The Los Angeles Timesand Washington Post lead with previews of the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday in New York. On the eve of the convention, the race remains a tight one, and Republicans will seek to open up a lead by reinforcing President Bush's image as a strong commander in chief, by laying out a vision for America's future (neither article digs up much detail on that front), and, in a surprising move, by contrasting the president with his opponent, John Kerry. The New York Times skips a general pre-convention roundup and leads instead with Bush's active interest in the running of his own campaign, a piece whose newsless softness makes today's Times into a perfect convention welcome mat.
In his acceptance speech, the LAT reports, Bush plans to "look ahead," "move forward," and be just generally upbeat. A centrist ring to the rhetoric is probable. Strategists agree, however, that the president will need to address his political trouble spots, too. Post: "Bush's advisors plan to reshape [Iraq] into a far broader discussion about which candidate can wage a more effective war on terrorism." And to appease worries about the limping domestic situation, he may "unveil a handful of new initiatives on issues such as taxes and healthcare." Most of the Kerry critiques will be delivered before Bush takes the stage. Said chief adviser Karl Rove to the LAT:"We will cite what [Kerry] has said and how he has voted. We will use the things he has said and done to make clear what the big choices are."
The Post's off-lead examines the two-year decline of Bush's once-lofty approval ratings, suggesting that "an accumulation of miscalculations and missed opportunities" by his political advisers may have cost Bush an easy win in November. Bush's huge Medicare overhaul, they note, looks like a strategic airball when considered alongside polls that show the issue still strongly in the Democrats' court. Also cited was January's cautious State of the Union, which the Post implies was too pencil-necked—perhaps on account of its antisteroid stance—to have impressed the voting public significantly.
The NYT'soff-lead is an excellent but very graphic report on the bleak situation in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi cities now controlled by increasingly strong anticoalition fundamentalist groups. The coalition's original strategy—to empower former Baathist officials to capture the areas themselves—has utterly "collapsed." Most of those who had joined the U.S., especially officials of higher rank and including the governor of the province, have been systematically eliminated by the rebels. The groups then make brutal, humiliating examples of those they capture in order to deter further defections; the article mentions a number of videos showing prisoners who are forced to confess treason before they are beheaded. In addition, the cities themselves have become breeding grounds for terrorists, and, according to Marine commanders, "[provide] a haven for Iraqi militants and for scores of non-Iraqi Arabs, many of them with ties to Al Qaeda, who have homed in on Falluja as the ideal base to conduct a holy war against the United States."
In another sobering report, the NYT details its poll of 339 relatives of 9/11 victims. Those interviewed were asked about issues ranging from the war on terror, to the appropriateness of New York as a convention venue, to their own grieving processes. On most political issues, the pro-con numbers are about even, but the article's real value lies in the candid comments of the relatives.
The Post fronts an article on the growing number of assassination attempts on high-ranking Pakistani officials, and how the trend may be connected to a strengthened tie between foreign al-Qaida operatives and homegrown Pakistani militants. In an unstable situation, President Pervez Musharraf—himself the target of two such attempts last December—is trying to balance international pressure to eliminate the groups with his own reliance on them as military instruments in the standoff over Kashmir.
The LAT fronts a look at the bizarre first week of military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, which featured "a presiding officer [that] appeared to be so blindsided by a defense maneuver that he sat with his face in his hands before issuing a ruling," and "a defendant [who] unexpectedly fired his court-appointed lawyer and began to blurt out a confession before officials could bring the situation under control." The translation system "repeatedly broke down" and international observers called the system "fatally flawed." An army spokesman admitted that "the panel's proceedings were 'rounded but needed to be refined.' "
But there's good news, too: it appears that 60 Minutes' star Mike Wallace won't be charged with disorderly conduct after all. Wallace was handcuffed and brought to an NYPD precinct on Aug. 10 after arguing heatedly with police about his double-parked limo (the driver was waiting for him to pick up some takeout). One of the cops, as it turns out, didn't have something called "special patrolman status," which means he was not authorized to cuff anyone. The upshot? Wallace is still out there. Somewhere.