Bush and Ahmadinejad go to the U.N.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 20 2006 5:04 AM

Showdown at Turtle Bay

The Los Angeles Times leads with President Bush's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, which was followed several hours later by an address from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The New York Times devotes its off-lead to the dueling speeches, which also top the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. The Washington Post's top spot goes to an Army general's comments that U.S. troop levels in Iraq are unlikely to decline before spring. That assessment, from Middle East commander John Abizaid, runs counter to earlier predictions and underscores how unstable the country remains. The NYT lays that instability partly at the feet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, with its lead on his weaknesses as a leader. USA Today splashes an apparently bloodless coup in Thailand across the top but leads with a review of airport luggage screening. The assessment, ordered by Congress, found that bomb detection at airports nationwide relies on slow and outdated technology.

The LAT's report on Bush's U.N. speech describes it as one of his second term's major foreign-policy statements and notes that the president has adopted a more subdued tone that emphasizes diplomacy. The NYT picks up on the speech's backdrop: floundering U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Apparently, administration officials' earlier talk of a sanctions "breakthrough" has been abandoned. Explaining the impasse, the WSJ argues that economic ties to Iran are the true motivation for Russia, China, and Europe's opposition. The article, although compelling, seems too quick in its dismissal of another explanation: Sanctions often lead to war.

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After announcing that troop levels in Iraq will remain steady, Gen. Abizaid was asked "point-blank" if the U.S. is winning, the Post writes. His response: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war." In the present, however, sectarian violence continues to spiral out of control. According to the NYT, Prime Minister Maliki is partially to blame. The Iraqi leader's four months in office have been characterized by indecisiveness. Most notably, he has been unwilling to confront the armed groups tearing the country apart. An Iraqi reporter for the LAT captures the destruction they are causing in a remarkable feature. He writes that in Iraq, no one even stops to help those dying around them: "Bringing someone to the hospital or to the police is out of the question. Nobody trusts the police, and nobody wants to answer questions."

All the papers go big with the Thai coup, in which military leaders seized control of the government while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York for the U.N. meeting. But no one seems sure how to approach the story—perhaps because the military's next moves are uncertain, but also perhaps because coups are not exactly rare in Thailand (see USAT's article for a helpful historical sidebar). The WSJ has the must-read account, which highlights Thailand's strategic importance to the United States, both as a trading partner and as an ally against terrorism. Given the relative peace in Bangkok today, however, U.S. interests seem unlikely to be upset. The NYT elliptically captures the spirit of the coup by referring to a military spokesman's apology for any inconvenience caused. (As for on-the-ground developments, the Bangkok Post, an English-language daily, is posting detailed updates.)

The Post runs a strong investigation of tariff waivers across the top. The waivers, passed by Congress, offer savings to businesses importing foreign goods. The Post digs deep into trade data and congressional records to uncover details on the pork-barrel practice but is strangely silent on which (if either) party bears more responsibility. The paper notes that at least 36 members of Congress introduced five or more tariff bills this session but does not break down the figure.

As for more traditional government largesse, the Post also reports that Boeing is the latest beneficiary of the growing homeland-security industrial complex. DHS officials are expected to announce Wednesday that the company has won a $2.5 billion contract for a new border-security system. Ironically, as part of its bid, Boeing cited its work installing luggage-screening systems after Sept. 11—the same systems USAT's lead reports are slow and out-of-date (admirably, the Post catches the irony).

USAT also fronts the space shuttle's delayed return. The shuttle, which had been scheduled to land Wednesday, will stay in orbit for at least an extra day so the crew can determine whether an object seen floating past the ship caused any damage.

Only 48 days until the midterms: In races nationwide, Republican gubernatorial candidates are tacking left this year, the NYT writes. Yet the races cited—in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois—are all in Democratic states, so it's hard to see why the phenomenon is new or surprising. Meanwhile, the Post fronts the latest political twist in red-state Virginia: Sen. George Allen's public statement that he has Jewish ancestors. Allen made the announcement after an angry exchange over the issue with a reporter—the latest in a series of missteps that have made his contest with Democrat James Webb a favorite for Beltway political junkies.

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