Passive-Aggressive Order

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 9 2004 6:53 AM

Passive-Aggressive Order

The New York Times leads with a push by the U.S. to have Iraq's transitional government be party-based rather than non-partisan, as the U.N. desires. The Washington Post leads with growing dissent in the U.S. military over Iraqi policy. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that despite recent U.S. statements to the contrary, NATO is not about to send troops to Iraq anytime soon.

The U.N.'s envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has proposed an interim Iraqi government of technocrats headed by a prime minister, who would be advised by three presidents—a Kurd, a Shiite, and a Sunni. The U.S. wants a greater role for political parties. The NYT says such groups would likely include two Shiite parties—Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—as well as the Communist Party. The U.S. may also try to retain a role for the Iraqi Governing Council. Brahimi wants to replace the IGC with an informal "advisory" legislature chosen from a national meeting of 1,500 Iraqis. Brahimia and Paul Bremer plan to agree on a prime minister by the end of the month. Other issues—such as the authority of U.S. military commanders after June 30—will involve negotiations with U.N. Security Council heavies.

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The view that the U.S. is losing in Iraq is "far from universal [among military officers], but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time," the Post's lead argues. To back up this thesis, the paper quotes two named officers and an anonymous "senior Pentagon general" opining that the U.S. is winning tactically but losing strategically. It quotes three named officers (including John Abizaid), a named occupation adviser, and an anonymous intel officer stating that the U.S. is not losing yet, but not clearly winning. It quotes a named defense consultant and an anonymous officer predicting that the U.S. will at least need to scale back its ambitions. And it quotes a named Pentagon consultant and an anonymous special forces officer calling for the ouster of top Pentagon brass. Paul Wolfowitz tells the paper that despite what the disaffected may say to reporters, most U.S. officers support him and believe democracy is possible.

The U.S. has apparently been courting NATO since the start of the Iraq war, and in recent weeks both President Bush and the U.S. envoy to NATO have hinted at a more formal role for the alliance. But anonymous "NATO officials" and "diplomats" tell the LAT that the alliance has effectively decided to wait until at least next year before committing troops. NATO's hesitancy arises from anxiety provoked by the Madrid bombings and the Iraqi insurgency, its desire to prioritize its mission in Afghanistan, and its perception that the U.S. has not bothered to adequately consult NATO countries already in Iraq, such as Poland, Italy, and Britain.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the new chief of Iraq's prisons, defended his recommendation last summer to have military police participate in interrogations, the NYT and WP report inside. Miller, who had recommended that MPs be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of internees," said he had specified that MPs be limited to "passive intelligence collection"—in other words, 24-hour monitoring of prisoners' behavior, but not actual questioning. Miller also said that while he had recommended that detention and interrogation be consolidated under a single command, it was Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, not him, who gave that single command to military intelligence. (The Taguba report concluded that Miller's recommendation would "clearly run counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility.")

In the NYT piece on Miller, an anonymous Pentagon official admits that last year the Defense Department did approve—at least for use in Guantanamo prisons—of interrogation devices like sleep interruption and forced disrobing before questioning. A separate piece  on the Post's front page says the approved techniques extended to "exposing [prisoners] to heat, cold and 'sensory assault,' including loud music and bright lights." The guidelines specified medical monitoring of some interrogations and ruled out any physical contact (such as occurred in most abuses at Abu Ghraib).

The "Sasser" virus that crashed about a million computers last week was traced to a German high-school student, the Post reports inside. After receiving a tip, Microsoft alerted German authorities, who arrested the 18-year-old. If he is convicted, Microsoft will pay the tipster a $250,000 reward.

A Post "Outlook" piece examines the history of troop volumes during postwar occupations. Upon Germany's surrender in 1945, the U.S. Army had 1.6 million troops in the country, and over the next 18 months it maintained 400,000 in the American occupation zone. That amounted to one soldier for every 40 Germans. A recent RAND study concluded that at least one solder per 50 civilians is needed to occupy a country. What's the ratio in Iraq? One to 160. (140 if you count contractors.)

The NYT asks several colleges and universities how they book their commencement speakers. Some institutions pay their speaker through a bureau, after negotiating a reduced non-profit fee. But many colleges are too prestigious to have to pay, or too poor to afford to pay. The former usually tempt speakers with an honorary degree. The latter offer donated goodies, like private jet transportation, or old-fashioned alumni connections.

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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