The president says his goals in Iraq remain unchanged

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 21 2006 4:32 AM

No New Strategery

The Washington Post leads with the administration's response to the ever-worsening situation in Iraq. Despite the military's admission on Thursday that a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort had failed to stop violence in Baghdad, President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld insisted their goals remain unchanged. The Los Angeles Times goes high with the White House pushback but saves its top spot for local news: The 89-year-old man who plowed into a farmers' market in 2003, killing 10 people, was convicted of manslaughter. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal also lead with Iraq, but focus on the fighting in the city of Amara, parts of which temporarily fell under the control of Shiite militamen Friday.

In defending the American effort in Iraq, Bush continues to draw a distinction between "tactics," which he is willing to change, and "strategy," which he isn't. The essential question is what this means in practical terms—what is up for re-examination? The Post passes on offering an answer, but the LAT has the sharp explanation that it's all about saving face: "By adhering to longer-term goals while allowing for tactical changes, Bush could argue that military shifts do not represent a failure of past policies." But as the NYT observed yesterday, those "longer-term goals" already are shifting subtly: While he still discusses a stable, self-sufficient Iraq, the president no longer waxes poetic about a flowering Middle East democracy. And at the same time, some of the "tactical changes" the LAT reports are under consideration—such as handing Iraq over to a strongman who can keep the country together—would amount to an outright renunciation of previous goals.

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As Friday's fighting made clear, however, such radical adjustments may be necessary. The bad news from Amara was twofold: Not only did the Mahdi Army manage to seize about half the city from local police, but the militia's soldiers spent much of the day battling members of the Badr Organization, a rival Shiite militia. Although the fighters eventually withdrew, the clash portends trouble for the Iraqi government, which rests on a peace between the two militias' leaders. As the NYT explains in a companion to its lead, the Mahdi Army and its leader, Muqtada Sadr, have become perhaps the greatest puzzle in Iraq. Sadr controls a key bloc in parliament, yet his group is behind many attacks on the government.

On the domestic front, with less than three weeks until the midterm elections, Democrats are growing increasingly optimistic about taking control of the House. The NYT argues that to win, the party must convert open seats. The paper claims that grabbing such seats "has proven critical in past Congressional realignments." Yet one example the NYT cites, the 1994 Republican victory, seems to show just the opposite. Although the GOP flipped 22 open seats, far more important was its defeat of 34 Democratic incumbents.

Still, no matter what the exact formula for victory may be, Nancy Pelosi seems confident she is about to become the first female speaker of the House. In anticipation, the LAT and the Post both front reviews of Pelosi's work as minority leader. Both papers describe a Pelosi paradox: Behind the scenes, she is a highly effective political tactician, but in public, she is a surprisingly stiff party spokeswoman.

The WSJ reports that at least one prominent Republican has found a "silver lining" in all this Democratic euphoria. John McCain is in high demand among embattled GOP candidates who cannot turn to the unpopular president. The Arizona senator is answering their calls with money and campaign appearances—work that is building the goodwill he will need for a 2008 presidential run.

Also on Page 1, the Post and the NYT each offer reports on European countries' difficulties with pluralism and integration. The Post runs through the debate in Great Britain over the full-face veil worn by some female Muslims. The veil issue reflects broader public concerns about British Muslims' role in society. The NYT reports that, nearly a year after riots struck the suburbs of Paris, the "unemployed, undereducated youth" behind the unrest are growing more frustrated and more violent. The French public seems to favor a harder line from the government.

Only in Hollywood: The LAT reports that Los Angeles-area Boy Scouts—perhaps those who would rather not learn the finer points of wilderness survival—can earn a new badge being offered in conjunction with the Motion Picture Association of America, the movie industry's lobbying group. The "Respect Copyrights Activity" badge features the copyright "C" symbol, a film reel, and musical notes. A mom's take: "This one is tailor-made for the city boy in L.A." As long as the L.A. city boy is an aspiring studio hack.

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

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