Bogged Down in Baghdad
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all lead with a top American official's admission that despite a joint U.S.-Iraqi crackdown, the military has failed to stanch the violence decimating Baghdad. Attacks in the capital are up more than 20 percent over the last three weeks alone. USA Today leads with a fascinating examination of state crime-lab statistics. The paper discovered that states increasingly are using the national criminal DNA database to solve property crimes. Although the FBI designed the database for investigating crimes like rape and murder, these sorts of expanded uses for law enforcement tools are nothing new.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the military spokesman in Iraq, acknowledged that the failure to stop insurgent attacks in the capital was "disheartening." The NYT offers the best account of the general's remarks, describing them as "unusual for their candor and unvarnished portrayal of bad news." Caldwell claimed that insurgents hope to sway American public opinion before the election but said that discussions had already begun on how to "refocus" military efforts. Only the NYT points out how futile those talks are likely to be, noting that "senior American military officials" already told reporters they have no new tactics in mind.
More fundamental changes in policy may be ahead, however. In a companion to its lead, the Post captures the emerging consensus in Washington that "stay the course" is untenable. A front-page analysis in the LAT makes clear why: Even Republican congressional candidates are questioning the administration's approach. The NYT goes inside with a look at Bush's options, which can be summarized in a single word (bad). As the WSJ reports, simply maintaining current deployment levels may force the administration to revise Pentagon limits on how long National Guard and Army Reserve troops can serve.
But Iraq is only one problem the GOP faces. After six years in power, Republicans lack ideological focus, and the NYT fronts a look at the "pre-criminations" dividing the party. The paper finds that the familiar social conservative/neoconservative/economic conservative splits have grown especially tense this fall (see the handy chart included). The infighting has already caused some bizarre developments, such as Dick Armey channeling Nancy Pelosi: "Democrats are talking about the things people care about, like how do I pay my bills?"
Despite the intraparty finger-pointing, Republicans are not going down without a fight. The Post previews their plan for the campaign's final weeks: Accuse Democrats of planning to "raise taxes, weaken national security and liberalize social policies." Although Karl Rove believes that the strategy will work, several "GOP operatives" told the paper they expect to lose at least 18, and perhaps as many as 25 to 30, House seats; Democrats need just 15 to take control. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that Republicans' cash advantage is dwindling. Partly that's due to aggressive fund-raising by Democrats, but it also reflects the GOP campaign committees' high overhead costs. The paper notes that Republicans "spend significantly more for trinkets for donors, such as lithographs and $93,500 for books about the inauguration."
Everybody but the Post stuffs Russia's shuttering of foreign NGOs. The government barred more than 90 organizations from doing any work in the country after they failed to register as required by a new law. Russian officials claim that the groups are suffering a temporary setback that is the result of their own disorganization, but NGO employees counter that the government has made the registration process confusing and cumbersome.
The LAT and the Post front NBC's decision to save $750 million over the next two years by slashing hundreds of jobs and filling the first hour of primetime with cheap game shows and reality programs. The LAT offers a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the moves. But the Post gets caught up by the network's name for the restructuring plan, "NBC 2.0," and tries to spin a high-level think piece on staying competitive in the age of "YouTube, social networks, video games and other upstart media." (Steer clear.)
The Cardinals are headed to the World Series after a 3-1 victory over the Mets. Only the NYT's city edition has the game on Page One, but USAT fronts a great analysis of the Series' recent history. Expanded MLB revenue-sharing and revamped playoff rules mean the Fall Classic is no longer dominated by dynasties. Over the last five years, the Cards are the only team to make it to the Series twice, while their opponents this year, the Tigers, are the sixth wild-card entry.
Also on the front page: The LAT reports that two Border Patrol agents were sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison for shooting an unarmed drug smuggler who had crossed the Mexican border with nearly 750 pounds of marijuana. The case has become "cause celebre" among groups advocating a harder line on immigration. USAT writes that an invisibility cloak is one step closer to reality. Duke scientists reported Thursday that they had found a way to hide objects from microwaves with an electromagnetic "mirage." And the WSJ profiles East Dawning, a chain from the corporate parent of Pizza Hut and KFC that is attempting to sell Chinese fast food in China. One Shanghai resident's take: "It's authentic but it's not that good."
Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.