The T Word

The T Word

The T Word

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 23 2004 6:45 AM

The T Word

The New York Times leads with evidence suggesting that North Korea supplied Libya with uranium in 2001. If confirmed, this would be the first evidence that North Korea is in the business of supplying nuclear technology to other countries. The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Postlead with the setbacks the Bush administration has suffered in Iraq and its plans to reverse course. The LAT focuses on the gloom, quoting extensively from last week's Senate hearings ("We are looking into the abyss," in the words of one retired general), while the Post talks about the forthcoming U.S. diplomatic campaign, including six speeches W. will make before June 30th. ("We'll start talking about the future, not the past …," says an anonymous official State Deptartment official.)

A "giant cask of uranium hexaflouride" turned over to the United States by Libya earlier this year may have come from North Korea, according to the NYT lead. The International Atomic Energy Agency based this conclusion on interviews with members of the supplier network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, former head of Pakistan's main nuclear laboratory. The hexaflouride can be used as nuclear fuel only when enriched by centrifuges, which Libya was in the process of constructing before Qaddafi agreed to abandon his nuclear program.

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The LAT piles the dire predictions on Iraq at the top of its lead, so that by the time Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, finally has his say, in graph 15, his optimism sounds almost disingenuous. (Could he really believe "we're on the brink of success"?) The naysayers are a varied lot, both retired and former as well as active. Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pentagon strategist during Vietnam, said, "I've never heard the kind of dark defeatism I'm hearing now, both in and out of government, including the worst days of the Vietnam War. Support for this war is plummeting. In Vietnam, that happened much more slowly, and only after much higher casualties."   

The Post counters with the plan to reverse this defeatism. The administration will float a draft of a U.N. resolution on post-occupation Iraq and Bush will make his speeches, starting at the Army War College, trying to shore up the coalition. "The road ahead could get bumpier," the Post concedes in understated fashion.

A fronter in the late edition of the NYT reports that insurgents in Karbala have ceded control of the city to American forces after three weeks of fighting. "It looks like they just packed up and went home," says the commander of the First Brigade. Iraqi police will be asked to patrol the city next week. "Whether and how the police get attacked will determine how much is left of the insurgency, the commanders said."

The NYT Magazine fronts "The Photographs Are Us," a relatively brief, elegant essay by Susan Sontag. The Abu Ghraib photographs and the actions depicted in them, Sontag argues, are actually emblematic of everyday American life, and the ongoing pictorial documentation of that life, war or no. "For the meaning of these pictures is not just that these acts were performed, but that their perpetrators apparently had no sense that there was anything wrong in what the pictures show. Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people: it was all fun. And this idea of fun is, alas, more and more—contrary to what President Bush is telling the world—part of the 'true nature and heart of America.' " 

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Both Sontag and NYT op-ed contributor Adam Hochschild, invoking Orwell, remark on the word "torture" and its curious absence in the Abu Ghraib discourse. (Both quote Rumsfeld: "I'm not going to address the 'torture' word.") Hochschild also unpacks some of the more precious euphemisms entering the language, including "water-boarding," "stress positions" and "sleep management." "After being kept awake for a hundred hours or so, almost anybody will confess to almost anything, from flying though the night sky on a broom stick to being a capitalist spy."

The NYT reports that after being presented with a catalog of the abuses at Abu Ghraib last fall, the U.S. military asserted that many of the prisoners were not entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Convention. 

Joshua Foer, an occasional contributor to this column, also shows up on the NYT's op-ed page, the day before his graduation from Yale. "One of the most under-reported statistics about the war in Iraq is my generation's overwhelming support for it—not just in its early stages but well into last year." The administration's antics and the torture at Abu Ghraib has cut into that support, though Foer is still left to wonder if his might the "first generation in a long time to be more conservative than our parents."

Finally, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 took the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the first documentary to win since Jacques Cousteau's Silent World, in 1956. Dumped by Disney, Fahrenheit is still without an American distributor.