The New York Timesleads with John Bolton's resignation from his post as U.N. ambassador. It was clear that Bolton would not receive Senate confirmation for the position, and President Bush accepted his resignation, but he made it clear he wasn't happy about it. The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that, under orders from Bush, nuclear-weapons labs are working on technology that would make these arms useless if they somehow end up in the wrong hands. The new safety features would be part of new nuclear weapons. USA Todayleads with the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, declaring that a shortage of NATO troops, and restrictions on where these troops can go, threatens the mission in Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, and nobody else fronts, Bush's one-on-one with the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim party, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Bush told Hakim he is unhappy with the Iraqi government's progress in ending the sectarian violence. Not mentioned in the WSJ is that Hakim was largely critical of the American troops and said they need to do more to fight against the insurgency in Iraq. He also rejected any plans to have a regional conference to solve Iraq's problems. The Washington Postleads with NASA's announcement of a plan to get astronauts back to the moon by approximately 2020, which would lead to the building of a permanent base by 2024. The base, which the WP says will be about the size of the Mall, would probably be installed in the moon's south pole. NASA wants other countries and commercial groups to participate in the venture. Although the Post's article is rather positive, other papers note there is skepticism among experts on whether the plan is feasible and if it is the best course of action to eventually reach Mars.
Bolton became ambassador as the result of a recess appointment last year, and even though the White House was looking into ways to leave him at the United Nations without Senate approval, it seems they decided to avoid a political fight. Bolton was known as a confrontational figure within the United Nations, but the WP notes he was able to get some successes, as well as respect, in the Security Council, although this was not transferred to the General Assembly. It's still unclear who will replace Bolton, but the papers note the leading candidate seems to be the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, although there are others also being considered.
The idea is for the nuclear bombs to pretty much become useless by making all the nuclear material unusable if anyone tries to get into the device. Some critics say the hard work, which has been going on for three years, is useless, because some doubt whether it's even possible. According to these critics, the government should be focusing on making nuclear facilities more secure.
NATO troop levels in Afghanistan are currently at 90 percent of what has been requested. In addition, several countries have placed restrictions on where their troops can go, as some are eager to keep them as far away from life-threatening operations as possible. "Could you have an alliance in which you have one group that is always going into the toughest places and fighting and taking casualties, and you have a second group that is in a different category?" Eikenberry asked.
The LAT fronts a look at how since the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has rebuffed calls from the Drug Enforcement Administration to participate more heavily in preventing the growth of the country's opium trade. Meanwhile, Afgahnistan's position as a drug producer has continued to grow, and it now supplies 92 percent of the world's opium. The DEA says the Pentagon could hurt the insurgency in Afghanistan by going after the drug trade, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has always said the opium is not a military problem.
The NYT fronts, and the rest go inside, with the Supreme Court hinting it will rule programs that use race as a factor to decide what school students can attend as unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy is likely to be the swing vote on the case, and although he made it clear that he does not like the idea of classifying students by race, he did leave open the possibility that perhaps it could be allowed. "It seems to me that that should only be, if ever allowed, allowed as a last resort," he said. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick is frustrated by Kennedy's seeming inability to make clear rules about this, and other issues before the court, which translates into, "nobody will know what to do about anything."
USAT fronts news that the IRS was warned about potentially "catastrophic" problems that could result from a new computer two months before it began paying out approximately $200 million in "fraudulent or erroneous 2006 tax season refunds." Now, as the 2007 tax season is set to start, the IRS will be using the old computer, because the new one is still not ready. The IRS commissioner said blame "lies both within the IRS and the contractor." DynCorp, which was later acquired by Computer Sciences Corp., won the contract. And, yes, that's the same company that was awarded contracts to train security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking of contractors, the WP reveals in its business pages that a new census shows there are approximately 100,000 government contractors working in Iraq, not counting subcontractors. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now.
The WSJ is alone in going high with the news that four Marines died when their helicopter crashed in Anbar province on Sunday. This means there were 13 U.S. service-member casualties in Iraq over the weekend.
The NYT reefers word that American commanders in Iraq have recently begun transferring combat troops into advisory roles with the Iraqi police and army.
In an op-ed in the NYT, Tim Pritchard argues against the widely held view that the invasion of Iraq went swimmingly while the occupation was badly planned. It should have been clear from the first days of the invasion what kind of problems the U.S. military would face, but officials didn't learn from these early events. To illustrate this point, Pitchard talks about a battle that was fought on the fourth day of the war. The piece is today's must-read.
Hate the sinner, love his movies … The NYT's Sharon Waxman says the Hollywood community is facing another quandary with Mel Gibson. His newest film, Apocalypto, is receiving highly positive advance praise from critics, but does this mean he should be considered for an Academy Award? Since his drunken outburst against Jews, many in Hollywood vowed never to watch Gibson's movies again, let alone work with him, but if his film is truly that good, he could become difficult to ignore.