Iraq Off Track

Iraq Off Track

Iraq Off Track

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 26 2004 6:06 AM

Iraq Off Track

The Washington Post leads with a grim review of the escalating violence in Iraq. According to statistics prepared for the U.S. government, insurgent attacks on private contractors and against U.S. and Iraqi forces have increased dramatically since the country regained sovereignty in June. The Los Angeles Timesleads with an overview of the of the tightening race for the White House. The piece touches on Electoral College strategy, debate prep, and the "unknowables" such as Iraq. The New York Times leads with a discussion of a potentially serious flaw in the new Medicare drug benefit: The insurance companies that will pay for seniors' medicine may not cover some of the most popular drugs.

The Post's lead indicates that Iraq is collapsing into chaos, despite Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's assurances while visiting Washington this week. The violence is especially unsettling in light of the argument in the LAT's off-lead that Iraq has become a focal point for radical militants from around the world. According to another Post article, U.S. and Iraqi officials are preparing a response to the insurgency that they hope will allow elections to proceed as planned in January. Whether such a plan can succeed in just four months remains uncertain. Meanwhile, the LAT reveals the monetary cost of the strife: As much as three-quarters of U.S. reconstruction aid is going to security, contractors, and related expenses, rather than supporting the Iraqi economy.

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While the LAT's lead highlights all the important issues in the presidential race, the other papers front in-depth reports on specific aspects of the campaign. The Post offers a thorough review of the different skills George Bush and John Kerry will bring to Thursday's presidential debate in Miami. The piece describes the essence of both men's styles but does not add much to the conventional wisdom—Bush is plain-spoken and appealing; Kerry is flamboyant and aggressive. The best debate preview remains Jim Fallows' exhaustive article "When George Meets John" in the July/August Atlantic Monthly. The NYT fronts a thoughtful examination of Kerry's management style. The piece mostly avoids the inside-baseball details that plague similar articles and does a decent job explaining how Kerry actually would run the White House. The article does reveal the all-too-unsurprising detail that Kerry spent four weeks considering the design of his campaign logo; apparently the senator was particularly troubled over which font to use.

The NYT also looks at how the race is shaping up  in two key swing states. The paper hit the ground in Ohio and Florida to examine the voter registration campaigns that have consumed Democrats and Republicans alike. In both states, the Democrats seem to have a significant edge in the number of new registrations. Turnout remains the key to victory, however, and no one seems to know how many of these new voters will head to the polls on Election Day. The Republicans have a highly effective get-out-the-vote operation that may compensate for any Democratic edge in registrations.

The Post and the NYT both front sweeping pieces that aren't tied to specific newspegs but are nonetheless worthwhile. The Post runs the first article in a four-part series about growing up gay in rural America. Although the author overreaches in her attempt to capture detail, the piece offers an excellent portrait of a deeply religious and resolutely antigay world that is no doubt alien to many Post readers. The NYT examines a loose network of warring gangs that stretches from Central America to Los Angeles to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Gang members traveling back and forth from the United States constitute a new kind of transnational threat that goes unnoticed as most Americans remain focused on terrorists.

The Post reveals new details about a complicated scheme in which a pair of Washington influence peddlers worked to shutter a Texas Indian casino so that they could earn fees from the tribe that wanted to reopen it. As previously reported, the duo (lobbyist Jack Abramoff and P.R. consultant Michael Scanlon) hired Christian activist Ralph Reed to spearhead a public campaign against the casino. But the Post now has unearthed e-mails between Abramoff and Scanlon that reveal the extent to which the pair exploited both sides of the casino dispute. The paper examines another side of the money-and-influence game with an evergreen about the fundraisers and receptions that comprise the Capitol Hill social scene.

The NYT has a great story about a small town rescued by the war on terrorism. Playas, N.M.—an all-but-abandoned company town built by a mining concern in the 1970s—is being saved from collapse by the Department of Homeland security. The Department awarded a $5 million grant to New Mexico Tech so that the school can acquire the entire town and use it as an antiterror training facility.

Some other good articles stuffed below the fold: The LAT reports on another hurricane battering Florida and asks whether the storm surrounding Dan Rather will force him out at CBS; the NYT explains why state and local governments are feuding with American Indians about the sale of cigarettes over the Internet.

Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.