Syrious Charges

Syrious Charges

Syrious Charges

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 15 2005 3:11 AM

Syrious Charges

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with the assassination of former prime minister Lebanese Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman who had been an opponent of  Syria's de facto occupation of his country. The massive bombing, which sheared off the facades of nearby buildings, also killed nine other people and wounded about 100. As the Journal notes, Hariri was planning a comeback, and the Syrian occupation was issue No. 1. USA Today goes above the fold with the bombing but leads with the administration's proposed budget cuts to FDA inspections. Food checks would go down about 5 percent, and inspections of foreign drug plants (source of last fall's top-shelf flu vaccine) would drop about 6 percent.

Syria, which has about 15,000 troops in Lebanon, condemned the bombing as "a terrorist act." And a previously unheard-of jihadist group claimed responsibility. But plenty of Lebanese weren't buying it; a crowd in Beirut tried to burn down the local Syrian party offices. The Journal, whose coverage is full of good details, adds that Hariri was known to have tip-top security, complete with jammers to protect against remote-controlled bombs. In other words, (crackerjack) "analysts" told the WSJ, newbies probably weren't responsible.

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The NYT sees the administration pointing a finger: "U.S. SEEMS SURE OF THE HAND OF SYRIA, HINTING AT PENALTIES." White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the attack "a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation." Only problem is that while McClellan might have dropped a hint, as USAT puts it he was "careful not to link Syria to the bombing." "It's premature to know who was responsible for this attack," said McClellan in a bit the Times doesn't use. None of the other papers play the White House blame angle.

"It's almost too easy to accuse Syria," one Lebanon-watcher told the Journal. "Don't forget—this comes at a time when Syria desperately tries to engage the U.S. on issues like Iraq, to divert attention from its presence in Lebanon."

A "senior State Department official" told the NYTimes it doesn't matter: "We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized."

The WP goes above the foldwith a state-of-the-counterinsurgency talk from U.S. commanders in Iraq. "Are we having success rolling up some of the top-tier leaders? Not at this time," said the U.S.'s top in-country intel officer. "But we're successfully working the second- and third-tier leaders to put pressure on the top tier." The Post puts that through the grinder and comes up with: "TOP IRAQ REBELS ELUDE INTENSIFIED U.S. RAIDS." Farther down, other officers acknowledge they still don't really know if, eh, they're making a dent. And it's not really about raids. "The political outreach will have more impact on the insurgency than our military operations," said one general.

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Everybody mentions the White House's formal $82 billion "emergency" request for Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few other odds and ends. The Post describes the figure as "nearly five times the savings Bush is seeking next year in cuts to discretionary spending." About $6 billion would go to train Iraq forces—a tenfold increase. That proposed money has few strings attached, and U.S. commanders could use it as they see fit, a notion Congress apparently isn't too excited about. The latest request brings the overall bill in Iraq to about $200 billion.

There are also some costs in the bill not associated with Iraq or Afghanistan. Namely, there's $5 billion to help the Army continue its reorganization into smaller units. "Why this funding is in an emergency supplemental [request] is hard to explain," one analyst told the Post. "It looks as though they want a bigger defense budget without admitting it."

One GI was killed yesterday in Iraq, as were four members of Iraqi security forces.

Everybody mentions a mine accident in China that's killed about 200 people so far. About 6,000 miners were killed in China last year.

The WP fronts a former White House official saying in a published piece that there was "minimal senior White House commitment" to support faith-based programs for the poor. "From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants," he wrote. "It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.' "

The Post's magazine guy looks at the latest in celebrity mags: Sly. (Sylvester Stallone, "executive editor.") Sly is for men who want to "stay in the game past 40." Apparently the kinda guys who nod knowingly at a rage-factor quiz that asks, "Are people so used to you being angry all the time they assume you are even when you're just constipated?"