" until Sept. 11. An American intel official responded, "The Germans did give us the name `Marwan' and a phone number, but we were unable to come up with anything. It was an unlisted phone number in the U.A.E., which he was known to use." While it's long been known that the CIA had received tips about two other 9/11 hijackers, the Times says unlike the other two al-Shehhi was at the center of the plot.

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The NYT's Haiti headline gets things backwards: "ARISTIDE'S FOES GIVEN 24 HOURS TO STUDY PLAN." As most of the papers note, the Haitian opposition wasn't "given" anything. The U.S. and others pushing the peace plan aren't the ones holding the cards right now. As an early LAT headline put it: "POWELL PLEADS FOR DEAL IN HAITI." (The paper's final version softened "pleads" to "pushes.")

Meanwhile, the Post goes a bit cable news and overplays the entry of the Marine security contingent, headlining it on Page One. Fifty Marines aren't enough to do anything besides guard the embassy. And as one Pentagon official put it, "This is not phase one of the landing of a large U.S. force." The Post stuffs a better article on Haiti. In fact, the piece is the best one out there today on the diplomatic machinations behind the crisis: "U.S. SCRAMBLES TO FIND NEW COURSE IN HAITI."

Everybody notes that President Bush effectively kicked off his reelection campaign. "It's a choice between keeping the tax relief that is moving this economy forward, or putting the burden of higher taxes on the American people," Bush said at a fundraiser yesterday. "It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence, or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger." Bush also took more specific aim. The Democratic field, Bush said, is "for tax cuts and against them. For NAFTA and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."

In a frontpage Post piece, Dana Milbank notes that the White House's much-derided and since dropped projection of 2.6 million new jobs this year is actually "one of the more modest predictions of the administration." Saying the administration has "repeatedly and significantly" understated the deficit and overstated job growth, Milbank says that one of the reasons seems to be that the economy is bucking past trends, which has made projections more difficult. Still, says Milbank, the administration has continued giving rosy forecasts even though it's now pretty common knowledge the economy isn't following previous patterns.

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A piece inside the Post twists the knife, "BUSH ASSERTION ON TAX CUTS IS AT ODDS WITH IRS DATA."

The Journal says the president has yet to deliver on recent concessions he made to the 9/11 commission. While the president agreed to appear before the commission privately, the White House has since said Bush will only do so in front of a few of the members of the panel. The commission's head, a Republican, said he won't agree to that, arguing it wasn't the deal. Also, while the White House agreed to extend the commission's report deadline, it has been slow to exert pressure on Congress to agree to the extension.

The LAT says inside that for all John Edwards's talk about trade, he doesn't seem particularly well informed about it or some other international issues. Asked about a dispute between the U.S. and E.U. involving American corporate tax credits, Edwards said, "I'm not sure I even know what you're talking about." He then gave it shot explaining that he's opposed to "tax breaks to American companies who are shipping jobs overseas." The dispute has nothing to do with that.

The Post says U.N. inspectors have found more evidence of Iran's nukes program. Apparently the country has been experimenting with polonium [no sic!], which is helpful for starting the chain reactions need to make nuclear bombs.

The LAT goes Page One with questions around a $500 million children's hospital in Iraq being pushed by Laura Bush. Many critics, including Republicans, figure the money would be better spent on basic health initiatives, such as clean water. The Times says that in an "unusual alliance," the National Security Council has taken up the First Lady's cause and has been lobbying for the hospital in Congress. The hospital would be operated by a charity headed by an acquaintance of the Bush's.

Most of the papers front the military's decision to cancel the $38 billion Comanche helicopter program. Conceived around Wang Chung's apex, about $7 billion dollars has already been spent on the program, which was way over budget and behind schedule.  Just about everybody—liberals and conservatives—thinks the decision is smart since the chopper was basically a cold war relic that drones had largely made obsolete. The only exception: politicians from Connecticut, where the Comanche plant happens to be. "I am outraged," said principled Sen. Joseph Lieberman.