Summer Daze

Summer Daze

Summer Daze

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 11 2005 3:59 AM

Summer Daze

The Washington Post'slead with what amounts to an interview with a "top U.S. military official" who the WP concludes downplayed the recent talk of a draw-down in Iraq: "EARLY PULLOUT UNLIKELY IN IRAQ." The New York Timesleads with states kvetching about the Pentagon's plan to downsize some Air National Guard units and close related bases. The Times gives the impression that the Pentagon's effort has been ham-fisted but—local complaints aside—not unreasonable. The Los Angeles Timesleads with oil hitting another new high and the Department of Energy warning that prices at the pump aren't coming down anytime soon. As the paper notes, oil is still about $20 a barrel away from the inflation-adjusted peak it hit 25 years ago. USA Todayleads with the new Census data showing Hispanics spreading out across the country. Meanwhile, African-Americans are increasingly moving to the 'burbs in the South.

The military official—the only source the Post's lead cites in advancing its thesis—said it's "still possible" that 20,000 or 30,000 troops will leave next spring. But, the source added, the earliest Iraqi forces are "going to be capable of running a counterinsurgency campaign is next summer." He added that nobody should expect the insurgency to taper off after the coming elections, "I think the important point is there's not going to be a fundamental change."

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The above quotes are about as detailed as the "official" gets, which is to say not very. In fact, the only real news in the Post's story is the existence of the article itself: A "top U.S. military official" seems to have decided not to emphasize the recent draw-down talk. One hint about the source: The story is datelined "Baghdad."

It's possible the Post is just cherry-picking from the interview, trying to make it seem newsworthy. After all, there's no transcript to tell (another bonus for readers of such a shadowy interview). But, assuming the official was purposely playing down expectations, isn't the obvious, indeed central, question: Why? (The Post, of course,doesn't touch that, presumably because it's too self-referential.)

The Wall Street Journal goes high with Iran doing more salami slicing and, as expected, removing the seals from a nuclear development plant. The paper uses the move as an opportunity to ponder the U.S.'s recent signals that it's willing to wheel and deal with Iran and North Korea. If talks don't work, well, that's trouble. Regarding Pyongyang, one U.S. official said, "We don't know what Plan B is."

The NYT follows up again on its story that a secret Pentagon data-mining effort—named Able Danger—had fingered Mohamed Atta and three of the other hijackers as al-Qaida suspects back in 2000. TP expressed serious skepticism the other day. But the Times does confirm one bit of the story: The spokesman for the 9/11 commission acknowledged that a military officer had told commission staffers that the data-mining effort pegged Atta. The spokesman explained that the staffers didn't believe the guy since he insisted that Atta was in the U.S. during 1999 and 2000 despite evidence to the contrary. 

While we're on the subject, here's another nitpick with the Times' continuing coverage of Able Danger. If the program really did peg Atta before 9/11, isn't it important to know—or at least ask—how many other names were on the list? If it held, say, thousands of names (including many false positives), would it have amounted to actionable intelligence? At the least, a big list could explain why the names weren't forwarded to the FBI to begin with. It also might explain why, as the Times put it Tuesday, Weldon recognized the significance of Able Danger "only recently." Indeed, Weldon mentioned the program three years ago, but Atta didn't come up.

In what at first glance seems like a no-news thumb-sucker, the WP's Walter Pincus seems to suggest—obliquely—that White House officials did originally learn about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame via a State Department memo that had been labeled "secret" rather than through journalists, as some recollections had it.

The WSJ notices that the White House has agreed to hand over some of Judge John Roberts' Reagan-era work memos. But, as the NYT emphasizes, the administration still won't hand over Roberts' work from his Bush I days, a position that Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter endorsed. A short piece inside the LAT wonders how Bush has the power to withhold. Answer: He gave it to himself—four years ago.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.