Counterterror Turmoil

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 29 2005 5:48 AM

Counterterror Turmoil

The Washington Post leads with word that the Bush administration may be drawing up a new battle plan for its war on terror that shifts focus away from capturing al-Qaida chiefs and toward fighting "violent extremism." President Bush's top terrorism adviser is spearheading a review that aims to reorient policy to the amorphous, decentralized shape of global terror after 9/11. Officials predict the revamp will emphasize a hearts-and-minds strategy, including more public diplomacy in the Arab world and crackdowns on jihadist teachings. The New York Times leads with the Department of Homeland Security's readying a test of a missile-defense system for America's commercial jets. Based on infrared lasers, the system is designed to spot and disable the shoulder-fired missiles that are favored by terrorist groups. So far, testing has run up a $120 million bill for the government; a massive $10 billion installation project for the nation's 6,800 commercial jets could follow. The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with the staggering numbers of Iraqi detainees being held without charge at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq. Recent figures show that the combined population of the two prisons now tops out at about 10,000 inmates. Not surprisingly, these secretive incarcerations have infuriated many Iraqis.

Even with the policy review, serious changes in counterterror policy are probably still a long way off. The WP notices that "many of the key counterterrorism jobs in the administration have been empty for months." And officials report that the government is still hashing out what place the Iraq war has in the "anti-terrorist effort."

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Congress has been pressuring DHS to move fast on the missile-defense project, but opponents caution that the whole thing could be a waste of time and money. A recent study at Los Angeles International Airport suggests that truck and luggage bombs pose a greater threat than shoulder-fired missiles. Even DHS's own study predicted the system might be "useless or only marginally effective against several types of shoulder-mounted missiles." Meanwhile, the airline industry isn't relishing the prospect of covering the system's maintenance fees: Yearly costs are expected to be over $1 million per plane.

The Post fronts a solid investigative piece on House Speaker Dennis Hastert's penchant for earmarking millions of dollars for his hometown in "an obscure section of the big federal spending bills." With the help of his chief of staff, Hastert has set aside some $24 million for nonprofits in Aurora, Ill., since becoming speaker in 1999.

The papers all chime in on today's parliamentary elections in Lebanon. The LAT focuses on the anti-Syrian movement's failure to coalesce into a strong political group, while the WP digs into Lebanon's sectarian history. For its part, the NYT frets about the lack of campaigning; it suggests that "most crucial decisions have been made in backroom deals."

A diverse group of 24 leaders has been quietly holding powwows since last October to hammer out a solution for the growing legions of Americans without health insurance, the NYT reports above the fold. Participants from the AFL-CIO, Johnson & Johnson, the Heritage Foundation, and other organizations hope to draw up proposals by the end of the year on how the country can quickly and dramatically expand health care coverage to the uninsured. The group then plans to take its recommendations and cost estimates to Congress and the White House.

The LAT files another excellent in-depth piece on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. U.N. and U.S. officials are scrambling to stop drug exports and replace narco-profits with foreign aid, but Afghan officers are growing particularly disillusioned with the booming drug market. And, while this year's opium harvest will be 30 percent smaller than last year's, that shrink is actually driving up prices and encouraging more planting.

Everybody mentions the bloody weekend in Iraq. The NYT counts 30 Iraqi deaths reported on Saturday, while the LAT puts the total at "nearly 40," including 10 Shiite pilgrims who were slain in Qaim. Among the worst of several attacks was a suicide blast at an Iraqi-American military base. A sweeping security check involving 40,000 Iraqi troops is set to begin in Baghdad on Sunday.

The NYT takes to the streets of Tehran to find out what Iranians think of their country's nuclear ambitions. Most count the development of nuclear technology as a point of national pride, but opinions vary when it comes to the nuke endgame. Some want Iranian nuclear projects to remain committed to "peaceful purposes"; others hope that weapons are in the works. Whatever their opinion on Tehran's nuclear power plans, the Times points out, Iranians agree that they must overcome the economic sanctions they've endured since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Among the costs of Iran's international isolation? "Their second-hand jets crash with alarming frequency [and] their cellphone network is so overburdened that practically every conversation is a torturous series of half-heard sentences."

Picture Imperfect … Why do contemporary Washington politicos continue to solicit ugly, anachronistic portraits of themselves? Because of a serious lack of imagination, the Post's Blake Gopnik discovers. Everyone from Bill Clinton to Newt Gingrich has had his likeness rendered by an artist. But, for the most part, officials opt for stodgy poses and eschew any portraitist who smacks of the avant-garde. The results, Gopnik says, aren't pretty: "The recent portraits in Congress sit somewhere between evoking the painted portraits of the past and copying corporate photography of more recent times."

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